How to Ease the Transition to Vegetarian Eating

Writer. Educator. Aspiring seamstress. DIY-er. Yoga practitioner. Ukulele beginner. Vegetarian. Cyclist. Traveler.

Becoming a veg-head can be as easy as making this delish dish out of some quinoa, frozen veggies, peanut sauce, and chow mein noodles.

Becoming a veg-head can be as easy as making this delish dish out of some quinoa, frozen veggies, peanut sauce, and chow mein noodles.

Whether you're just thinking about doing the vegetarian thing, have decided to make the change, or are struggling to make the switch, you’ve likely heard as much about how difficult the change can be as you have about how awesome it is. People make the choice to reduce or eliminate their consumption of animals for all sorts of reasons and benefits, yet even with diverse motivations, many of us face the same challenging questions when we actually start to act:

  • What if I really miss and crave meat?
  • What if there’s a special circumstance where I feel I should eat meat?
  • What if my health suffers because I don’t have as much protein?
  • What if I don’t have the willpower?
  • What if other people in my life don’t understand?

You Can Do It!

Rest assured; as a vegetarian for the last four years who has moved home cities thrice, changed jobs five times, and been a visitor to ten countries in as much time, I promise that all these obstacles have fairly simple solutions, even if your life isn’t simple. There are three main keys to remember in easing your transition to an animal-respecting, earth-loving, body-nourishing vegetarian lifestyle:

  1. Everything in Balance and Moderation
  2. Positive Reinforcement
  3. Community Support

Everything in Balance and Moderation

Tip #1: Don’t Go Cold Tofurkey

Going veggie is a big deal. It’s no small potatoes. So let yourself have time to wean yourself off the foods you no longer want to choose, and slowly introduce more of the foods that can replace them. Make a plan that works for you, and be realistic about how much you can handle at a time, so that it sticks. I started the process of going vegetarian in March one year, but it wasn’t until August that I finally cut out seafood for good.

There are different ways to wean yourself off the stuff – for example:

  • Cut out types of meat in a hierarchy of sorts, like: pork, then beef, then poultry, then fish
  • Cut out meat altogether from certain situations, like: home, then roadtrips, then restaurants, then friends’ houses
  • Use the classic “Meatless Mondays” approach and spread it to other days of the week

Combine different methods in whatever combination works for you. I personally chose the first option, with the added decision from the get-go to simply have a meat-free house.

Tip #2: Don’t Punish Yourself If You Choose to Eat Some Meat

It’s pretty common for people to get over-eager about a goal, and then correspondingly, be harsh on themselves when they“slip up.” In your weaning process, don’t view a choice to eat meat as a mistake, or a “guilty pleasure.” If you do, you might actually thwart your own attempts to change by discouraging yourself, or, worse, psychologically putting meat in the same category as other guilty pleasures and rewards, like chocolate or sleeping in.

You’re probably going to need to make a few exceptions during your transition, and maybe even a long time after that, and no, that doesn’t mean you’re not a vegetarian anymore. You just need to choose the appropriate times for exceptions and know that you’re making a choice of which you approve. Some of my exceptions since being vegetarian have been:

  • Trying a bite of shark that my Dad caught at his destination wedding, because he was so proud of himself (though this was years ago, and now I probably wouldn’t make the same choice because I would feel ill trying to put a piece of fish in my mouth)
  • Devouring tons of local dishes in Southeast Asia while not knowing enough of the necessary languages to ask if something was cooked in fish oil or fish sauce, and knowing that it would probably be tricky to get it without anyway!
  • Eating vegetable soup this summer that my elderly and not-so-well Nagymama made precisely because she knows I'm a veg-head - I could taste the chicken broth but I wasn't about to reject her labour of love when she shouldn't have been up cooking in the first place

Tip #3: Replace Your Protein!

This one seems really obvious, but I think it’s important to mention, because I’ve seen several people “try” to go vegetarian by simply cutting out meat and not doing anything else to supplement their diet. Surprise! They feel weak and/or tired because they’re eating a whole lot of plain spaghetti and veggie footlongs... not going to give you the nutrients you need.

