There are so many reasons someone might decide to become a vegetarian. Whether it’s for health benefits, animal welfare concerns, or conscious environmental choices, it’s a lifestyle change that can provide so much love, joy, and creativity.
However, if switching to vegetarianism means that you’re going to be changing your diet dramatically, you’ll probably want some tips on how to make the transition as easy and safe as possible. (FYI, if you eat a lot of meat, your body will be used to it, so going cold turkey – no pun intended – may startle your insides slightly.)
So, if you’re ready to embark on your plant-based journey and want some tips along the way, we’ve compiled the ultimate “how to become a vegetarian” guide. From finding sources of protein in alternate ingredients, ensuring it’s a gradual process, and discovering a love for the land, you’ll be wondering why you never went without meat sooner.
Be kind to yourself
Going vegetarian is a major change, to both your diet and your life in general, so it’s important to be kind and gentle with yourself. Meat eaters – you may not realise, but there’s a lot less to think about when it comes to putting food inside your body, and chances are, you don’t really take much notice of it.
Regardless of how supportive your friends and family are, you’re setting yourself up for a new life of discovering new foods, recipes, prepping techniques, plus shopping and storing food. Nobody would blame you for finding it a little overwhelming at first.
So, remembering that it’s your journey, you should approach and design it in the way you decide. Keep in mind your digestive system may need some time to adjust to the plant-based diet, and you may find you still crave animal products at first. It’s just like any dietary change – it takes time.
If you’re making a big life change and you want it to stick, it’s better to do it in stages. When you go vegetarian, you’re cutting out foods that have been a constant for as long as you remember, so it’s going to be a bit of a shock to the system if you go from eating a meat burger one day to a veggie one the next. Here are some tips that will help you to go meat-free for good:
- Start by eating mostly vegetarian – wave goodbye to pork and beef first, then eliminate the chicken, before finally giving up fish.
- Eat veggie two days a week at first and gradually increase the days until it’s a weekly occurrence. Or…
- Eat a vegetarian diet until dinner.
- If your end goal is to follow a vegan diet, start going vegetarian first. Then start to cut out dairy products and eggs until you’re completely plant-based.
Don’t take on too many major changes at once
So this one kind of relates to the previous tip, but it’s really crucial that you focus on one major life change at a time. For example, if you also want to reduce your sugar intake, look at both challenges and decide which one is your main priority. Just because you focus on becoming a vegetarian first, doesn’t mean that you can’t address the other change later down the line.
It will make achieving both easier and more realistic if you do it this way.
Find your new sources of protein
If you’re worried that your plant-based diet will affect your protein and iron intake, don’t be. You can still feed your body these vital essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals when you go vegetarian. Some of the best non-meat protein and iron sources include nuts, green leafy veg like kale, spinach, cabbage, etc, pulses, whole grains, tofu, beans (lots and lots of beans!) and quinoa – which, btw, is perfect for adding to a salad. Pistachios, cashews and almonds are all high in healthy fats, too, so you can tick more than one box there.
Eggs and dairy products are also packed with protein, especially the former. In fact, it’s probably one of the most accessible (and versatile) protein sources out there. You should also introduce dried fruits, particularly dates, raisins and apricots, as they’re high in iron also.
Plus, you’ll need to consume food and drinks high in Vitamin C, because it helps with iron absorption. So, make sure you’re always stocked up on oranges, and try and have a glass of fruit juice at least once a day to maximise the benefits!
Be careful of hidden ingredients
You may not be aware, but meat and fish can be present in foods that you wouldn’t expect. For example, Worcestershire sauce – many recipes contain anchovies. You’ll also need to watch out for yoghurts, jellies, other sauces like soy (some brands can contain flavour enhancers that derive from meat or fish), and even some cheese. In case you were unaware, some types like parmesan can contain gelatin or other animal products and fats to adjust the consistency and add extra flavouring.
Just make sure that you check the label of any product you’re unsure about before consuming it.
Becoming a vegetarian requires a lot of planning ahead, and not just when meal planning, either. If you’re going on holiday to somewhere you’ve never been, you’re going to a catered event, or you’re just going out for dinner with friends, it’s always worth checking ahead to make sure there’s something on the menu for you.
