One of my good friends, Nicole, recently moved back to America after living abroad on and off for the past few years. (Check out her new blog here!) She expressed an interest in eating less meat because it is processed so differently in different countries, but wondered how to start cutting it out of her diet. So she asked me what kinds of food I usually eat since becoming a vegetarian.
I officially became a vegetarian a little over a year ago, and had already been cutting meat out of my diet for about six months before that. For me, it was easy because my choice was rooted so strongly in moral and ethical reasons. There are a million other reasons—from environmental to personal health to financial—to cut meat and other animal products out of your diet and life too.
I told Nicole that literally anything you eat with meat, you can eat without it. It’s usually less expensive and lower in calories, and it’s always better for the environment. One pound of beef takes around 1,800 gallons of water to produce. Pasta takes only 222 gallons per pound, rice takes 299 gallons/pound, tofu takes 302 gallons/pound, and lentils take 704 gallons/pound. If you weren’t counting, that means you can produce one pound each of pasta, rice, tofu, and lentils with less water than the amount required for one pound of beef. And at the rate we’re going, our planet could use the extra water.
Admittedly, the only major worry I had when I transitioned to a vegetarian diet (and a question I now hear all the time), was where I would get protein from. When I was a teenager, and even throughout college, I used to get throbbing headaches if I didn’t regularly eat enough protein. But I have since learned that there are so many plant-based sources of protein! There’s protein in beans, lentils, and quinoa. In chia seeds, chickpeas and hummus, spinach, and peas. In nuts and nut butters, tofu, leafy greens, and plenty more. And in the past year, I’ve had maybe one or two of those horrible headaches from a lack of protein. I feel much better about my overall health too.
I compiled a list of some of my favorite things to eat—for anyone who is interested in adding more vegetarian or plant-based foods to their diet:
- Avocado toast
- Rice cakes with peanut butter, Nutella, or cream cheese
- Smoothies and smoothie bowls (usually with frozen bananas and berries)
- Banana pancakes
- Coconut yogurt and granola
- Cream of Wheat
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Hummus and chips
- Spinach artichoke dip on toasted naan
- Penne, farfalle, spaghetti, ravioli, tortellini, or literally any kind of pasta—usually with tomato sauce, or basil pesto
- White or brown rice and black beans
- Lentil or vegetable soups
- Quinoa, black beans, avocado, and tomato
- Baked sweet potato with brown sugar
- Black bean burgers with avocado, tomato, and peach balsamic
- Zucchini chips
- Quesadillas with black beans or canned pumpkin
- Roasted veggies—carrots, brussel sprouts, asparagus, potatoes
As you can see, most of these are fairly simple foods. I could eat rice and beans for dinner every day of the week. (And sometimes I do!) Fruit is my favorite food group (Besides dessert. And Carbs.) so I regularly snack on apples, sliced strawberries, peaches, clementines, banana chips, fig bars, and more. I have even come around on a few of the vegetables that I once despised! Sometimes I’ll take on a recipe I stumbled upon online, but most of the time I prefer to stick to simple foods. There’s really nothing complicated about what I eat.
The internet offers endless resources for information and recipes for vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based diets, and so do the people you know in real life! In the beginning, I reached out to one of my best friends who has been vegetarian for almost 15 years; she was more than happy to offer suggestions and answer my questions. Now, in 2016, you probably have at least one friend, family member, classmate, or coworker who is vegetarian or vegan too. Reach out to them and find out their favorite things to cook and eat. It really is easier than you may think.
What is your favorite veg meal? Let me know in the comments!