December is almost here, which means the beginning of a new year is just weeks away. But instead of waiting, get a jump on your 2018 resolutions by switching over to a vegetarian diet today.
Giving up meat can be challenging, so here are five tips for seamlessly switching to a vegetarian diet.
1. Start simple
If you are overwhelmed by the prospect of going vegetarian, start with foods that are familiar.
“Up the ante on the plant-based foods you already incorporate,” says Diana Dugan Richards, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Namaste Nutrition.
For example, Richards says you could begin by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or, eat more breakfasts of oatmeal with raisins and maple syrup.
Then, gradually add in foods such as canned beans, frozen spinach and pre-cooked, frozen grains such as quinoa.
2. Remember to ‘stay colorful’
By eating foods from a rainbow of colors, you will get all the nutrients you need to maintain good health. For example:
- Green foods contain vitamins B, E and K. These vitamins help maintain the health of cells, body tissues and blood.
- Red and orange citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, which boost the immune system and the healing process.
- Purple and blue foods aid memory and lower the risk of cancer.
- Orange foods contain vitamin A, which helps maintain eyesight and skin.
With a little planning, adding more color to your diet might not be as difficult as you think.
“Consider prepping a lot of veggie finger foods, like red, orange (and) yellow bell peppers, carrots, and green beans to have on hand,” Richards says.
Dip these foods into bean dips like hummus and white bean dip with a side of prepared tabouli, she says.
3. Transition your mindset away from meat
Becoming a vegetarian requires you to move your mindset beyond meat, says Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist who is author of “Plant-Powered for Life” and who dubs herself “the plant-powered dietitian.”
“Think of building your plate around plants,” she says. These should include:
- Whole grains: Oats, farro, brown rice, sorghum
- Pulses: Beans, lentils, peas
- Vegetables: Carrots, onions, potatoes, green leafy vegetables, squash
- Fruits: Oranges, apples, berries, bananas, peaches
- Nuts: Pistachios, walnuts, almonds
- Soy foods: Tofu, tempeh, soy milk
“(These) should be the stars of your plate,” Palmer says. “Your meals should be alive with a rainbow of plant foods.”
4. Keep vegetarian-friendly ingredients handy
Transitioning to a healthful vegetarian diet will be much easier if you keep the proper oils and seasonings on hand.
For example, stock your pantry with healthy oils such as olive oil, and plenty of spices and herbs.
“When you have these around, you will have all of the ingredients to create delicious, healthy vegetarian meals,” she says.
5. Prepare foods ahead of time
When you are busy or stressed, it can be difficult to find time to prepare healthful, vegetarian meals. When trying to save time, you might be tempted to simply grab a fast-food burger.
Preparing vegetarian meals ahead of time can help you avoid falling prey to such temptation.
“One thing I love to do is make more than one salad at a time and have those prepared salads waiting on me for dinner time,” Richards says.