Mel’s advice to a young vegetarian

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One of the reasons that Aaron and I set up this website is because as soon as people find out that our family is vegetarian we’re inundated with lots of questions about what we eat, why we eat the way we do and how others can make better food choices. We don’t mind answering questions, of course — and it began to make sense to have one point-of-reference to direct the local veg-curious crowd.

Often people say to us, “I would like to be a vegetarian, but…” or even “I would like to eat less meat, but…” For lots of reasons that vary from philosophical to health, indulging in a plant-based diet may be one of your goals too. This is my top three tips to new vegetarians and those looking to just cut some meat out of their diets:

1. Start slowly. Don’t expect to quit eating meat cold tofurky. Most of us grew up with meat as the centerpiece of a meal and it can be overwhelming to change everything you know about eating all at once. Try replacing two dinners a week with vegetarian fare and go from there.

Don’t be afraid to try new vegetarian recipes too.The only way you’re going to enjoy eating vegetarian as much as you enjoy eating meat is if you can find a variety of yummy things you like to eat regularly. This will only happen through experimentation and patience.

Don’t give up though and don’t get too down on yourself if it takes you awhile to transition. Keep in mind that every meatless meal you enjoy greatly benefits your body, the planet, the animals you aren’t eating (or whatever your reasons are for going veg).

2. Something about vegetarian food that I wish I had known when I first started was that you have to stop thinking about your meals in terms of 1 – main-course, 2 – side-dish, 3 – side-dish. Most vegetarian meals that you put together aren’t going to be like that. Let’s face it, you can only have veggies with a side of veggies so often before it becomes a little ridiculous. Most of the vegetarian meals I make are one-course kind of deals. Treat yourself with bread on the side. Learn to love the casserole. Learn to love grazing and tappas-style meals.

For example, last night I fixed tofu fried rice. It was the whole meal. Sure I could have stir-fried some veggies for the side, but there was already veggies in the rice (green onions, peppers and shitake mushrooms! yum!). Trust me, a nice bowl of tofu fried rice was plenty for dinner.

One of the benefits that people often note when they start to eat vegetarian is that they feel less stuffed full after eating a veg meal as opposed to a multi-course meat-centric dinner. This is an awesome feeling you’ll learn to love and soon forget all about loosening your belt after dinner (though that does happen occasionally after an Indian-food buffet for me)!

3. You’re going to be eating vegetables. Find a few you like. This may seem obvious, but frequently people say to me, “I would be a vegetarian, but I don’t really like vegetables.” Oiy! Aaron doesn’t like vegetables either and honestly, I don’t get it. I think most of this comes from never having properly cooked, fresh flavorful veggies growing up. When everything green that you consume comes out of a can, maybe that’s the source of your problem!

There are tons of great veg*n cookbooks out there that will explain the correct process for cooking vegetables (the Veganomicon is my absolute favorite and has a whole chapter on cooking veggies). The thing is, there are a lot of vegetables out there — most of them you probably haven’t tried! Find a couple that you like — again, through experimentation and patience. It’ll open whole new worlds for you, trust me!

Once you’ve got a few dinners under your belt, you be much more comfortable with your food choices. Before you know it, vegetarianism will be automatic. It’s true that cooking can be intimidating, but the only way to get better at it is to try!

To you seasoned veg*ns, what is your best advice for those wanting to try vegetarian food?