Thanks to the increasing number of us cutting out animal products and the
subsequent rise in products catering to our needs, going vegetarian has never
been easier. There are hundreds of delicious, healthful vegetarian foods to
fit every taste. You'll discover foods you love--and you'll look better, feel
better, and have the peace that comes with knowing that your diet is cruelty-free.
Beginning any new lifestyle can be challenging. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to create complicated, gourmet vegetarian meals right from the start. Start by "vegging up" meals you already eat, like making spaghetti with tomato sauce, soups, and salads, and by replacing the meat in favorite recipes, like lasagna, stir fries, and chili, with beans or textured vegetable protein (TVP).
Try meat impostors--veggie burgers, "ham," "hot dogs,"
and "turkey" made out of soy and other meatless ingredients. They
taste close enough to the real thing to fool the unsuspecting diner, although
you might have to try several different brands before you find the one you really
Explore the many vegetarian convenience foods available. Check natural foods stores for instant soup and main-dish convenience items, as well as regular supermarkets. Many canned soup flavors that you're probably already used to are vegetarian, like black bean, minestrone, and vegetable. Flavored rice mixes can be made into an entrée just by adding a can of beans. Experiment with vegetarian baked and refried beans (don't forget to check for lard!) and different kinds of pasta. Order pizza without the cheese but piled with vegetable toppings, like peppers, mushrooms, or even artichokes.
Vegetarian cookbooks are a great source of inspiration. Libraries and bookstores have a wide selection of vegetarian cookbooks that will show you how to use less familiar staples such as tofu, TVP, and seitan.
* Tofu, made from soybeans, has a bland taste on its own but readily picks up the flavors of the food you cook it with. You can use tofu in just about everything. It's especially good in stir-fries.
* TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is available in health food stores. It's fat-free and has a texture like ground beef. Try it in tacos, chili, and spaghetti sauce.
* Seitan is a delicious wheat-gluten protein. Its hearty texture makes it ideal for slicing, baking, frying, stewing, etc.
* Tempeh is a chewy, meatlike food made from fermented soybeans. It has a nutty, tangy taste and can be used in almost any recipe that calls for meat.
* Many recipes call for eggs because of their binding and leavening properties. Don't worry--eliminating them is easy. Egg replacers, available in health food stores and some supermarkets, work just as well as the real thing. Also, try substituting one heaping tablespoon of soy flour or cornstarch plus two tablespoons of water for each egg in a baked product. Or try one ounce of mashed tofu to replace each egg in recipes.
* Watch out for hidden animal ingredients, like gelatin, which is usually made from bones, hooves, skin, and other animal tissues. Click HERE for PETA's free guide, "Animal Ingredients and Their Alternatives".
Nervous about traveling? Take plenty of vegetarian snacks like granola bars and raw fruits and vegetables to munch on car trips. If you're traveling by air, most airlines will provide you with a vegetarian or vegan option that will put standard airline fare to shame. More than one air traveler has had a jealous carnivorous seatmate try to swap meals! Order your vegetarian meal 24 hours in advance through your travel agent or the airline's reservation line.
Remember that, by going vegetarian, you've chosen a way of living that is good for your health, your wallet, and your soul. Congratulations!