A 2009 study by the Vegetarian Resource Group indicated that about 3 percent of Americans claim to never munch on meats, poultry, fish or seafood. And with more meat-free meal options popping up on menus across the country, it's probably safe to assume that those numbers have continued to rise. Even if you couldn't count yourself among the meatless millions in 2008, you might be considering a jump onto the vegetarian bandwagon now. Challenging yourself to 30 days of animal-free noshing can help you make the switch from meat-eating mama to veggie-loving vixen.
Fill up on plant-based protein sources. Protein molecules are the building blocks of cells and tissues -- so they keep your skin, bones, muscles, organs and hair healthy. Vegetarian sources of protein include eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Skip the meat substitutes -- especially during the first few weeks of your meat-free month. Although it might seem like a good idea to reach for vegetarian burgers and chicken tenders made from tofu, you’ll probably be disappointed by the taste and texture. And if you’re already struggling with the transition, early disappointment might send you running back to the land of lean meats.
Leave the meat out of combo meals -- those easy dishes that involve a variety of different ingredients. For example, add an extra can of black beans instead of ground beef when making chili. Instead of mixing Italian sausage into your pasta sauce, add diced zucchini and green peppers. By creatively adding veggies and beans to your favorite dishes, you might find that you don’t even miss the meat.
Avoid the sultry siren call of cheese. When giving up meat, turning to cheese is a tempting way to fill the void in your meat-loving heart. It’s a vital ingredient in many simple vegetarian meals -- such as grilled cheese, pasta and pizza. But “Shape” Magazine explains that “ounce for ounce, cheddar packs four times the calories and nine times the fat of skinless chicken breast.” To avoid unwanted weight gain, limit yourself to just 1 ounce of quality full-fat cheese per day.
- Shape: Go Veggie, Gain Weight? Here’s Why It Can Happen
- Shape: Will Going Vegetarian Help You Lose Weight?
- MayoClinic.com: Vegetarian Diet: How to Get the Best Nutrition
- Vegetarian Times: Why Go Veg?
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Protein in the Vegan Diet
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: How Many Vegetarians Are There?
- Talk to your doctor before you begin. Although a 30-day diet really isn’t that long, it’s always a good idea to get your doctor’s approval before making a big change to your lifestyle. Based on your current nutritional status, he might recommend a vitamin supplement while you’re foregoing animal foods.
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.