Thinking of becoming a vegetarian? Awesome! Or maybe just trying it out for a bit? That's awesome too! It's also awesome if you only fancy doing 'Meat Free Mondays' for a little while, or maybe just swapping that ham butty you have at work every day to a vegetarian option. Guess what? I also think it's awesome if you absolutely love eating meat and you're just here out of curiosity - why? Because I approve of all healthy diets, herbivore or omnivore, and understanding others dietary choices.
I chose to go veggie around three years ago, but getting started wasn't the easiest thing in the world because I didn't really know where to look for help. The internet is swamped with advice (often conflicting) so for all of you out there thinking of starting your veggie venture, here is what I've found to work!
1) TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Choose when you plan on switching carefully. Christmas and holidays are difficult because there are so many social gatherings and meals going on! If you're about to leave your parents home - that is an ideal time. I switched in the first year of uni when I lived in halls and was no longer governed by my parents food choices. Spring/ Summer is also ideal as there is so much fresh veg and light, plant based meals become the norm.
2) READ VEGGIE BLOGS
It's a great idea to read vegetarian cooking blogs - often they will discuss nutrition, share tips, post recipes you can save for later and generally inspire you. Remember vegan blogs, too!
There are so many excellent vegetarian cook books out there! And whats more, you don't have to spent a fortune to pick up some real stars. I tend to head to The Works if I fancy buying a new one, where prices are usually around the £2 mark.
4) START OUT SLOW
Now that you've picked your ideal time to go veggie and you're armed with your cook books and blogs - start out slow. There's no need to rush into ditching the meat - trust me, I know! It's far better to make the switch gradually. What rate you choose to go is up to you, maybe switch to one vegetarian meal a week, then two, then three etc over a few months. Maybe you'll discover 2 vegetarian meals a week works out perfectly and you'd rather not do it full time - that's ace!
There's a bunch of thing that aren't vegetarian which you might not realise at first and continue eating. These *could* include (but don't always, check the labels) - cheeses, mousses, thick yogurts, creamy desserts, thick sauces, gummy sweets, energy drinks and alcoholic beverages. I say 'mistakes' because mistake can be seen as such a negative word, but we're human, they happen! And yes, you may consume some gelatine without realising until it's a little late, but you're trying your best and that's how we learn.
6) KNOW YOUR POWER FOODS
Meat provides us with two things mainly - protein and iron. You can get these easily through plant foods, but it's important to keep and eye on what you're eating and be aware that you are getting enough of both. This is pretty involved and deserves a post of its own so we'll start at the very base - dark leafy veg, avocado and nuts are your friends. Look up what you need nutritionally, look up nutritional values of fruit, veg, nuts and pulses and MAKE SURE YOU EAT RIGHT!
Everything is easier if you have a support system! If you're living at home, look through your veggie cook books with your family and make note of recipes everyone likes the look of so you can make meals everyone will get stuck into quite happily! If you don't live at home, have friends around for veggie dinners, or book to go to a vegetarian restaurant, challenge a work friend to bring in veggie lunches for a week - there are heaps of ways to get other involved!
8) LOOK AT MENUS BEFORE EATING OUT
I knew when I started out that this would be a bit of an issue! Going from being able to choose absolutely anything to at most 3 options in a regular restaurant is a bit annoying. This means it's important to look up menus before making bookings or heading out somewhere new, as some places simply do not cater to vegetarians or only serve things you don't like (beetroot salad, anyone?) or aren't in the mood for. I made the mistake of not doing this once and ended up with pancakes topped with cheese sauce with peas thrown on top - I'm not even joking.
Sorry, but it's true. Going full time veggie is not cheaper than being a meat eater. Fruit and veg is not cheap when you are buying an awful lot of it, regularly. At first I found I was actually spending more! My main tips with this would be - cook in bulk, make use of your freezer and plan your meals.
10) SORRY, BUT YOU WILL GET A BIT OF STICK
Society still sees vegetarians as self righteous, pompous, preachy hippies (or hipsters) who hug trees, love animals more than anything else, look down on omnivores and know absolutely nothing about eating well. You'll be told you'll get ill, that you're an idiot, that we have canine teeth for a reason, that animals exist to be eaten, that there's no way to eat properly and not eat meat - the list goes on. Smile, nod and be polite and educated in your replies.
Those are my top ten tips for turning veggie! Can you think of any more? Are you veggie/ vegan? How did you find the swap? Do you plan on going veggie or trying more meat free dishes? Let me know!