Becoming a vegetarian

I spent 21 years as a carnivore. I decided I wanted to become a vegetarian a handful of times, but I never committed myself to it. After researching the food industry, I decided in November that I wanted to make a bigger effort to transition into vegetarianism.

I have been a vegetarian for nearly four months — so I guess I’d be considered a “newbie” in the veg-world. But I thought it would be helpful to share some of my experiences and some of the challenges I’ve faced along the way.

The hardest part(s):

  • Replacing meat with carbohydrates- I tend to gravitate to cereal, crackers, bread, pasta, etc., instead of healthier options (quinoa, oatmeal, beans, nuts). It’s easier to just grab snack-type foods rather than cook something full of nutrients.
  • Dining out can become boring- It takes a while to find restaurants that are vegetarian-friendly. I often find myself just ordering a boring garden salad and then because I am still hungry, a huge plate of dessert.
  • Telling family and friends- When I told my mom in November (a few weeks before Thanksgiving…) that I was a vegetarian, she wasn’t exactly excited. She didn’t understand why I wanted to leave meat out of my diet and thought I was going to become very unhealthy. When I go home for dinner, she usually “forgets” I am a vegetarian — which is lovely (not).  So, I usually have to whip up something last-minute. I think she’s hoping I’ll quit.

The best part(s):

  • Eating more veggies- Before November, I rarely ate any vegetables. I usually just had meat and a carb-dish (potatoes, fries, etc). Now I eat vegetables many times a day and actually am starting to enjoy them. The added nutrients are very good for my immune system!
  • Trying different foods- I thought I hated avocados. Well, now I am obsessed with them, not to mention… they are super healthy. When you limit the amounts of food you can have, you tend to get creative and try new things. Everyday I am broadening my food-scope — which can be pretty fun.Who would of thought that zucchini could be so delicious? I never thought I’d eat grilled zucchini. Now zucchini is always in my fridge.
  • Becoming more food conscious- I have started to pay more attention to what I eat and where it is from. After researching the food industry, I have tried to eat healthier foods — meaning less preservatives and more nutrients. I didn’t realize that I was eating so poorly. Being a vegetarian definitely makes you more aware of what you are eating.

I just dove right into vegetarianism, but you don’t have to. I had a really difficult time the first week. I didn’t know where to eat, what to eat, or how to get enough essential vitamins.

VeggieTable has a wonderful section on how to transition into an herbivore. One of my favorite tips is: #4 No meat at home- Stop preparing meat at home, but still eat it when you go out to restaurants or friends’ houses. This can be a nice way to gradually get into the vegetarian mode but not miss out on special occasions until you’re fully committed. (I think this is a brilliant way to begin the transitioning process.)

Just remember to take it one day at a time. I would also recommend researching different essential vitamins, and finding new ways to work them into your diet. Speaking of “diet”, try to not choose vegetarianism as a way to lose weight — vegetarianism is a lifestyle. Sure, you might lose a few pounds from cutting the fatty meat out your diet, but it’s all about being healthy!

High-protein vegetarian options

Protein is part of every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies. It is a vital nutrient needed to grow healthy hair, build muscle, maintain ligament and other tissue health. Proteins are constantly being broken down and replaced, so it is important to replenish your body with this nutrient. Excellent sources of protein can be found in meat, poultry and fish — but for a vegetarian, those aren’t options.

However, many protein-rich options are animal-friendly. Some delicious alternatives are:  grains, soy-based products, legumes, vegetables and fruits. For the best source of healthy protein, try to eat foods that are raw, unprocessed, and unrefined. Women’s Fitness offers a list of options that will keep you from getting bored with your meals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a helpful table that recommends how much protein you should be getting a day:

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein
Grams of protein
needed each day
Children ages 1 – 3 13
Children ages 4 – 8 19
Children ages 9 – 13 34
Girls ages 14 – 18 46
Boys ages 14 – 18 52
Women ages 19 – 70+ 46
Men ages 19 – 70+ 56

Food.com offers a recipe for Curried Yellow Split Pea Soup with Spinach:

Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Serves: 6-8

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 cups dried split yellow peas
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh spinach, shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add ginger, cumin, curry powder, turmeric, coriander and cayenne. Cook, stirring 1 minute to toast the spices.
  3. Add yellow split peas and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until split peas are soft, about 45 minutes.
  5. Add spinach and salt. Cook until spinach wilts, about 1-2 minutes. Soup will thicken upon standing. Add additional water to thin.

I’m going to be trying this recipe tonight and I will be sure to do a follow-up post with how it turned out. I’ll most likely be adding some celery, and potato for a little extra something.

Vegetarian fast-food

One of the hardest parts about being ‘new’ to vegetarianism is dining out. Fast-food restaurants are usually pretty difficult to find something delicious that doesn’t contain meat. However, some fast-food chains are considered to be slightly vegetarian-friendly.

Burger King claims that “you can have it your way” — and that stands true for vegetarians.

Here are some fast-food joints that offer up some vegetarian meals!

Burger King:

  • BK VEGGIE® Burger — Who says you can’t have a juicy burger without biting a hunk out of Bessie? It’s important to note the burger is not vegan. It is one of BK’s health conscious oriented items.

Chipotle:

  • A helpful menu allows customers do decode what is really inside that big, fat burrito. When ordering, make sure to get black beans and not pinto beans, since the pinto mixture contains meat.  One of my personal favorites is the burrito bowl with black beans, rice, grilled veggies, extra pico de gallo, cheese and lettuce.

Subway:

  • The Veggie Delite® — A healthy alternative to deep-fried fast-food.  There are less than 300 calories for a typical 6-inch sub.  Some Subway restaurants offer a veggie patty (Morningstar, Gardenburger or Boca depending on location).

Five Guys:

Most fast-food restaurants offer side salads, fruit bowls, baked potatoes, and french fries! Be aware of your options, because many menus can be altered for a vegetarian. Simply skip the meat on a burger or ask for a tofu or soy-based meat substitute. The “veggie burger” isn’t listed on Five Guys’ website, but they will gladly leave the patty off.  You don’t know until you ask!

PETA offers a list of vegetarian options at various restaurants.  The list includes multiple chain-restaurants’ best vegetarian options, with links that take you to their menu/website.  Some of the restaurants include: Dennys, Macaroni Grill, Dairy Queen, P.F. Changs, and Wendy’s.

Hopefully the next time your pinched for time, you will remember vegetarian delicious noms may be available at your favorite fast-food joint!

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