I just recently became vegetarian, or I should say I started my “plant based diet.” I am not one of those people that can commit to… well anything really. I like flexibility, I like being able to choose based on the options in front of me. So when I decided to go plant based I allowed myself the leeway to eat seafood at will when I was outside my own home because let’s face it the American restaurant could give two shits about the plant based diet culture. Also being a traveler, when in different cultures I find that its important to experience the food, to experience the culture. I want the flexibility to say “Yes” to that whole pig roasted in a pit for 8 hours for an authentic Korean BBQ. The qualification of a plant based diet means just that, my diet is mostly plants but it gives me the options for animal protein given the right occasion. I also like to call it a Flexitarian Diet.
Now I have the good fortune to be culinary trained, so while I am not a Michelin star chef, I know my way around the kitchen. Thank the good lord because if I couldn’t cook I don’t know if I would have made it this far. Food is my passion and if my choice of diet became suddenly bland and unsatisfying I would quickly revert to my old ways.
Thank God for Pinterest! Without it I would be stuck searching thousands of boring long winded websites looking for inspiration for dinner. With Pinterest I simply do a search for “vegetarian” and what ever ingredient I have on hand to get rid of that night, and poof, dinner!
Many of the dishes that I have been creating have been one pot dishes that the focus is more on the seasonings then the ingredients. If I am missing an ingredient for say a Pad Thai recipe I simply sub it with another. It’s because it’s not the composition of the vegetables, legumes, and grains that make the dish, it is the composition of the seasonings. It’s the most flexible style of cooking I have ever used.
It’s very liberating to be honest. There is no ingredient that is off limits now except of course animal meat. Pasta? Yes. Rice? Yes. Bread? Hell to the yes! I eat every vegetable I have ever come across (not fond of okra but I’ll eat it). Beans, potatoes bring it on! Plus I can eat more, which is great for me since I am the kind of person who opens their eyes in the morning already knowing what I want to eat for breakfast. Meat is so calorie dense that I have found that I can eat way more veggie based foods then I could animal based, plus I eat more often and I am losing weight, Score!
I have found that my desire for salads have dropped dramatically. During my constant struggle to be a functioning adult without gaining 5-10lbs per year I had grown accustomed to eating a salad a day. I have been doing so for the past 15 years. Now that all I eat are plant based foods, I have discovered I don’t want to eat like a rabbit. I want to eat foods that are satisfying. That’s an important feeling for a foodie. When I finish a meal I want to feel like all of my cravings were satisfied. Now I find myself eating slower, letting my body feel full. My meals are meals, fully thought out dishes that leave me feeling completely satisfied. I didn’t expect this when I stopped eating meat.
As a meat eater it is hard to imagine life without meat. The fears are so ingrained that most people never consider a switch. I hear from a lot of friends, “but what about chicken wings on game day, or burgers and dogs at the cook out, or the steakhouse T-bone smothered in mushrooms and blue cheese?” Oh did I love all of those things. It’s not until I gave them up that I realized I had been missing out all those years. I had been missing out on the energy and life my body was capable of. My transition to plant based diet was slow, spanning many years with several moments of lost will.
Each time I caved and consumed meat I could feel it in my body for days. It was a heavy feeling, it made me feel tired, slow. It frankly made me feel like poo. It’s not until I recognized that feeling that meat began to disgust me, I realized that we as humans are not meant to consume that quantity of animal. As a result not eating meat is not a daily struggle it’s a daily choice that is all too easy to make, especially when I know what options there are for me.
Since making the transition two months ago, the only time I have consumed the same dish twice was while I was on the road for 40 days. At home when I cook I make a different breakfast, lunch and dinner so that I don’t have to eat the same dish twice. On the road it was a bit harder, I found myself eating a lot of Mexican and Asian cuisines, in both of those cultures it is far too easy to find a vegetarian option. Thank fully I have the time to prepare all of my meals. Come summertime I will need to begin making my meals for the whole week. Wait for those up coming posts. For now here are a few tips to get you started.
Don’t Forget the Protein
This is the number one rule because lets face it protein is what makes your body stay full. It takes longer for the body to break down as such is a slow burning fuel for your day. Protein comes in many forms. It is found in many vegetables in small quantities, like peas. Peas have one of the higher amounts of protein.
Beans and legumes.
There are a million ways to prepare them, it’s not just for chili. Use them in patty’s for veggie “burgers” or make them with different flavors like a crab cake. I use navy beans and stuffing to create a cake with thanksgiving flavors; just add a little vegetable gravy and its dinner!
Seeds are a vegetarians best friend!