Bonus: if you start paying attention to your protein, iron, and other things you normally get from meat, and actively seek out the nutritional value of new foods (like beans, nuts, cheeses, lentils, or soy), you’ll likely gain a deeper understanding of your whole diet, and being more aware of your health is a good thing.

Tip #4: Remember the Secret Weapon to Battle Cravings: Umami

One of the most common objections I hear from people who say they could “never” give up meat (which is excessively dramatic, in my view) is that they just love the taste too much. That’s it – it’s not about protein, health, convenience or anything else. They just love the physical pleasure of eating meat.

In addition, I’ve also heard the phrase quite often that someone is just “craving protein.” I used to say this all the time when I first gave up meat, until I was surprised to discover that that’s not what I was craving at all. In fact, when we “crave meat,” what we are actually craving is a fifth taste, aside from the four basics of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter: we’re craving umami, which in Japanese literally means “yummy.” (For more information on how umami was discovered, read the entertaining NPR article linked here.)

Umami-Rich Foods

What’s very interesting is that if you look at a list of umami-rich foods, like the one provided online by the Umami Information Centre, you see that in a typical North American diet, the umami-rich foods we eat regularly are in large part beef, pork, chicken, and potatoes. Yet it’s also strong in foods like the following:

  • soy sauce
  • Parmesan cheese
  • tomatoes
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • sweet potatoes
  • soy beans

It’s also in a ton of seafood for all you aspiring pescatarians out there (the fancy-fun word for those who avoid meat other than seafood).

It’s a lot easier to overcome “cravings for meat” when you understand that you’re not actually craving meat, but simply a taste which can be found satisfyingly in lots of other choices.

Positive Reinforcement

Tip #5: Make Delicious Meals You’ll Really Enjoy

At a Weight Watcher’s meeting, my mom heard someone detail how they’d had a sandwich for lunch that consisted of whole wheat bread, lettuce and a slice of non-fat cheese. The meeting leader asked with a smile if the speaker would eat that once she was down to her target weight, and then pointed out that if you want a lifestyle eating change to stick, you have to make it something you want to stick with. This lesson is a good one for new vegetarians, too, because if you’re not making something more enjoyable than your old burgers or meatloaf, you’re way more likely to go back to them instead.

Conversely, if you don’t like tofu, don’t eat it! I avoided all “fake meat” for more than a year of being vegetarian. I found I was always consciously comparing it to real meat, and as the memory of the latter was vivid, the former always failed. However, once I had sort of forgotten what meat actually tasted like, I started trying some soy, tofu, and setan products, and now find them wonderful, but only if marinated and prepared properly.

Some of my favourite easy, hearty, veg-friendly meals include:

  • grilled wraps filled with veggies and black beans smothered in melted cheese
  • stir-fried vegetables and rice with soy sauce or peanut sauce
  • chunky vegetable soups or stews with lots of potatoes, thrown in the crock pot and cooked all day (note how these are rather heavy in the umami department?)
When we think of the close, personal relationships we develop with dogs, cats, or horses, we realize that we could develop similar friendships with cows, goats, or sheep. Then we might feel just as weird eating them.

When we think of the close, personal relationships we develop with dogs, cats, or horses, we realize that we could develop similar friendships with cows, goats, or sheep. Then we might feel just as weird eating them.

Tip #6: Remind Yourself of Your Reasons for Choosing Veggies

I would venture a generalization that all people who choose to cut meat out of their diet do it for a conscious, and often ethical, reason. In this sense it’s very different than most other food choices we make, which are more often based on taste, economics, or availability. So whatever your reaons, remind yourself of them and take small actions that reinforce those motivations in the rest of your life.

