Wondering how to become a vegetarian? I’m sharing all my tips and tricks for making an easy transition to a meatless diet. Learn how to know your nutrients, make a plan, simple meatless swaps, and my favorite vegetarian recipes.
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When it comes to how to transition to a vegetarian diet, I’m going to start this post by saying this – I hate labels.
While I often call myself a vegetarian in an effort to avoid having a conversation about it, I do occasionally eat fish, eggs, a bite of chicken, or a cheese that contains animal byproducts.
There are different labels you could give yourself based on what you do or don’t eat, but I’d like to stay away from that and just focus on how you can make a drastic change to your diet that includes less to no animal products.
There are as many reasons for changing your diet as there are diets out there. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, be healthier in general, or care a lot about animals, cutting out meat or other animal products from your diet can feel daunting at first.
After all, many of us come from families where it’s not a meal unless there’s meat present. And what about hidden animal products in processed food? If you’re saying “I want to become vegetarian in the new year”, I’m here to help!
Two ways to become a vegetarian
There are basically two ways you can go about this. You can ease into it, or you can go all in.
Easing in involves swapping out one or more meals a week where you would normally eat meat with recipes that are meatless. You can slowly increase the amount of plant based meals you’re eating each week until you’ve fully transitioned.
Check with your doctor
Please also note that I am not a dietician or even a self proclaimed nutritionist. I’m just a person who has been pretty much meatless for the last eight years and is feeling great.
If you have specific nutrition information or health concerns, I urge you to speak to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you are a teenager, you’re pregnant, or you have underlying health conditions.
Your doctor will help you decide what’s best for your body and how you can make changes to your diet in a way that supports your overall health.
How to go vegetarian
Know your nutrients
Many people are concerned about getting enough protein without meat in their diet, but I have found this to be far less difficult than expected. Good meatless protein sources include beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
There is also a fair amount of protein in whole grains, dairy products, and even vegetables, so if you’re eating a variety foods you’re likely going to be ok.
Another nutrient to be aware of is iron. Low iron levels can leave you feeling weak and fatigued.
Easily absorbed iron is most readily found in red meat. However, it is also found in leafy green vegetables, raisins, lentils, tofu, nuts, and seeds.
You can increase your iron absorption by pairing iron rich foods with those high in vitamin C such as red bell peppers, oranges, and pineapples. I’ve also found cooking in a cast iron skillet (affiliate link) whenever possible to be a great way to add iron to my diet.
Vitamin b12 can be a concern for some, especially if you’re also cutting out dairy and eggs. Some dairy free milk alternatives and breakfast cereals are fortified with b12, and I find nutritional yeast to be a tasty way to add b12 to recipes.
If you’re concerned about finding whole foods ways to get b12 you may want to consider taking a supplement.
Let’s rethink some common meat products and how we can swap other protein sources in their place.
- Chicken – Garbanzo beans, white beans, tofu, or jackfruit
- Beef – Black beans, tempeh, seitan, textured vegetable protein (TVP), or lentils
- Pork – Pinto beans or jackfruit
It’s probably best to avoid processed foods as much as possible, but if they help you make the transition or round out your diet I say go for it. Gardein is one of my favorite meatless brands with a taste and texture that rivals the real thing (almost too much for some!).
MorningStar Farms spicy black bean burger is my favorite all-purpose burger that can go between two buns or be crumbled into a burrito, but I also love Amy’s and BOCA brand. I can also vouch for Lightlife tempeh and House Foods tofu.
Make vegetarian (or vegan!) friends, but don’t leave the meat eaters behind
I’m aware that you might care deeply about animals. Like, maybe more deeply than you care about people. And that’s ok!
But the worst way to win people over to your new meatless ways is to be judgmental about it. Everyone is on a journey of one kind or another, so let’s give everyone a little grace for where they are right now.
You don’t have to get angry with your mom if she doesn’t offer a meatless main dish at every meal. You can eat a handful of nuts along with her mashed potatoes and you’ll be just fine.
Making new friends is 100% ok, and can really help you in your transition. If you don’t know any other vegetarians where you live, consider joining a Facebook group for vegetarians. People there are more than happy to share recipes, tips, and support.
Have a plan for when you’re away from home
Eating at restaurants or other people’s houses can be challenging. Look up menus online before going out and don’t be afraid to make requests and ask for substitutions at restaurants.
Sadly American restaurants tend to be the meatiest. Mexican, Italian, and Indian restaurants always have at least several meatless options.
If you’re going to a party where you’re not sure there will be anything you can eat, eat a light meal before or bring some trail mix or energy balls in the car. I almost always have one of these little Justin’s nut butter packets in my purse.
