People who are leaning toward a vegetarian diet may have lots of questions: Will I feel full enough if I’m not eating meat? How can I be sure I’m getting enough protein each day? These are common questions and have easy answers. But if you’ve moved out of the “considering” phase and are planning to shift to a fully vegetarian lifestyle, getting some tips on how to survive your first month is a good place to start.
Vegetarians by the numbers
First, know that you are in good company. The latest Gallup polls show about 4% of people in the United States identify as vegetarian while another 1% describe themselves as vegan, which means they also abstain from eating any animal products, like eggs, dairy and honey.
People are drawn to vegetarian diets for many reasons. Some choose to go vegetarian because they believe it’s an environmentally-conscious decision. For others, it might be a wallet choice. Polls show nearly twice as many vegetarians identify as living in a low-income household, as compared to those in a moderate or high-income bracket.
Others make this choice because they believe it will help them get healthier or maintain their health as they age. Depending on the food choices vegetarians make, research has found that the benefits include better heart health, lower blood pressure, and even a significant decrease in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
And non-meat options at grocery stores have expanded in recent years, with both fresh and frozen sections carrying plant-based meat substitute foods. Another Gallup poll found about half of all American shoppers were familiar with this kind of meat alternative, and that 4 in 10 people said they had tried these substitute foods at least once.
Tips for sticking with a vegetarian diet
For those embarking on a vegetarian lifestyle, there is a lot of support available. Information and how-to guides can be found online, but better yet, many hospitals, community centers and health departments offer local programs you can join.
Here are some of the best tips we’ve found for surviving your first month as a vegetarian.
Make it a gradual change. This might be the most important tip if you’re creating a new lifestyle. Sure, you can wake up on a Monday morning and decide to cut out all meat from your diet. But much like any other cold-turkey decision, it might be hard to make it last. So what’s a better option? Start slow. Some ideas:
- If you already do Meatless Monday, step it up to going meatless on Monday and Wednesday. Gradually add in more days.
- Anxious about skipping your Saturday morning pancakes-and-bacon ritual? Go meatless on weekdays only to start.
- Make every breakfast and lunch vegetarian to start, and save any meat servings for dinner.
Think about shopping differently. Instead of focusing so much on which prime cuts of beef and pork to pick out of the meat case, shift your thinking about your grocery store aisles. What can you make that’s filling and takes on that meaty role? It could be plant-based meat substitute burgers, pre-crumbled taco filling or tofu products. It could be ingredients like pastas, beans and brown rice or other whole grains. Mushrooms and fall squash add heft to roasted or baked dishes. Herbs and spices add flavor.
Meal planning. Even if you’re typically not a meal planner, map out at least two vegetarian meals for the coming week. This will give you a chance to buy new plant-based products, or find recipes you want to try at home. Planning ensures you’ll have what you need on your shopping list and it helps you make a mental commitment to the switch.
Takeout options. Eating vegetarian does not mean giving up your favorite restaurants or take-out places. It just means you have to look at menus a different way. Burger chains typically offer a plant-based option with the same sauces and toppings as their beef burgers.