  • Motivated by your love of animals and respect for non-human life? Enjoy spending time with animal friends, whether that means getting to know your at-home animal companion better through play or snuggles, or even taking a moment when you’re outside to closely watch a squirrel or a duck going about its everyday routine.
  • Motivated by a desire to improve your health? Pamper your body in other ways, too – enjoy exercise on a regular basis, give yourself a delectably scented skin scrub, do more frequent at-home manicures, or meditate on your own body-awareness in yoga. Make the care of your body holistic, from what goes in it to what goes on it and what you do with it.
  • Motivated by a desire to reduce your negative impact on the environment? Think consciously about how you’re doing your part while you shop for food or cook in the kitchen. Buy your veggies at a farmer’s market to support locally grown foods. Get into canning or preserving your own recipes to reduce the amount of transportation used to import veggies in winter.
Canning your own foodstuffs, like salsa, has all kinds of benefits, from saving you money to avoiding mysterious preservatives.

Canning your own foodstuffs, like salsa, has all kinds of benefits, from saving you money to avoiding mysterious preservatives.

Tip #7: Seek Out Vegetarian or Veggie-Friendly Restaurants

One challenge that you will face as an herbivore is a distinct lack of choice in many restaurants. You may find yourself going out with friends, and while everyone else scans page after page of the menu, you quickly locate your three, possibly bland, options. Solution? Find better restaurants!

Think of your choice as a great opportunity to find some new places to eat, and if that’s really hard where you are, then it’s a chance to give a chef a challenge by asking your waiter very politely if the kitchen might be able to concoct you an impressive veggie version of a dish you are interested in on the menu. You could even call in advance if you have a reservation with a group, and the chef might welcome the chance to try something new, too!

Here are some veg or veg-friendly places I’ve been and LOVED, some that are/were local to me, and some that are chains:

  • The Green Door and its sister restaurant, The Table, in Ottawa, ON
  • Veg Out and Mongolian Grill in London, ON
  • A&W for their mouth-watering Garden Deluxe veggie burger
  • New York Fries and Harvey’s for using veggie-gravy on poutine (at least in Canada, I’m not sure about the US locations)
  • Many ethnic restaurants, especially Indian (my favourite!), which offer an absolute plethora of interesting, superb veggie dishes.

Find Yourself Some Local, Veggie-Friendly Options

The best place to start is online – check out the databases at Urbanspoon or Happy Cow for starters, or simply google “best vegetarian restaurants” and your city’s name. Finding these places will make dining out the same fun, variety-filled experience as it is for those who do eat meat.

  • Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants Guide by HappyCow
    A searchable dining guide where you can look up your city and find the best local vegetarian places, plus information on vegetarian nutrition, raw food, veganism, vegan recipes, healthy cooking, travel, and more.

Community Support

Tip #8: Take the Veg Train with a Friend or Family Member, if Possible

This is ideal, as you will have someone to discuss the transition with who understands any challenges you might face, and who will fully appreciate the pride you’ll feel as you progress! My sister and I became vegetarians when we lived together in university, and aside from the emotional support, it was so helpful to simply have a meat-free house. We could reward ourselves together, share recipes, and just generally feel solidarity. My mom is now a pescatarian, and the three of us plan to go for a weekend at a Veggie B&B/Animal Sanctuary – it’s going to be a very special way to celebrate the life choice we all decided to make.

My pinterest recipe board for vegetarian hot lunch/dinner ideas - yum yum yum.

My pinterest recipe board for vegetarian hot lunch/dinner ideas - yum yum yum.

Tip #9: Find Some Great Resources

There are more and more magazines these days devoted to vegetarian cooking and living – two of the big ones are Veg News and the Vegetarian Times, which I often see at the grocery store checkout. (These mags are often also filled with articles that will help you with tip #6.)

There are also fantastic online resources, including blogs, recipe databases, cooking videos, you name it. I find even Pinterest really helps me, because I collect the veggie recipes that make my mouth water all in one place from many sources of online inspiration, so whether for a dinner party or just for me, I always have great ideas at my fingertips.

  • Vegetarian Times
    Look to the Vegetarian Times for healthy, delicious recipes, plus expert nutrition and lifestyle information that is exclusively vegetarian but inviting to all.
  • VegNews Magazine
    Check out VegNews for recipes, travel, news, food, reviews, and so much more - their print magazine has even won awards!

Tip #10: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Support

This can be a tricky area to negotiate – how do you express your own choice to friends and family, and enjoy the respect you deserve for it, while at the same time not imposing your choice upon them? Ultimately, how you address the issue with those in your life will depend on their individual personalities.