You can sprinkle them on just about anything for a satisfying crunch! They are loaded with protein but also vitamins, minerals, and fiber! It’s like a mini powerhouse! I put flax seeds on my salads. Chia seeds in my post workout smoothie. Pepitas, oh how I love thee, great by the handful but they are also great in baked goods, salads, granola, the list is endless!
Eggs, Nut butters, cheese (in moderation)
All great sources of protein. When creating your meals always consider where your protein source is. Mix it up, the best diet is a balanced one. Also I think if I ate lentils every meal every day I might go shoot a cow myself. So plan ahead!
I prefer to steer clear of “fake” meats and cheese. Tofu is simply not my favorite, so I rarely eat it either. My mind sight is that if I wanted a piece of bacon then I would eat a piece of bacon. I’m choosing to eat plants instead, so why kid myself…it ain’t bacon. But to each their own if it is easier for you to transition to this lifestyle using fake bacon, go for it. Just keep an eye on the ingredients, some of those options use a lot of yukkies to make it look and taste like the real thing.
Stay Stocked Up!
There is nothing worse then being hungry with nothing in your kitchen to make dinner. I personally am one of those people who doesn’t know what I am in the mood for until 10 minutes before I cook, which makes it difficult to grocery shop. So I have learned to make sure I always have the staples.
Canned Beans or Dried
Each have their benefits, really it just comes down to time and patience. Dry are cheaper, but they take planning to soak overnight and cook for an hour or more. I generally pic two or three kinds and make a batch of them for the week, that way I have a few options and I’m not left with dinner taking 2 hours to prepare while I’m cooking beans. They freeze great too.
Can be a truly satisfying lunch or dinner. Also it is very easy to find vegetarian varieties everyone will like. Soups are great too because its an easy thing to keep stocked and gives you an easy option for when you don’t feel like cooking.
Rice & Grains
I like to have a variety of organic pastas, rices, quinoa (protein packed)! Its important to keep a variety of these on hand for that last minute supper idea. I also have been know to grab so soba noodles, kale, and mushrooms throw them in a pan with vegetable broth and a few seasoning for a quick noodle soup for lunch. Being prepared for those whims is essential.
Vegetables are a given. Primarily I will buy what ever I can find at the store that is organic. I live in a small beach town so on the off season it gets harder for my grocery store to stock as many organics. Those are the veggies that most of my meals will center around. But I also don’t want to get stuck with a small supply, so I also prepare with frozen veggies. I usually grab what ever organic frozen they have but they tend to be much more expensive compared to the fresh veggies. So when there is a good deal I will purchase more of a specific fresh veggie so I can chop it up and freeze it when I get home.
Plan ahead. Seek out vegetarian recipes to add to your arsenal. Like I said earlier, I very rarely make the same meal twice, the options are endless. This makes cooking fun because you are able to experience with different flavors, textures, styles, techniques etc.
Last but not least. Be flexible and know your personal lines. Going out to eat is a particular struggle for vegetarians, forget about vegans. I have created menus for restaurants before and I did the same thing, vegetarians are after thoughts; they can just eat salad right? It’s insanely frustrating. At first I just scanned the menu until I found the veggie burger or the veggie tacos. Then I learned to be creative.
Servers do this at the restaurants they work at all the time, they have to eat there everyday…it gets boring. So they make up their own dishes and ask the kitchen to make it for them. You can do it too! Unless the server is a real wiener. Read the menu to find ingredients. Do they have rice and beans as a side? Ask them to add the beans to a pasta on the menu, the cheese quesadilla, or throw it on a salad. Do they have a veggie burger that sounds plain jane? Ask them if one of there signature sandwiches can sub in the veggie patty. No veggie burger but they have a portabella pasta, ask them for the spicy chicken sandwich with a portabela instead of the chicken breast.
Also decide where your lines are. Are you like me and want to be plant based? or are you totally vegan? For me I eat sustainable seafood occasionally. Food is an important part of every culture so if there is a signature dish that has pork in it, ill eat it. As long as it’s not a daily thing I have no problem dabbling. For me its plant based, if I eat 99% plant based foods, I’m a happy girl. Makes it easier to split appetizer with friends too. But that’s not for everyone, decide how you want to be and stick to it!
Its not an easy choice to make, becoming vegetarian changes everything you think you know about food and diet. Society and American Society in particular has not caught up yet. Animal protein is big business and will continue to be. They have deep pockets that make all of us think there is no other way, but there is and you have found it. I won’t lie and say you won’t crave a gooey cheeseburger or a spicy chicken wing. But be patient this is a healthy lifestyle and in the long run it is better for you mind, body, and spirit! Stick with it!