You’ve been thinking about it for quite some time: eliminating meat and becoming a vegetarian. What influenced this change? Was it a Netflix documentary that moved you to tears? A friend or significant other who has given up meat in favor of a plant-based lifestyle? Or, maybe you simply want to try something new.

Whatever the reason, transitioning to a vegetarian diet is not as daunting as you may think. Sure, it isn’t necessarily easy. After all, if you grew up enjoying turkey at Thanksgiving or fried chicken on the 4th of July, consuming meat is ingrained in you.

When I decided to became a vegetarian over five years ago (I am now vegan, but I had to start somewhere!), I performed a Google search extensive research to explore the benefits of vegetarianism and how to transition in a healthy, safe way. I found that there are many resources regarding the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. Still, I must admit, I made a few blunders. What I really needed were practical tips. If you’ve already read the articles and statistics about the health benefits of going “veg” and you’re looking for real, applicable tips, then this article is for you! Here are five pratical tips for starting a vegetarian lifestyle.

Start slow

Although you may be excited to dive right into the vegetarian lifestyle, it is best to start slow. Becoming a vegetarian is more than just a diet; it is truly a lifestyle change. A good idea is to start by eliminating meat from your diet one day per week. Meatless Monday is a fun, interactive (there’s a Facebook page!) resource that offers education about going meatless as well as delicious recipes. Remember, you are not in a race to become a vegetarian within a certain amount of time. Jumping into it will likely lead to feelings of discouragement and frustration. Take it slow and enjoy the process.

Try something new

You may be tempted to simply eliminate meat from your diet, opting for fresh vegetables, salads, grains, and legumes. While these are important in a vegetarian diet, you may quickly become bored with plate after plate of beans and salad! Many people find it easier to transition to a vegetarian lifestyle by introducing meat substitutes into their diet. Popular brands such as Boca, Morningstar Farms, and Gardein are a few choices that offer meat-like products. They often have texture and flavor that is very close to your favorite meat dishes (try using veggie crumbles in your spaghetti; you really can’t tell that it is not beef!). When you become more comfortable in the kitchen, you can incorporate great protein sources like tofu, seitan, and tempeh. There are an endless number of wonderful vegetarian recipes, so get in the kitchen and start cooking!

Be mindful of your portion sizes

Although you may feel like you’re still hungry after a meatless meal, it is important to avoid overeating. This is were I went wrong when I started my vegetarian journey. Even as a meat eater, I’ve always loved salad. When I went meatless, I figured that I could have twice the salad without the calories. I didn’t factor in that twice the salad usually meant twice the cheese, dressing, croutons, etc. You get the point! I was replacing the calories and fat from the meat with calories and fat from all of the extra toppings.

I truly believe that part of transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle is also becoming more health conscious. I adopted a balanced vegetarian lifestyle by adding in protein- and fiber-rich plant-based foods into my diet so that I would feel just as full and satisfied as if I had consumed meat. Also, remember that you will eat again. So, unless you’re having your last supper, there is no need to stuff yourself!

Plan ahead

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a new vegetarian was not planning ahead. I would go the grocery store without giving any thought to what I was going to eat on a daily basis. Dining out was also frustrating because I didn’t know which restaurants had vegetarian options and would usually have to resort to having a variety of side dishes for my meal. The Internet is a great resource for vegetarian meal planning as well as looking up vegetarian-friendly restaurant menus. You don’t have to spend hours coming up with an elaborate weekly meal plan; however, discovering dishes and restaurants that you like and planning your meals accordingly will save you a lot of frustration, time, and even money!

Have fun

Starting a vegetarian lifestyle does not have to be stressful or boring. Sure, starting anything new can be challenging. However, becoming a vegetarian should be a personal, pressure-free decision. You should be doing it because you want to do it. Enjoy experimenting with recipes and trying out new restaurants. Host a vegetarian dinner party and invite your friends. Consider finding a local Meetup group of “veg” foodies who enjoy gathering at various vegetarian restaurants around town. Not only will you find great food, you’ll also meet new people. Make it fun!

Featured photo credit: Wonderlane/ Flickr via flickr.com

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