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I have been a vegetarian for over 12 years. I started it in my early twenties, and while that first year was filled with all kinds of trial and error, I eventually found my footing and learned how to easily rely on a plant based diet that both tastes good and fully nourishes my body. I firmly believe in the meatless lifestyle, and In addition to the positive body changes that it can bring, swapping in even one meatless meal a week can have a sustainability and environmental impact that I can definitely get behind. I have learned a lot of the ins and outs over the years, and this post is dedicated to anyone who might be considering a move to adding in more veggie based meals to their routine, or even swapping out meat altogether. Either way, a step is a step, and it’s going to be a great journey!
I was completely out of my depth when I decided to ditch meat, so I understand how confusing it can be to navigate this world as a beginner. 13 years ago my first official month without meat was pretty much a pasta filled nightmare, but not because I missed meat. It was because I was filling up on nothing but carbs 24/7. I had to learn an entirely new way to eat, and through baby steps I eventually came to a place of comfortable understanding. Giving up meat was the easiest part, because I wasn’t a huge fan of it to begin with, but what really got me was learning how to prepare meals that revolved around plant based proteins instead of just swapped out for meat. And that leads us into my first tip!
Choose a main ingredient, and build your dish around it
Going veggie is not about trying to find meat substitutes. It’s difficult to grasp that concept in the beginning, but it is really about expanding your palate and finding out how to build recipes around plant based ingredients. Don’t think about how to replace the chicken in your favorite stir fry dish, but how to make a stir fry that brings out the best in the veggies, rice, and protein you choose. Swapping out sweet potatoes for steak in tacos is great, but there is an entirely new world of flavors to be tasted when you build recipes around different veggie based proteins that you can’t get with meat. Experimentation is key, and the sky is the limit here!
There is a whole world out there of plant proteins, and you can make a main ingredient around so many different foods! Here are a few of my favorite meal bases:
- Sweet potato – this is great in chilis, Mexican dishes, burgers, pastas, and even by itself!
- Beans – beans are fiber and iron packed powerhouses, and with love 100 varieties, they never get old.
- Rice – rice is super versatile, and a great filler in most dishes.
- Butternut squash – just like sweet potato, they are great bases in almost any dish.
- Tofu – it’s scary at first, but once you learn how to prepare it, the sky is the limit. Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you are cooking with, and is great for noodle dishes, stews, and even sandwiches.
- Tempeh – this one is a super nutty compound, and a little harder to work with than tofu. It is also firmer.
- Seitan – another protein that takes on the flavor it is cooked in.
- There are so many more!
This might sound a little contrary to what I just said, but it really isn’t. With veggies, you can have a simple ingredient list and a complex burst of flavors at the same time. There are so many great flavor combinations available, and they are so incredibly versatile! Did you know that in most instances, I have found that cooking and maintaining vegetarian meals are much easier than the carnivorous versions? You don’t have to worry about a lot of the contamination issues, and the flavors are so robust and different, that they lend themselves to much more flavorful cooking than something like chicken or beef.
Look at labels
It took me a while to fully grasp this, but there are hidden meats in so many products out there that. I never looked too closely at labels at first, but one day I happened to be scanning an ingredient list on a bag of my favorite chips and was just a little horrified to find out that it had chicken fat in it as a random additive. Seriously? Yep! Here are a few big ones to watch out for:
- Worcestershire sauce – Many brands have anchovies in it, but you can find those without this ingredient.
- Rennet – If you see this ingredient, your product isn’t meat free. I won’t go into why, because it’s not too appetizing, but a lot of seemingly “meatless” dishes have this ingredient, especially if there is cheese in it.
- Soups – When purchasing commercial soups, make sure the base is vegetable stock/broth, not chicken or beef.
- Salad dressing – Some dressings such as Caesar, Greek, and others can have anchovy as an ingredient.
Grow your own
This isn’t exactly a step, but more of a really great suggestion. Growing your own food garden is great for your wallet and the environment – it saves you money over not having to buy ingredients from the store, it reduces packaging, waste, and even transportation emissions. Gardening is my zen, and I find it incredibly therapeutic. Plus, how awesome is it to create an entire meal from your own back yard?
Try pre-made meatless cuisine
Going veggie doesn’t mean that you have to make everything completely from scratch. For those that don’t want to always prepare dishes from scratch, people on the go, or those who just want a simple but delicious meal without all the work, prepared dishes are great. There are many brands out there that are readily available in most frozen sections, but my favorite by far is MorningStar® Farms. They offer a full range of veggie cuisine that even the pickiest of eaters can appreciate, and yes even the meat eaters I know love them! They offer all kinds of items like burgers, nuggets, veggie sausages, veggie dogs, breakfast items, and their new veggie bowls.
These bowls are packed with flavor, and they cover a variety of themes for just about anyone. Normally dishes like Tikka Masala, Pot Pie, Soba Noodles, or a Moroccan Medley take hours in the kitchen to prepare, but MorningStar Farms brings them to you with almost none of the effort – just pop them into the microwave or oven as-is, and eat!
Do it one step at a time
Moving to a plant based meal plan doesn’t have to mean going cold turkey on meat. Nor does it have to be a drastic change. After eating it for 20-odd years, your body is probably not going to like a sudden complete flip like swearing off meat all at once. Instead, do it gradually or little by little. Here are some great ways to do this:
- Start having Meatless Monday. Dedicate yourself to trying one new meat free recipe a week.
- Pick one new plant based protein a week to try. Experiment with it, collect recipes, and find out different ways to cook it.
- Read vegetarian for blogs. You will be amazed at all the dishes you can create without using meat. My #1 favorite source for meal inspiration is a collection of my favorite food blogs. There are literally thousands of sites dedicated to the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, and A Million Moments is one of them!
You can find MorningStar Farms products in the frozen section of your local Walmart store.