Have you thought about going vegetarian or vegan, but you can’t imagine giving up bacon cheeseburgers? I completely get it; for me, the idea of life without cheesesteak subs and chicken quesadillas is pretty bleak. But I keep trying to evolve to a plant-based diet, for three reasons: I know it’s better for my health, kinder to our animal friends, and better for the environment. But it’s super tough to go cold turkey (or cold Tofurkey, as the case may be!), primarily if you were raised on meat and potatoes like I was.
I’m still not 100% there, but I am slowly becoming Flexitarian (meaning I eat plant-based most of the time, but not always). The Flexitarian Diet, which originated with the book by Dawn Jackson Blatner, is right up my alley – you get the health benefits of a vegetarian diet with some wiggle-room for the occasional burger. If you know me, you know I’m not an all-or-nothing kind of gal; wiggle-room is essential for my well-being.
Here is how I started making the change:
It’s a mindset
I’m just here to tell you, nothing tastes like real bacon, so lower your expectations when trying substitutes. That’s not to say there aren’t some plant-based meat substitutes that taste pretty good in their own right, but it will be easier to enjoy them if you aren’t comparing them to the real thing. Tell yourself that you are trying something NEW – pretend you’re in a foreign country and trying a dish you’ve never heard of before. Then you can decide if it’s something you like or not.
Don’t get hung up on protein
Ask any vegan or vegetarian – the number one question people ask is, “but how do you get protein?” Many foods besides meat have protein in them, and if you are eating the right stuff in the right combinations, you’ll get plenty. Of course, there are soy products (soy milk, tofu, and edamame), and lentils and beans. But green peas also have tons of protein. Quinoa, oats, wild rice, and nuts do too. And vegetables like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts all contain small amounts of protein and can add to your daily intake.
Make one small swap at a time
Rather than filling up your grocery cart with a bunch of exotic ingredients on the first day, start with simple adjustments. You could swap soy or almond milk for cow’s milk, or try using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth in recipes.
Meatless Mondays are your friend
It takes time to build up a collection of plant-based recipes; one day a week is enough of a challenge for most people. I suggest a hearty vegan chili or some meatless vegetable soup as a starter. My first experiment was this Vegetarian Chili, and it’s still one of my favorites! You can also make it vegan by skipping the sour cream.
It’s okay to go easy on the tofu
If the idea of tofu makes you squeamish, stick to rice and beans for a while. Tofu is bean curd. It took me a LONG time to get my mind around that. It’s not that I don’t like beans, but I couldn’t figure out where the curd part came from. It kind of gave me the willies, to be honest. I eat it now, but for a long time, I just increased my veggies and kept my beans in their more traditional format.
Every little bit counts!
Above all, don’t aim for perfection, and celebrate the small victories! Every meal that you make plant-based is a win – for your health, for animals, and for the earth.