After you’ve started regularly incorporating vegetarian meals into your diet, it’s time to take the next step and dive into eating vegetarian all the time. It’s definitely a challenge, especially if you’ve grown up eating a meat-based diet and have favorite dishes that are hard to let go of. The key to making your new lifestyle stick is by making it your own and making it enjoyable. As a foodie, I need to eat food I like, so I taught myself how to cook vegetarian dishes that I love, and you can, too.
Setting Your Own Rules
As I started to learn how to cook vegetarian recipes, I realized I wasn’t entirely sure what the “rules” were. After researching and asking a lot of questions, I quickly realized there were a lot of different definitions for how a vegetarian actually eats. Ovo vegetarians, for example, eat eggs but no meat or dairy products. Lacto vegetarians, on the other hand, consume dairy products but no meat or eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians include both eggs and dairy in their diets.
There’s a lot of gray area when it comes to defining vegetarianism, and I finally understood that it was ultimately up to me to decide what type of vegetarian I wanted to be. My personal choice was to continue eating eggs and dairy, but your decision might be different or even change over time.
Beyond the Basics
Now that you’ve made it past the initial transition and decided what you’d like to eat, it’s time to make things a little more interesting and learn how to cook vegetarian recipes you’ll actually crave, rather than simply consume. We all love eating delicious meals, so one of the biggest vegetarian challenges for me has been figuring out ways to make these meals something I not only tolerate but fully enjoy.
One of the first places I hit up on my journey to expand my vegetarian cooking chops was the library. While the internet is loaded with recipes and ideas, sometimes there’s no replacement for just flipping through a real book. I made my way to the cookbook section and took home a stack to flip through. Not only did I discover new recipes, but I also began to learn about other food cultures that I previously knew little about. Pinterest is another good place to find recipes or new ideas for vegetable ingredients. This summer I planted a huge crop of zucchini, but when it grew in abundance I had no idea what to do with it—until I discovered some new ways to cook with it online.
Find a Support System
Whether it’s sharing your journey with a close friend or joining an online community, having others to share your thoughts with and swap recipes and ideas is a great way to stay on track with your transition. A friend of mine was running a Facebook support group a few years back that was focused on adopting a healthier lifestyle from exercise to diet. While it wasn’t a vegetarian group, it gave me support in that area nonetheless, and we shared recipes and ideas for new ingredients we hadn’t encountered before. The group also gave me encouragement to keep me on my newly chosen path.
It’s OK to Make Mistakes
Becoming a vegetarian is not like trying a fad diet. It’s a lifestyle change, and like all big changes, it can take some getting used to. You will probably slip up sometimes, like when you’re at a party or a restaurant and an old favorite dish tempts you. For several years I had avoided red meat, but one night out to celebrate a special occasion I shared a steak with my then fiancé (now husband). It didn’t suddenly negate all of my eating habits up until that point; it was just a choice I made at the time.
The important thing to keep in mind is you haven’t lost anything with that single choice. You don’t need to hit a reset button or even be hard on yourself, because you haven’t failed. Just simply move forward and continue on the same path. Eventually those tempting choices get easier to bypass, but even when they’re not, it isn’t the end of the world.
Becoming a vegetarian is a process, and it’s different for everyone. To successfully transition to this new lifestyle, it’s important to take your time and allow yourself room for choices. Share your journey with us @TomsofMaine, and check out Parts One and Three of this series.
Image sources: Sher Warkentin
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Why It’s Good
After you've taken the first steps towards becoming a vegetarian, the challenging part is sticking with it. It's OK to make mistakes, and it doesn't mean you've failed. Just continue learning how to cook vegetarian dishes you love and temptations will become easier to resist.