Like many people, I have struggled with eating the right foods to stay healthy. A year ago my husband and I decided to stop eating meat and move towards a more plant based diet. We've learned a lot along the way and I wanted to share some tips for others who are starting along this journey.
1. Start with meals that are easy to convert to vegetarian.
Most people end up in a food rut where we make the same few dishes over and over again. We lead busy lives and it's not practical to try out new foods every night. My husband and I had a couple of meals that years ago we decided we could make without meat-Mexican and Pizza.
Our quick and easy Mexican dinner is black beans, peppers, onions, corn, tomatoes (or Rotel), and seasoning. We stir fry it in a skillet until the vegetables are cooked and then cover it for a few minutes to let the flavors come together. Sometimes we eat it with chips, in a tortilla or on a bed of lettuce. The proportions always change but the ingredients stay the same and it's our fall back meal.
The other is pizza. I love sausage and pepperoni as much as the next person, but I can also live without them. So for years we've been making or ordering pizza with all the vegetables we like.
I challenge you to find a couple of dishes in your current rotation that you can take the meat out of and not miss.
2. Try food from different cultures.
Over the years I discovered that I love Indian, Thai, Chinese, Greek and Ethiopian food. There are so many spices and flavors that are used that I don't miss the meat. Whether you order from a restaurant or make it at home, many of these dishes are bean, grain, or lentil based and taste amazing. Remember spices give food flavor and don't always mean they are hot.
3. Find a veggie burger you love.
My first veggie burgers were Morningstar Black Bean burgers. Then I went to Houston's Restaurant and had their house-made veggie burger. I've never looked back. It's easy to find recipes for veggie burgers made with black beans, chick peas, sweet potatoes, or grains. It doesn't matter which one you like, just find a recipe that you love and keep it close by.
When summertime comes and everyone starts to grill, I love making my black bean burgers for everyone. Even my friends and family who eat meat end up loving my recipe and tell me how "healthy" they feel afterwards. Add a side of baked sweet potato fries and coleslaw for a great dinner.
The latest trend is the Beyond Meat products and Impossible Burgers. Before you buy them, look at the ingredients on the package and make sure that you're comfortable with what's in them. You may decide it's healthier making your own at home.
4. Reframe your mind—don't start planning the meal around the meat.
This is perhaps the hardest habit to break. When I got married and felt the responsibility of cooking meals for both of us, I realized I couldn't just serve chicken for dinner. I always thought about three things on the plate, the meat, a vegetable and probably a carb. It was easy to think in those terms and most of us do. Suddenly when we gave up meat, we had to start thinking differently about how to fill the plate.
Slowly but surely, our plates have changed. Now one of our fallback meals is my husband's mixed vegetable dish. It's a huge stir fry of all the vegetables we like, with an oyster sauce and crumbled tofu if we have it in the refrigerator.
In the cooler months I love making Dr. Oz's Fat Melting Vegetarian Chili. This sweet potato and bean based chili will feed a crowd or can be frozen for an easy meal on another day.
I've found several dishes using a combination of cauliflower and chickpeas together, either as a falafel or grilled and put into a wrap. We have a Vegetable Pad Thai dish that we love and a few pasta dishes in our rotation. We've embraced lentils and now have several recipes we enjoy.
The thing to remember is that just because you don't eat meat today doesn't mean you can't eat it tomorrow. My husband tells me that if he wants a steak, he'll eat a steak. I have to admit we were with some friends a few months ago walking around at lunchtime and smelled the most amazing barbecue. One pulled pork sandwich later, I was done with meat again.
What you eat is your choice and I hope these tips will inspire you to find some more vegetarian meals you love.
If you want to learn more about Plant Based eating, find some new recipes and watch some cooking videos, check out Jeff and Amy Hagins website Plantbased365. This couple embraced a plant based lifestyle years ago and want to share their recipes and knowledge with the world.