Tips for eating more vegetarian food {for non-vegetarians}

It’s widely accepted that eating fewer animal products is one of the most important things we can do individually to fight climate change and waste fewer resources. This article from the United Nations claims that more greenhouse gases are emitted by animal agriculture (raising animals as a food source) than by every every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined. Just as troubling, “all the buildings, roads and paved surfaces in the world occupy less than one per cent of Earth’s land surface, while more than 45 per cent of the land surface of Earth is used as land for grazing or growing feed crops for livestock.” Despite all of the information urging us to change our dietary patterns, many people are unsure exactly how. While vegetarian and vegan diets have significantly lower footprints than diets with meat, reducing meat consumption is more likely for most people than ending meat consumption. Remember while reducing your consumption of animal products that beef is by far the worst meat for the earth when considering resource use.

It’s also pretty well known that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet can have other benefits as well, like reduced risk for heart disease and a longer lifespan (1, 2). That in mind, having a lighter footprint on the earth and health benefits aren’t exclusive to keeping entirely vegetarian or vegan diets; you can have a lower impact diet simply by eating fewer animal products, and diets low in meat, but not totally meat-free, have been shown to have many of the benefits of vegetarian diets (see links above). So, if you’re interested in eating more vegetarian food, here are some tips from a vegetarian with plenty of experience feeding the meat eaters in her life:

Vegan shepherd’s pie with TVP

Vegan shepherd’s pie with TVP

Veggie versions

Vegetarian versions of food you already like usually go over well, so as you begin cooking or eating more vegetarian food, it may be easier to continue eating dishes you know you like. If you don’t like curry, chana masala is not going to be your dish, no matter how vegetarian it is. Case and point, I once made vegan meatballs from scratch, only to find they weren’t good at all. Before I became vegetarian, I didn’t like meatballs, but my meatball-loving family members were impressed and had no trouble finishing the dish. Vegetarian-ize foods you already love.

the familiar

If you’re just trying to eat more vegetarian dishes, I suggest starting with foods you already like. Many vegetarian dishes are relegated to the position of side dish, but when I ate vegetarian while living with and eating at the same table as meat eaters, there was a lot of preparing larger amounts of “side” dishes and simply eating those. If there are any vegetarian mains you like, such as pasta dishes, you’ve got a perfect place to start as well.

meat substitutes

If you’re not much of a cook to begin with, you’ll find the world of faux meats to be the place for you. Vegetarian sausages, dairy-free milks, and other foods that make skipping animal products easier have come a long way, and depending on how you already shop, can even be price competitive with animal products. According to Forbes, demand has increased in the past years; there are more options available than ever and ,“U.S. case shipment of plant-based protein from food service distributors to restaurants jumped 19% from March 2017 to March 2018”. In other words, people are buying a lot more. So if the freezer section veggie burgers you tried in 2010 weren’t to your liking, fear not; there are plenty of other options.

Choosing meat substitutes will probably require the least effort on the part of someone who eats meat; simply prepare food as you already do, and use a veggie patty or meatless meatball instead of something made from animals.

time and effort

Americans love to cook meat. Grilling, smoking, frying- the list goes on; most of us grow up with meals centered on meat, with sad steamed vegetables or a side of iceberg lettuce tossed in as an afterthought. If you want to eat more vegetarian food, it helps to put the same amount of preparation time into the vegetables as you would the meat. Marinating, slow cooking, and seasoning vegetables (obviously) makes them tastier. While meat does have a taste of its own, few people would line up to eat totally unseasoned chicken, and most would grumble if someone served it to them. Hold your veggies to similar standards: if you want to eat more vegetarian food, give the same amount of attention to your vegetables as you would to meat.

Veggies as mains

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In the same vein, vegetables are almost always relegated to side dishes, or worse, considered a garnish to other foods, like veggies on a burger. More than half of Americans consider a meal without meat to be incomplete, so we have some serious adjustments to take our vegetables from sides to mains. Of course, actually putting the time and effort into preparing them is where to start.

Change your habits

Like with any changes you want to make, gradual and small changes are often the best route to go. Start with something as minor as almond milk in your latte or black coffee rather than cream. Most fried food tastes the same, so go for something besides cheese or meat next time you’re out. When you need butter, try a vegan butter and once it’s in your home, it’s easy as pie to continue making the lower impact choice. Try vegetarian options at restaurants, or skip the meat and cheese on your next burrito. There are plenty of dishes where meat doesn’t stand out, such as when it’s ground or chopped. Once I brought a dish of buffalo wing dip to a party, and horrified my friends as I took a bite; they had already eaten half the dish, and only realized there wasn’t meat after I ate some and let them know.

Long story short, it’s time to unlearn that dishes and meals need meat or animal products to be complete. When you make a habit of choosing vegetarian or vegan options, the choice becomes automatic.

Tips for serving vegetarian food to non-veggies

Don’t focus on the vegetarian

If you’re serving vegetarian food to the meat-eaters in your life, the recommendation from the meat-eaters in my own life is to not draw more attention to it than necessary. Much like eating a gluten-free brownie might make your scrutinize the dessert more closely, calling attention to the fact that you’re having a great meal without meat might make some extra picky. All of us eat “accidentally” vegetarian or vegan food regularly, but not everyone is friendly to those labels. It’s not about pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, but making regular, good food sound unnecessarily foreign by labeling it as vegetarian or vegan helps nobody.

Larger portions

Glance at some nutrition labels, and you’ll see that most most fruits and vegetables are less calorie dense than meat. That’s to say, you have to eat more in order to get the same amount of energy from something like peas than meat. If you’re choosing very vegetable-heavy dishes, large portions are key. Zero waste is all about eating your leftovers, so when you start eating more vegetarian food, prepare larger portions to make up for it if you’re choosing less calorie dense plant-foods. Worse case scenario, you don’t have to cook again the next day.

heavy foods

I’ve heard from multiple people trying to eat more vegetarian food that they don’t feel full afterwards. While I don’t experience this myself, I do experience the opposite when I eat heavy vegetarian meals with a lot of dairy or eggs. To help get by this problem, you can eat heavier vegetarian dishes that include foods higher in fats, lentils, beans, nuts, and so on. I don’t recommend just consuming a lot of dairy in place of meat because the environmental impact of dairy is thought to be higher than some meats, so it’s not necessarily better to sub out lots of dairy in favor of meat. Try and find plant based alternatives instead.


If you’re trying to eat more vegetarian food for the earth, for the animals, or your health, congrats and good luck. It doesn’t have to be hard, and some thinking ahead while you adjust to more meat-free meals makes it easier to establish new habits and enjoy more vegetarian food.

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