Using the holiday example, do some research around your local area to see if there are any veggie restaurants and delicacies open. Also, make sure you learn a few key phrases that clearly explain you follow a vegetarian diet. It would help to know the word “vegetarian” in the required language – that’s always a good place to start!
Make meal plans
You didn’t think we were just going to brush past this, did you?
Not having a meal plan – regardless of your dietary preferences – results in purchasing items that you don’t need, and shouldn’t be buying. Hands up if you’ve “accidentally” stocked up on unhealthy foods or products you’re trying to avoid simply because you neglected to curate a list. Yep, we see you.
We also see all you pasta fiends out there – just because it’s a plant-based option doesn’t mean you should eat it for every meal.
Actually, what meal planning does it help you to stick to both your new veggie diet and meet your health needs. Top tip for any new vegetarian though – make sure you add extra protein snacks to your list and factor them into your meal planning.
When making the plan, pick one day in the week – Sundays are often good as they’re typically lazy and spent planning other events for the following week – and write down all of the new recipes you want to try. Assign a meal to each day, make a list of the ingredients, and then head to the supermarket to stock up on what you’ll need for the next 7 days of tasty vegetarian-ness.
You’ll also find you spend less, as ticking off ingredients as you go will reduce the chances of you going rogue and heading straight for the frozen pizza or bakery sections. Practice the art of in-out.
While you may be fretting about how you’re going to get enough protein or whether you’re going to make it through the week without a Greggs sausage roll, going vegetarian is an exciting venture, so don’t forget to have fun with it! Once you make the decision to go veggie, you’re opening up a whole new world of food choices, and saying goodbye to eating meat leaves you with so much scope to experiment. Here are some tips we recommend when making the transition…
- Try new fruits and vegetables each week.
- Experiment with different meat substitutes (you might find you like one brand more than another.) For example, Moving Mountains Burgers are incredibly popular if you’re planning on getting your BBQ on, Linda McCartney – while obviously, no introduction is needed – has an incredible range of veggie sausages that are perfect for all kinds of dishes from the classic bangers and mash to hearty stews and Quorn is a godsend if you just really miss chicken. (The nuggets are next level, trust.)
- Pick a cuisine that is centred around the vegetarian diet. The Mediterranean is a great first choice, as it’s packed with vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans and nuts, but also heavily features fish. Which as we recommended before, should be the last “meat” on the list to try and eliminate. Other cuisines that rely a lot on vegetables are Middle Eastern and Indian. So, take turns to experiment with different dishes from each.
- Research vegetarian or vegan food blogs (like this one) for inspiration on what to cook, and how to manage a plant-based diet.
- If you’re on social media, try and find some vegetarian groups to join. Not only can you share recipes and inspiration, but you can also chat with people in your community about your experiences.
Get your kitchen equipped
Back in your meat-eating days, you may not have needed extra jars for grains and pulses or blenders for veggie soups. However, eating vegetarian means that you may need to rearrange your kitchen and invest in some new staples if you’re serious about keeping it up.
So, as well as the extra jars and the blender, it’s worth grabbing a bunch of good knives for chopping up vegetables and maybe even a spiralizer if you want to get fancy and make some courgetti. That’s spaghetti made from courgettes if you didn’t already know.
Turn your fave meat dishes veggie
This is a fun one! Pick 5 of your favourite meals from when you used to eat meat and put a veggie spin on them. This basically means substituting the meat, poultry or fish for a vegetarian alternative. For example, using lentil beans for bolognese, chickpeas instead of chicken in a salad, or cauliflower steaks instead of actual steaks.
At the end of the day, what gives meat its flavour is the seasoning, so if you’re all stocked up, you can recreate the amazing flavours you’ve always loved but in a meat-free capacity! You might also find that you actually prefer the vegetarian version.
Enjoy your new plant-based lifestyle!
Hopefully, you’re feeling a little less daunted about the prospect of converting from a carnivorous diet to a plant-based one. Being vegetarian is incredibly rewarding, and you can have a lot of fun with it once you get over the initial adjustment period.
From getting creative with recipes to noticing the obvious health benefits, swapping the chicken and steak with fruits and vegetables will be one you won’t regret. So, what are you waiting for? Take note of these tips and go vegetarian! And if you ever need some plant-based breakfast, lunch, or dinner inspo (or all 3!), you know where to come…