A Meat-Lover’s Guide on How to Become a Vegetarian
When you look for ways to help fight climate change, you’ll see a familiar piece of advice again and again: eat less meat. So you might be wondering, how can eating less meat help the environment? More importantly, how can I become a vegetarian?
Fortunately, you’ll find the answers to those questions and more in this helpful guide!
Whether you’re trying to make your own dietary changes, or you’re attempting to transition your family to a more plant-based diet, you can use these tips on how to become a vegetarian to easily make the switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
How Does Eating Less Meat Help the Environment?
Reducing the amount of meat you eat is one of the most powerful actions you can take to fight the climate crisis. Around 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. That’s because meat consumption is a two-fold problem.
First, forests are destroyed and converted into either grazing land for livestock or land to grow crops to feed livestock. Second, livestock emit methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.
Growing plants demands less water and emits less carbon dioxide than raising livestock. When we don’t have to raise as much livestock, we can convert that land back into forests.
Other Benefits of Becoming a Vegetarian
Not only does eating less meat help the environment, but there are also personal benefits you’ll enjoy. The populations of people who live the longest and have the lowest risks of chronic diseases often eat less animal protein.
Eating less meat means consuming less artery-clogging saturated fat. Additionally, adding more vegetables, beans, and legumes to your diet means decreasing your risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other diet-related diseases.
It can also help your wallet. A study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition found that a diet with meat costs nearly $750 more per year and offered fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Will I Get Enough Protein When I Become a Vegetarian?
One of the main things people worry about when they contemplate making the switch to a plant-based diet is getting enough protein. The truth is that most Americans eat far more protein than they actually need.
If you’re consuming enough calories, you’re getting enough protein. You can find protein in grains, vegetables, beans, legumes, and more.
As an example, a half cup of cooked lentils or a 3-ounce serving of whole-wheat pasta contains 12 grams of protein.
A Beginner’s Guide on How to Become a Vegetarian
Now that you know both the environmental and personal benefits of switching to a plant-based diet, you’re likely ready to do it. But how exactly can you go about eating less meat?
Immediately giving up all meat could be a recipe for disaster. You might also have some family members who are less than thrilled with the change.
These are the easy, painless steps I took when I made the switch to vegetarianism and wanted to encourage my family to eat less meat. If you’re trying to become a vegetarian, these tips can help you do the same thing and actually enjoy doing it!
1. Start Slowly
The key to any lifestyle change is to take things slow, and switching to vegetarianism is no exception. When you’re trying to eat less meat, start making the change slowly.
For example, if you have meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day, consider cutting it out of just breakfast. Once you feel comfortable with that, start cutting meat out of your lunch.
Then you can cut meat out of your dinner. Before you know it, you’ve completely eliminated meat from your diet!
Another option to consider it taking it one day at a time. Start on Monday and make every meal you have that day meatless. After a couple weeks go by and you have the hang of one day, work on not eating any meat on Tuesday.
Simply keep following that pattern until you’re eventually having meatless meals 7 days a week. This process is also a great way to help reluctant family members ease into eating less meat.
2. Cut Out Red Meat First
When you start cutting back little by little, consider eliminating red meat first. Of all the meat that we consume, beef has the biggest negative impact on the environment.
Cows require a large amount of land for pasture, and as we’ve already noted, most of this land comes from razing forests.
Plus, although it sounds ridiculous, cows burp and fart A LOT. And they release large amounts of methane when they do.
On average, every 50 grams of protein in beef causes the equivalent of 17.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. On the other hand, chickens cause 2.9 kilograms of emissions and beans only release 0.4 kilograms.
So if you’re trying to immediately reduce your carbon footprint, cutting out red meat from your diet is an excellent first place to start.
3. Swap Half of Your Meat
Another easy and painless way to eat less meat is to swap out half of it for a plant-based ingredient.
If you’re cooking up some meat to make tacos, use half the meat you normally do and fill in the rest with lentils. This way, you’re reducing the amount of meat you eat and slowly getting used to the change.
Other ideas you can use include adding lentils to burger patties, using more beans and less meat when making chili, or mixing in crumbled tofu or chopped mushrooms into your casseroles.
As you’re making these meals, keep slowly reducing the amount of meat and increasing the amount of plant-based ingredients until you eventually have no meat and all plants.
4. Use Meat as a Side Dish
Most people are conditioned to think of meat as the main part of the meal, while grains and vegetables are smaller side dishes. Instead, retrain your brain to view vegetables and grains as the main dish and meat as something smaller you have on the side.
When you’re cooking your meals, play around with proportions. Try to keep meat to around a fourth of your plate. Then load up the rest of your plate with beans, legumes, grains, vegetables, and other plant-based options.
5. Plan Your Meals
Not only is meal planning a crucial way to save money and help prevent food waste, but it’s also key when it comes to eating less meat. When you’re busy and feeling rushed, it’s very easy to fall back on quick meals that contain meat. (I’m looking at you grocery store rotisserie chicken.)
Whether it’s the beginning of the week or right before you go to the grocery store, find a convenient time to sit down and come up with a meal plan. Planning ahead makes it much easier to get plant-based meals on the table.
Plus, when you’re cooking, consider making enough so you have leftovers. This way, you don’t have to stress about cooking every single day.
6. Find Vegetarian Versions of Your Favorite Meals
When I first made the switch to a vegetarian diet, one of the hardest parts was figuring out what to eat. I felt like I had cookbooks full of recipes I couldn’t use anymore.
Then I began to realize I could still make my favorite meals, I just had to find the right vegetarian swaps for them. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some excellent resources to check out:
- 100+ Amazingly Simple and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes
- Awesome Vegetarian Instant Pot Recipes for When You’re Short on Time
- Over 85 Easy Eggplant Recipes You’ll Love
- Incredibly Simple Vegan Recipes Using Ingredients You Have in Your Pantry
- Quick and Easy Vegetarian Pantry Recipes to Try Tonight
If you’re looking for even more helpful resources, here are a few vegetarian cookbooks I use in my kitchen and highly recommend:
7. Be Flexible
Being flexible with yourself is one of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re trying to eat less meat.
Maybe there’s just one favorite dish that you absolutely cannot give up. Or perhaps one day you have a craving you simply can’t ignore.
You’ll still be helping the environment and enjoying many of the benefits of a plant-based diet even if you don’t transition to a completely vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
In fact, there’s a diet out there called “flexitarian,” which is combination of “flexible” and “vegetarian”. The idea is that you have a mostly meatless diet, but you give yourself leeway to have a burger or chicken dinner when you get a hankering for one.
7 Easy Steps You Can Follow to Become a Vegetarian
The health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet just can’t be denied. Fortunately, making the switch isn’t as difficult as you might fear.
Thanks to these simple tips on how to become a vegetarian, you and your family can easily transition to a plant-based diet and enjoy plenty of great tasting meals!
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