Vegetarian Basics

Becoming a vegetarian can be easy if you’re committed and creative. Here are some basic tips for those of you who are interested in a vegetarian diet, but not sure how to go about it.

Getting the Right Vitamins

This is the first thing to look out for if you want to switch to a plant-based diet. When you cut meat out of your diet, you can lose a large source of your vitamins if you don’t make the transition properly. Vitamin deficiencies can lead to things like stress, anxiety, exhaustion and mood swings, so be careful to get a good balance. Here are some of the most important vitamins for vegetarians.

  • B12− To get your daily dose of B12, eat foods like eggs, milk and cheese. Since the foods that typically have the highest levels of B12 are meats, it’s important to make an effort to include these in your diet. Since this might not fulfill your daily dose, you may need to take a supplement. Cottage cheese and soy milk are also good sources for this.
  • Iron− Foods that are rich in iron are dried herbs, cocoa, sesame seeds, spinach and other dark leafy greens. Fruits such as dried apricots or sun-dried tomatoes are also high in iron. If you want to take a supplement, talk to your doctor. Iron is a vitamin that is essential to the body and too little, or too much, can have negative effects.
  • Omega 3− Since this is primarily found in fish, it’s not as easy to get in a vegetarian diet. Flax and canola oil are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which you can use in salad dressings. Eggs and avocados are also good sources. There are algae supplements available, but they are not yet as effective as the fish oil pills. If you’re struggling to fit omega 3s into your diet, talk to a nutritionist or doctor so that you can maintain your veggie diet and stay healthy.

Getting Protein

Getting enough protein in your daily diet is easy. If you’re cramped for time during the week, or don’t want to spend time in the kitchen every day, cook a big pot of quinoa, beans or lentils and make small variations everyday to keep it interesting. Keep an airtight jar in your kitchen or on your desk full of homemade trail mix so you can fit protein into your snack times.

Tofu is so versatile that it can be used in almost any kind of dish. Salads, pastas, sauces, appetizers, burgers…just get the right firm-ness and you’re set. I find that cooking tofu in recipes like soups and stir-frys is much easier than barbecuing them because they absorb more flavour. If you plan on barbecuing or pan-searing, I’d suggest poking the tofu with a fork and marinating the tofu for 2 hours in advance to allow the flavour to soak up.

  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Quinoa
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans

Kitchen Staples

This is a basic list of essentials to keep around your kitchen at all times. You can alter it to your diet, and expand it to be a little more versatile, but most recipes will call for at least one of these items. Just keep a well-stocked kitchen without wasting food!

  • Olive oil
  • All-purpose flour
  • Eggs
  • A well-stocked spice rack
  • Onion
  • Rice
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Vegetable/mushroom bouillon cubes
  • Potatoes

Eating at Restaurants

If you’re like most vegetarians, when you go out to restaurants it will be with people who eat meat. My entire family and most of my friends aren’t vegetarians, so finding decent meals at places like steakhouses and bars can be a bit stressful. Luckily, most places will accommodate you if you let your server know you can’t eat meat. One thing that might help you out is to call in advance if you’re making reservations and give the chefs notice. This will probably raise your chances of getting a more creative meal other than a salad and baked potato.

One thing you need to be careful for is what some people define to be “vegetarian”. A lot of restaurants don’t consider fish or chicken to be meat, so if you ask if a dish is vegetarian, just be clear. Also, in dishes such as soups, noodles, cooked beans or fried rice, the stock will likely be chicken. Just ask your server what sort of broth it’s cooked in, or see if they have a veggie alternative.

Foods to Avoid

A lot of common cooking products have meat hidden in them, even if you don’t expect it. Here’s a short list of foods to watch out for and make sure you read the ingredients before buying them at the grocery store.

  • Caesar salad dressing
  • Canned baked beans (and refried beans, they sell ones made without lard though)
  • Worcheshire sauce
  • Canned vegetable soups (when a product says “vegetable” it doesn’t mean the broth is vegetarian as well)
  • Diana Sauce or other barbecue sauces
  • Marshmallows and other jelly candies (they have gelatin, but most products should have vegan options if you look for them)
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