For example, there are some family members who for the first few years would try to “taunt” me with meat, saying how delicious it was and asking with a smirk if I was sure I didn’t want any steak. It feels downright rude when people do that, because you’ve put a lot of thought and soul into making this very personal decision, and it may feel as though they are mocking it.

My best advice is to tell them calmly and rationally that you have a difference of opinion about meat, that you’ll just have to agree to disagree, and that you’d appreciate it if they just ignored the subject, rather than tease you about it. Talk openly with those you can, just as you would about any new transition in your life, like moving to a new city or starting a new job. As a note, though, these conversations will go best if you don’t allow any emotional reactions you’re having to your process to come off as attacking their meat-eating choices or trying to ‘convert’ them.

There may be people who don’t want to let it go, and who insist on making giant leaps in logic in some vague attempt to reject your progress (like, for example, someone I know who asked me why I cared about animals but didn’t care about children, since I didn’t have a strictly-enforced “no sweatshop labour” policy for all my purchases). I can only advise you to extract yourself from these conversations, as these people are often interested in argument itself, rather than actually exploring issues.

My wonderful Grandma, who makes wonderful vegetarian stuffing... and wonderful everything!

My wonderful Grandma, who makes wonderful vegetarian stuffing... and wonderful everything!

One Final Tip

A final note on support and the vegetarian transition—know that your choice to not eat meat does not automatically mean you don’t support the people who make different choices, or the family traditions that may involve a turkey or ham. I noted earlier how I ate my Nagymama’s chicken-broth-vegetable-soup, but that doesn’t mean that I eat turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Holiday celebrations seem to be a common source of anxiety for new vegetarians, but hopefully you have a family bright enough to realize that although you’re not eating the turkey, you are eating 90% of what’s on the table, in the form of potatoes, corn, fresh-baked rolls, turnips, salads, sauces, dips, soups, desserts, etc., and that most importantly, you’re still at the table spending time together and enjoying the holiday. Who knows? Perhaps you even have a wonderful Grandma like mine, who started including a vegetarian stuffing at Thanksgiving so the veg-heads at the table could enjoy a holiday favourite, too.


Carolyn from NY on December 30, 2012:

Great hub! I've been pescetarian for about 11 years and I found this article very informative and well-written on a subject very close to my heart. Keep up the good work! I voted up!

VeronicaInspires on October 09, 2012:


I was LITERALLY headed to the internet to search for some vegetarian recipes! It can be a hard transition at times... I crave chicken, more than anything, but definitely want to stay committed.

And with the variety of meatless protein products stores carry now, along with the amount of diverse recipes across cultures, makes it much more doable!

I'm heading over to your boards!

Thanks for this!!


Beata Stasak from Western Australia on October 09, 2012:

Very useful article, thank you for sharing:)

Lindsay Sommerauer (author) from London, ON on October 06, 2012:

Astralrose, I know exactly what you mean, and I never crave meat anymore, either! I can't believe how much more comfortable I feel around animals in a general sense now that I don't eat them anymore. It's not as though I felt uncomfortable or nervous around animals before - I've always had pets and been an animal lover - but it was as though only after stopping eating animals did I realize what a truly comfortable and mutual relationship with non-human individuals felt like. After experiencing this feeling, I knew that on some level there had been a certain, unidentifiable barrier between us before, but it wasn't there any longer. And I can't even describe how wonderful that felt.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on October 05, 2012:

Congratulation on the hub of the day! I´m not a vegetarian but I eat mostly vegetables and fish. I found this article very informative and useful. Thanks for sharing. voted up.

Rham Dhel from India on October 05, 2012:

Excellent article! I am vegetarian for 5 years now and I can say I don't crave for meat anymore simply because I learned to realize and accept that animals have the rights to inhabit the earth as much as I do so I practice live and let live. Another thing is, being vegetarian is not about myself. It's about them-the animals. They feel pain, too, you know! So I value them not as food but as creatures who are also surviving, like me, in this world.

