Some of my recent reflections on vegetarianism and my diet:
Becoming a vegetarian was an easy choice for me, and I haven’t looked back since I stopped eating meat almost 4 years ago. However, it is not an easy choice or transition for everyone. I’d like to share some of the things that made the transition easier for me both initially and over the past few years. (Oh, and the pictures really have nothing to do with the text--they are just some of my recent vegetarian eats! :) )
1. Be confident in your decision before you share it with others, and be prepared to explain it politely to those who ask about your motivations.
Some people will be very supportive of you, others will think this is just “an experiment” and question your seriousness, and still others will let you know quite frankly that they think you are crazy. Be prepared to calmly and politely give a quick explanation for your choice, but know that you don’t have to defend it, and understand that some people may never understand.
2. Let yourself gradually transition meat out of your diet if that is easier for you than going cold "tofurkey."
College Roommate and I actually chose to become vegetarians right around the same time at the end of a school year(without even discussing the decision with each other!), and while she was very successful at immediately “quitting” meat, I gave myself a summer to make the transition. I hadn’t eaten red meat for years, but gradually phased poultry out of my diet, followed by seafood over the course of a summer. I decided that when I returned to campus to start classes in fall, I would be completely finished with eating meat. The gradual approach worked REALLY well for me, as I felt like I needed to “say goodbye” to a few favorite foods.
3. Remember that you create the rules for your own diet.
There are so many gray areas for vegetarians—I talked about them in this post. Remember that you need to decide what works best for you. Initially for me, that meant abstaining only from animals. This past year I gave up gelatin as well, and I’ve considered saying goodbye to eggs and dairy recently, although I’m not *quite* ready for that jump.
4. Educate yourself about nutrition.
It’s pretty easy to get enough of the nutrients you need on a veggie diet (contrary to what some meat eaters may try to tell you), but make sure, especially in the beginning, that you are getting enough protein and iron. It’s as simple as being aware of what you are eating.
5. Find meatless ways to recreate favorite recipes to avoid cravings.
While I rarely miss meat, I do find myself experiencing a few “comfort food cravings” from time to time. The biggest one of these is chicken nuggets. I don’t use “fake meat” very often, but I buy Morningstar Chicken Nuggets frequently. They are DELICIOUS and are exactly what I need when I’m craving nuggs after driving by a Wendy’s. J (And they are WAY healthier than the alternative, which is an added bonus!) Additionally, I’ve always loved grilled chicken with barbeque sauce. I realized after becoming a vegetarian that it’s really barbeque sauce that I missed, so I found other things to slather it on like baked potatoes and grilled tofu. Yum!
6. Look at menus online before dining out, especially with friends.
This one has been a big help for me. Depending on where you live, many restaurants may not have vegetarian entrees on their menus. If you are invited to a specific restaurant, it’s helpful to check the menu online (or call if it’s not available). If there aren’t veggie options, decide how you will handle this. Is there an entrée that can have the meat easily left off? (You can often ask for a reduced rate if this is the case.) Is there the possibility of swapping an ingredient in a dish for another? Are there veggie side dishes? The more prepared you are, the more pleasant your dining experience will likely be.
7. Offer to bring a vegetarian dish to parties.
If you are invited somewhere for dinner, make sure the host knows you are a vegetarian and offer to bring either a dish to share or something for yourself. For example, when I’m invited to a barbeque, I usually bring a veggie burger in a ziplock bag for the host to throw on the grill. For a bigger event, I may prepare a dish to pass. It will set your mind at ease knowing there will be something you can eat, and also keeps you from being an inconvenience to your host.
8. Be clear about what you do and do not eat when hosts inquire.
It’s important to be polite as a guest, but if someone asks what you eat when inviting you over, tell them! This might save you from feeling obligated to eat an ingredient you avoid for fear of hurting your host’s feelings.
Sometimes a veggie meal isn’t going to be readily available—this is especially true when traveling. When I take a trip, I try to throw some nuts or high-protein granola bars into my suitcase so I have them if I need them.
10. Give yourself permission to change your personal “rules” at any time.
Like I said, I recently decided I was no longer okay with eating gelatin, 3 ½ years after going vegetarian. I’ve always said that I make the rules for my diet based on what I feel comfortable with and what works for me at a given time. I’ve been thinking about trying a vegan diet lately, and if and when I do, I will fully give myself permission to make my own rules for it based on health, nutrition, and what I feel capable of doing.