Pack in the plants with our helpful tips and tricks.

By Hayley Sugg
January 10, 2021
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There's never been a better time to consider giving up meat, even if it's only one day a week, than right now. Whether you're doing it for health reasons, to help animals, because of the environmental impact, or even to save money, eating more vegetarian meals can be just as delicious as the diet you're used to.

While you may be comfortable with your stable of go-to dishes like chicken enchiladas or meaty Bolognese, you'll quickly find that making the swap from meat-based dishes to plant-based ones can be as simple as reconsidering one ingredient, not the entire meal. So no, you don't have to give up cheesy enchiladas for grain salads or pepperoni pizza for stuffed squash (though both are certainly delish meat-free alternatives). Our collection of tips will teach you what foods to focus on, strategies for cutting out meat, and beginner pitfalls to avoid:

1. Don't Go Cold Turkey

Drastically cutting out all meat can leave you feeling like there's nothing to eat that you like. If that's the case, try removing types of meat from your diet one category at a time. Maybe start with red meat, move onto white, then cut out seafood last. As you slowly cut down on your meat intake, you'll be putting more plants on your plate.

Or pick one day to go without meat at all three meals and in snacks. When that feels comfortable, bump to two, then three. Soon, you'll be able to plan for seven meatless days without much work or worry.

2. Focus on What You Already Eat

Not everything has to be new to your palate when it comes to enjoying meatless meals. You probably already eat a decent amount of vegetarian dishes without even realizing it. Some popular options like avocado toast, pasta in marinara, bean burritos, or vegetable dumplings can all be vegetarian-friendly and familiar, too.

3. Keep Frozen Tofu on Hand

Tofu can be tricky to incorporate into your diet if you're not used to it. The easiest way to start preparing it? By sticking it in the freezer! When frozen, tofu gets a much spongier and chewier texture, which makes it ideal for soaking up marinades before baking or frying. Simply stick it in the freezer, then thaw it by dunking in warm water or popping the block in the microwave and heating it up for 30 seconds at a time. Then press it to remove moisture, and pop it into your favorite marinade. By having a few blocks in the freezer, you'll have a meatless protein option on hand for easy meals.

4. Use HappyCow

Eating out once you've become vegetarian can feel a little overwhelming. If you're intimidated with the thought of figuring out how to peruse menus or ask about ingredients lists, HappyCow is here to save the day. This veggie-version of Yelp is an online guide to vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants, stores, and bakeries in your area. You can find a range of different cuisines, read through reviews, and even download their app for on-the-go meatless options.

5. Branch Out With Beans

A beloved staple of vegetarians around the world, beans will quickly become part of your new meatless diet. But don't just stick with basic varieties, like chickpeas and black beans. Branch out to heirloom beans, like the kind offered by Rancho Gordo. One taste of options like cranberry beans or mayocoba beans, and you'll be gearing up to explore other long forgotten legumes.

6. Don't Forget Umami

Umami, the savory flavor, is sometimes lacking in a vegetarian diet due the fact that it's mostly found in meats. But just because you're skipping steak doesn't mean you have to settle for bland dishes. Our 8 Ways to Add Savory Flavor to Vegetarian Recipes will guide you to everyday ingredients, like soy sauce or sun-dried tomatoes, that can add umami depth and richness to your next meatless meal.

7. Sign Up for a CSA

Signing up for a community supported agriculture (CSA) box will help you branch out from your staple fruits and veggies, along with supporting local farmers. Depending on what type of program you sign up for, you'll get weekly (or bi-monthly) boxes of fresh produce, often featuring heirloom varieties or more unusual types of vegetables. By the time you've cooked up your bounty, you won't even miss the meat on your dinner plate.

8. Mimic the Texture of Meat

Do you feel like you're craving the texture of meat, the toothsome chewiness? That's alright, it happens to even the most seasoned of vegetarians. Two easy options for mimicking meat are textured vegetable protein (TVP) and soy curls. Both are made from soy protein, with TVP often coming in a granule form that's similar to ground beef. Soy curls are reminiscent of chicken strips. They're both dry and shelf-stable, meaning each is easy to keep on hand in your pantry and can be reconstituted with whatever type of flavoring you'd like.

9. Avoid Being a Junk Food Vegetarian

When cutting meat out of your diet, it can be tempting to just swap in easy junk food options. But subsisting on frozen waffles, chips, and microwave meals will end up with you feeling sluggish in no time, which prompts many newbie vegetarians to start eating meat again. To successfully stay meatless, try to keep the junk food to a minimum and instead focus on wholesome ingredients like whole grains, legumes, and fresh produce.

10. Try One New Recipe a Week

By incorporating at least one new recipe a week into your meal rotation, you're sure to find some new meatless dishes that will become favorites. The more new recipes you try, the easier it will be to leave non-vegetarian recipes in the past. Start off with 21 Recipes to Show How Easy an Entire Week of Meatless Meals Can Be or browse through our 100s of vegetarian recipes for inspiration.

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