Voted up!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 05, 2012:

Even though I am not a vegetarian, I know that eating more veggies and cutting down on the animal protein is good for health. We are moving more in that direction gradually. Congrats on getting the HOTD. Well deserved! Nice to hear how you accomplished your goal of becoming vegetarian. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Ms. Immortal from NJ on October 05, 2012:

Wow, so much information, very informative and interesting.

I'm not a vegetarian, but prefer vegetarian food. Two of my sons are vegetarians and I have learned some interesting dishes. Tempeh seems to be our favorites. It's so verstile and tasty, we make tempeh sloppy joes with lot vegtables, rolled in wraps and grilled, yum.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on October 05, 2012:

Great tips. The first step is always is always the hardest.

Lindsay Sommerauer (author) from London, ON on October 05, 2012:

I'm so pleased that so many people are finding this article useful. I am also thrilled to be connected to others with similar experiences, as well as to others who may not share my choices but who can respect the need for those who make those choices to have support and encouragement. As a new online writer, it is a wonderful welcome into a community!

Robin Grosswirth from New York on October 05, 2012:

I can see why this was awarded. The info is valuable, comprehensive research is included and wonderfully written. Thanks! You have a follower in me.

stressed mum from Cheshire, UK on October 05, 2012:

Great article. I've been vegetarian for over 30 years but I remember that transition time well. It is so much easier to be vegetarian now with many options in supermarkets and restaurants. I still remember being offered an omelette as the only option if I wanted to eat out.

Leah Vanessa on October 05, 2012:

HotD! Wow! :D Great job!

Stove And Home on October 05, 2012:

Although I'm not a vegetarian, I am addicted to cooking and eating vegetables. In your last paragraph you spoke about anxiety during Thanksgiving for vegetarians.

My father is a vegetarian and in previous years our family members got angry at him if he didn't eat the turkey my mom worked so hard on. But I have come to realize we have to respect the wishes of others, especially where it comes to their personal ethics regarding animal consumption.

Kate P from The North Woods, USA on October 05, 2012:

This is an absolutely fantastic and beautifully-constructed hub filled with honest, simple, down-to-Earth information and helpful tips. This fellow vegetarian is now an interested follower! Brava

Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful, interesting.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on October 05, 2012:

Nice hub.

I'm not a vegetarian, but this looks like a good veggie meal. And good tips for those making the transition.

Congrats on the HOTD award!

simplysmartmom from North Carolina on October 05, 2012:

Very informative and well written hub! Congrats on the HOTD award!

I have been a vegetarian since college and have never looked back! But I did not have a family back then and it was much easier to make that choice when you are only cooking for yourself. Today, I have to cook meat because my husband and my kids are big meat eaters. I will normally cook a meal with meat like stew and rice, but when I fix my own plate, I just leave out the pieces of meat. Every once in a while I'll sneak in a vegetarian meal - the kids don't mind it!

RTalloni on October 05, 2012:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for a well-done piece. It is an easy to read, interesting and informative guide. Though I'm not a vegetarian you've put together a super hub and you get a huge BRAVO for highlighting your fabulously thoughtful grandma! :)

Rachel Koski Nielsen from PA, now homesteading in MN on October 05, 2012:

Very informative and well-written hub. Congrats on HOTD, it's well deserved! I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I respect the choice to go meatless; personally I prefer to eat humanely and ethically raised meat that's healthy. I can only imagine how helpful this hub would be to someone who has committed to making the switch to a meatless diet. Well done!

Imogen French from Southwest England on October 05, 2012:

Great hub, with some important points about how to make your choice enjoyable and healthy. What is this umami, though - I have not heard this term before. I will have to investigate! A worthy hub of the day :)

Kristine Manley from Atlanta, GA on October 05, 2012:

Excellent Hub! I juice a lot, and enjoy mostly vegetarian foods now. I feel so much better since I have greatly reduced my meat eating.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 05, 2012:

Congrats on HOTD.

