Tips and tricks from a beginner vegetarian


Ashley Peterson

A variety of homemade plant-based meals

Whether you are transitioning to a plant-based diet due to a medical reason or personal choice, it can be a journey of trial and error. I cut meat out of my diet only a few months ago, so I am no expert on the topic, but I think that my beginner status could actually be of some use to others. Maybe my mistakes and growing pains can help others’ transition be just a bit easier. 


Of course, step one of any drastic diet change should be to check in with your doctor, especially if you have any outstanding health conditions. Food can affect all of us differently, so it is important to know that this new way of eating will give your body what it needs. 


Pay attention, especially to protein 


When I started out eating vegetarian (and even before that since I was never huge on meat), I found that I was extremely tired and hungry most of the time. This didn’t make sense to me, as I felt that I ate rather a lot. However, once I took a close look at what I was eating, it started to come together. 


Meat, poultry, and fish offer a good supply of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, selenium, iron, and B12. When you remove these things from your routine, you could be at a higher risk of nutritional deficiency. 


Thus, you may need to focus more on the individual elements of your meals than you did before. However, this can quickly become a routine. 


For example, beans and nuts are fantastic sources of protein. Nutritional yeast is another great tool for vegetarians or vegans, as it is a robust source of protein and several minerals such as potassium and zinc. Nutritional yeast comes in flakes or powders and can be sprinkled on pastas, rice, veggies, and more. 


Tofu, a food made from condensed soy milk, is also high in protein and contains a wide variety of minerals and vitamins. It can be quite a divisive subject, but selecting the right firmness of tofu and method of cooking for your tastes will be key in deciding your opinion on it. Personally, I tend to use tofu as a kind of meat substitute. 


Have replacement meats (in moderation)


 There are a wide range of meat substitutes, and they can be a good source of protein while also giving a familiar texture and taste. However, it is important to look at the ingredients. Replacement meats tend to be free of cholesterol, but some are higher in sodium and saturated fats than actual meat. 


Tofu, tempeh, beans, and lentils can give similar benefits with fewer drawbacks. Sometimes, though, you may just have a craving that only Beyond Burger can satisfy. 


Find a community 


One of my favorite parts of cooking more has been swapping recipes and discovering new ones. This can also make it easier to come up with ideas, as you don’t have to invent each meal from scratch every time.


Besides swapping tips with someone one-on-one, there are also many online resources for recipe ideas. YouTube channels like ‘AbetweenE’ and ‘Emily Ewing’ have been great inspirations to me with their vegan ‘What I eat in a week’ series. They will often make something like a vegetarian Philly cheese steak, an idea I had never even considered before! 


Try to recreate your favorites


These videos are a good reminder that you don’t have to completely change your tastes in order to eat plant-based. I have actually found it fun to alter the recipes I loved before. Chili has been in my regular meal rotation for a long time now, and once I started eating vegetarian I simply left out the ground meat and kept the protein-filled beans. You can always add something as well, like tofu or potatoes, to take the place of the meat. 


Love hot wings? This cauliflower wing recipe could be surprisingly satisfying (however, for the faint of heart I would definitely recommend swapping out the cup of hot sauce with ½ cup of BBQ sauce and ½ cup of hot or mild sauce).


Experiment and have fun! 


Doing something new can be a little scary and frustrating at times, but it’s all about trial and error! You might have to eat more or more strategically than before. The first few times I made tofu, I was not a fan of the texture at all. However, once I learned the importance of pressing the water out of firm tofu before cooking to get a crispy finish on it, I never looked back. 


Research, have fun, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.