Many people are trying to cut back on how much meat they eat these days, usually for health reasons or personal choice.
Lots of them are trying to eliminate meat from their diets completely. In fact, there are around 7 million vegetarians in the US.
If you’ve been a meat eater for many years and want to become vegetarian, you probably have lots of questions.
Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and just don’t know where to begin. Perhaps you’re unsure of what foods you’d be able to eat as a vegetarian or are worried you might not be able to find a wide selection of vegetarian foods in your local area.
Having been a meat eater for more than 20 years before became vegetarian, I’ve been in your shoes, and I understand your concerns.
Transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle can be tricky, but vegetarian products are increasingly available in stores, so it’s easier to “go veggie” now than it’s ever been!
I’ve crafted this vegetarian diet plan for beginners, including small steps you can take to transition.
If you need more ideas, a sample week-long meal guide is also included to start off your first week. Congratulations on choosing to become a vegetarian, and I hope this info will help you on your way!
Step #1: Choose Your Vegetarian Style
Before you begin your new eating plan, the most important step is to choose what kind of vegetarian you’d like to be.
You can choose to be a lacto-ovo vegetarian (you’ll eat eggs, honey and dairy, but no meat), a lacto vegetarian (you’ll eat dairy and honey, but no eggs or meat), or even a strict vegetarian (also called vegan), which means no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.
Whichever one you choose, it’s important to make dietary changes slowly – you’ll be more successful!
Most people find it easiest to start off as a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Some people choose to follow this plan for many years. Others choose to transition from lacto-ovo vegetarianism to lacto vegetarianism over a period of time; some people then move to a vegan diet.
Try different plans and see what feels right for you. Feel free to move between styles, too! For example, you could do vegan Mondays with lacto-ovo vegetarian weekends. Just experiment!
Step #2: Use Meat Replacements & Adapt Your Favorite Old Recipes
As you transition away from eating meat, meat replacements will be your new best friend. In the freezer section of the grocery store, you can find entire shelves filled with vegetarian “fake meat” alternatives.
From vegetarian burgers to meat crumbles, fake sausages to veggie hot dogs, the selection is expanding nearly every day!
As you create your first vegetarian meals, keep it simple. You can use all of your usual recipes, just replace the meat with a meat-free option – veggie crumbles in place of meat in spaghetti or a veggie patty on a bun in place of your usual hamburger, for example.
Step #3: Experiment With New Flavors and Recipes
As you become a more experienced vegetarian, you can start to move away from using meat substitutes and branch out to new flavors.
Try using tofu in a stir fry. Lentils and chickpeas also make excellent stand-ins for meat.
If I crave meat, one of my favorite things to do is to make a lentil dish flavored with bay leaves and oregano – it really does have a smoky, “meaty” taste that is just as satisfying as a burger!
For breakfast, oats have a very hearty texture and are really comforting. You can even use them to make a batch of your own granola bars in the oven, which are perfect for busy mornings!
To support your vegetarian diet, try to seek out new recipes. There are many Pinterest boards and vegetarian blogs online, which are constantly updated with new recipes.
Dozens of vegetarian cookbooks are available online (even at discount stores!), and your local bookstore likely carries several magazines devoted to vegetarian food.
Aim to adapt one of your favorite old recipes and try one new recipe every two weeks. This way, you’ll never get bored, and you’ll create your own vegetarian “recipe box” in no time!
Sample Vegetarian Meal Plan for Your First Week
(Including Vegan Options)
Breakfast: scrambled eggs with toast and/or vegetarian/vegan sausages
Lunch: egg salad sandwich (or chickpea salad sandwich if vegan)
Dinner: spaghetti, with or without vegetarian or vegan meatballs/meat crumbles (from the freezer section)
Breakfast: granola bar (homemade or store-bought) with banana
Lunch: grilled cheese sandwich (use vegan shredded cheese if you want to)
Dinner: broccoli-cheese soup (or lentil soup if vegan)
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with fruit (or coconut yogurt, if vegan)
Lunch: pasta salad, carrot sticks and/or potato chips
Dinner: vegetarian or vegan burger on a bun with french fries
Breakfast: cereal with milk of your choice
Lunch: baked potato with filling of your choice (cheese or vegan cheese, beans, salad)
Dinner: Mexican burritos/tacos (taco shells or tortillas filled with refried/black beans, brown rice, lettuce, tomato, avocado slices, and salsa)
Breakfast: oatmeal (instant or overnight) with cinnamon or maple syrup and fruit of choice
Lunch: humus and pita with olives, salad, and feta cheese (or vegan cheese substitute)
Dinner: pot pie (or cottage pie)—can be store-bought or homemade
Breakfast: vegan/vegetarian pancakes with maple syrup
Lunch: risotto with butternut squash
Dinner: stir-fry (spaghetti noodles with soy and teriyaki sauce, mixed vegetables from the freezer section)
Breakfast: blueberry muffin (homemade or store-bought) with smoothie (blend together ice cubes, milk or coconut milk, 1 banana, and some strawberries or blueberries)
Lunch: vegetarian chili or (lentils with rice)
Dinner: falafel with lemon-tahini sauce
I hope this info on starting a vegetarian diet plan for beginners has inspired you to experiment with new flavors in the kitchen! Good luck, and happy cooking!