For years and years I was a vegetarian. I actually still mainly eat vegetables. This will be helpful as I make the transition back to my veggie ways. I am bookmarking this so I can come back and review i

crystaleyes from Earth on October 05, 2012:

Thank You for this article.. I was actually thinking about conveying such a message so that we could save all fish/animals/life forms from being slaughtered. I had become a pure vegetarian (no eggs even) since the year 2000 and have never had any difficulty or craving ever. I have never touched non-vegetarian stuff since.. I love animals and I am glad that I do not contribute to killing them to fill my own appetite.. I am sorry meat lovers.. Voted Up and useful..

newusedcarssacram from Sacramento, CA, U.S.A on October 05, 2012:

Thank you so much for putting such an interesting recipe for all of us. Though I love non-veg but still I would love to try this out as it looks so yummy and wonderful....and of course up!

Jessie Kupchick on October 04, 2012:

Thanks so much for this article. I tried being a vegetarian years ago, but I didn't stick to it. I would love to try it again, because, not that I have an issue with people eating meat, but it feels weird when I start thinking, "I just ate that cow from down the road," and then I just want to quit meat altogether (not to mention I can gross myself out on it as well). I also always get a veggie burger when I go to an Inferno restaurant, and I don't know what veggies and soy or tofu is in it, but it's better than beef or turkey! And I've always been a fan of organic and local. Everything is so heavily processed these days, you can't know what you're putting into your body. And, of course, supporting local businesses is wonderful too! Thank you again for sharing, I'll have to try some of these delicious-sounding dishes!

Electro-Denizen from UK on October 04, 2012:

Thanks for putting this information out there for people. The only thing I've really learned about food and our body, is that the body is an amazing piece of machinery and adapts after time to any kind of dietary change - which often goes hand in hand with social acceptance of some description... I've also learned that there's a lot of pseudo-science (i.e. sciency sounding articles that are far from rigorous science) out there designed to keep us hooked into things that don't do us any good at all..

I've also learned that people leave you less alone if you feel insecure in your food choices.

I should have written this hub a long time ago! Well done :-)

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 04, 2012:

This is a great article on making the change to being a vegetarian. There is a wealth of good information in this hub and as I have moved more toward becoming a vegetarian, it is very helpful. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Lindsay Sommerauer (author) from London, ON on September 29, 2012:

I'm glad you found them helpful - hang in there with the people who don't understand! It seems to me having been veggie for four years that everyone eventually comes around (though it takes some longer than others), and that your life choices will likely actually inspire many around you, whether it be to stop, selectively cut, or generally reduce their amount of meat consumption. You could also try making those people some veggie chili - that seems to be a great "first" try for those who love meat - they usually can't believe how good it is :)

Karen from The Garden of Eugene (Oregon) on September 28, 2012:

I love your one step at a time suggestions to going vegetarian - and the advice about certain social situations. My family (especially my mom-who does most of the cooking) has never really understood the idea of a meal without meat so it's hard when I'm around them.

Lindsay Sommerauer (author) from London, ON on September 19, 2012:

Thank you, Lizzy! I'm so glad to hear your story. My husband is not a vegetarian either, just an extremely picky eater who hardly eats any meat (though the meat he does eat is terrible, processed stuff, and we've had many conversations about it). Restaurants can be frustrating - but my hope is that eventually, as more people become vocal about asking for accommodation, restaurants will realize that it's in their best interests to offer more choices, or we might be notoriously uncooperative about giving them our business! :)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 18, 2012:

Good job with this hub! I went through this transition back in the 1980s and it was tough dealing with teasing friends.

However, I stuck to my guns, and I felt the healthiest and strongest I've ever been! My current husband is not vegetarian, although he eats what I fix, and eats much, much less meat than he did when we met. I've compromised a little bit, myself, simply because cooking is not my favorite thing--I don't want to fix 2 different meals. However, if he wants to BBQ a hamburger, it's easy enough for me to 'nuke' a Boca Patty.

Your resource links are great helps for any newbies, however, 99% of the restaurants around here are chain-franchise operations, and they are notoriously uncooperative with going "off menu" or allowing substitutions. You are right-on, there, about quickly scanning and finding the single or 2 or 3 veggie options.

Voted up, interesting, useful, awesome and shared.

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