At the time this is being written, I’ve been vegan for 2.5 years, and was vegetarian for almost 2 years before that. I’ve given advice a lot along the way, and I know what worked for me, so I wanted to offer some advice to anyone looking to limit their meat and dairy intake.
• I believe you have to do it slow to do it right; that isn’t always the case, but it worked for us. When my husband and I went vegetarian, we did research for a few months first to make sure we would be getting all the nutrition we needed. After that, we cut out beef, then we cut pork a few weeks later followed by chicken. This totally worked for us, and that is coming from a good ol’ Southern Bell who grew up with a barbeque judge for a father. To transition into going vegan, I made our home vegan but would still eat cheese when eating out. I had cheese less and less this way until it was totally gone from my diet.
• Start cooking. When you find a recipe you are totally in love with, keep it somewhere safe. Build up a library of at least 15-25 of your favorite recipes and keep ingredients on hand for at least a few of them. This way, you will always have the supplies and recipe to make something you know you like. Trying new recipes all the time can be exhausting and expensive, and it’s disheartening when you make something you don’t like very much, but you can always go to your trusty library to throw something together at the end of a long work day.
• Cook meals that yield leftovers. Casseroles and soup are the obvious choices, but if you look specifically for recipes that make good leftovers, then you can give yourself a chef break for a day or two! You can also look for recipes that freeze well; one of my favorite meals to make is pesto. I throw a couple handfuls of basil into a food processor, along with a handful of nuts (my favorites are cashews and pecans), some olive oil and salt & pepper, run the processor for a minute, and you have pesto! Freeze some of the pesto in ice cube trays and then all you have to do is thaw it later and toss it with some pasta.
• Try something new every week. Always have your favorite recipe library at hand, but you can only make that library bigger if you try something new now and then.
• Eat a RAINBOW. I know that sounds odd, but the easiest way to eat a balanced diet is to eat a rainbow of food; eating a balanced diet doesn’t have to be hard! Each color of food contains different vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
• Don’t be intimidated to try some meat substitutions. The main 3 are tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Tofu and tempeh are soy based and seitan is made with wheat gluten. There are tons of recipes in books and online to cook with all of these substitutes. Don’t eat them expecting them to be meat, but think of them as a new food. They are all extremely healthy for you and easy to make. Tofu and tempeh are best if they are marinated before you cook with them. Seitan, if made right (it can also be purchased pre-made) can make a wonderful substitution for anything from shaved sandwich meat to steak cutlets! Just be open-minded and experiment. Soy curls are another alternative (THEY ROCK), but they are only made by one manufacturer, Butler, so they may be hard to get depending on where you are. You can get them online, though.