Give yourself some grace
As you’re becoming a vegetarian, you might give in to a bite of chicken, accidentally eat something made with beef stock, or decide you want to eat a whole rack of ribs. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure.
You can still go forward with your new lifestyle from there, or choose to allow these things once in a while. It’s your life and it’s entirely up to you.
Have a handful of go-to vegetarian recipes
If you don’t know what to make, you’re not going to make anything. I plan meals and snacks a week or two at a time and try to hit the grocery store only once a week.
Find a few meatless food blogs you like (Hiiiii) and use Pinterest to save recipe ideas. I have boards for vegetarian, vegan, and meatless meals among others.
When you sign up for my email list I’ll also send you a list of 150 Vegetarian Dinner Ideas, which is linked to recipes on my blog where applicable. This list would only have to be repeated 3 ½ times to get a full year of meals! It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Hopefully this post will help empower you as you transition to a vegetarian diet. I’d like to leave you with links to a few of my favorite easy vegetarian recipes. Keep scrolling to the bottom to read a few frequently asked questions about switching to vegetarian.
If you have any questions please email me or leave them in the comments, and if you have a favorite meaty recipe you’d love to see turned meatless let me know and I’d be happy to give it a try!
The Best Crispy Tofu
Crispy Quinoa Bake
Oven Roasted Tomato and Pesto Panini
Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich
Cashew Butter Granola Bars
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Being a vegetarian can be easy if you plan ahead and know how to meet your nutritional and emotional needs.
It is very possible that you don’t like vegetables because you haven’t had them prepared in a way you enjoy. Be brave and try new cooking techniques and ingredient combinations to see if you can begin to enjoy vegetables.
Try to sample a wide variety of foods to get the best balance of nutrients from fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, as well as eggs and dairy if you are including those in your diet.
Being vegetarian doesn’t automatically make you unhealthy, but if you don’t choose nutrient rich foods and rely on processed or junk food you will become nutrient deficient.
Gina Patel says
Lindsay Moe says
Hi Gina! If you’re looking to subscribe to the email list, there is a box near the top right of the page where you can enter your email address.
Thank you for your post, I will be following you.
We are big meat eaters, animal protein with every meal almost. It’s how we were raised and we like it!
We are in our late 50’s and friends are getting sick…regularly. So far so good for us. We have done some research and have decided it’s time to fac3 reality and change our diet. I’m doing the gradual thing, three dinners a week to start.
Here’s my question/ statement.
I/we want to like tofu….but we don’t. I’m sure it’s a case of never having had it properly prepared. Can you recommend a recipe, not too complicated, that I can try that will have a strong likelihood of changing our minds about this protein source please. I am concerned about protein levels as we are quite active. We have used protein powder in the past when weight training but that is so boring.
I appreciate any guidance you can offer. Going to try one of your recipes tonight!
Lindsay Moe says
Thanks for taking the time to leave this comment, and congrats on making a change! You can search the site for my Best Tofu Marinade and Best Crispy Tofu, those are my favorites and would go well with the usual sides you might be used to with a meat main dish. I also like them with stir fries or rice. However if you just don’t like tofu, there are many other ways to get enough protein including tempeh, beans, and grains. Quinoa is especially high in protein, be sure to check out my warm kale and quinoa salad which is a favorite of many including myself. It is loaded with protein and veggies. I also have several other quinoa casseroles on the site that are really hearty and full of protein and flavor. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have additional questions and best of luck on your journey!
Hi, I want to be vegetarian but I’m a teen and can’t make a whole lot of meals. My family does not want to be vegetarian but I can’t keep eating a bunch of cut up vegetables and hard boiled eggs in a bowl. Do you have any make-ahead recipes that are easy to make with no experience? I’m trying really hard but its difficult to plan meals.
Lindsay Moe says
I’m sorry to hear it has been difficult for you, but I think I have a few ideas to help! Here are a few recipes to search on the site that are easy to make and most should feed you for a few meals at a time.
Roasted Sweet Potato Bulgur Bowl
Stir Fried Tempeh (serve with rice)
Fettuccine Alfredo (look for a vegetarian parmesan made with vegetable rennet)
Canned Butter Beans (enjoy with salad and/or toasted flatbread)
BBQ Tempeh (can use in sandwiches or alongside potatoes)
Scrambled Egg Sandwich
5 Minute Breakfast Burrito (can be frozen)
Hope this helps! Feel free to reach out with any questions.
Thank you so much, I will definitely be making the bulgur bowl!