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How to be an Accidental Vegetarian

Updated on August 29, 2013

The Why

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I became unemployed. While one was unrelated to the other, their powers combined to throw my budget into a tailspin. How could I adjust for the added expense of a child with the added burden of no paycheck? Enter: sacrifices. Besides the usual (no more eating out, no more movie dates, no more name-brand cleaning supplies), I opted to phase meat out of our diets.

Up to this point, we were twice-a-week vegetarians. It wasn't a conscious effort, but I had been working to up the amount of fiber in our diets, and that translated into some veggie-based meals that became regulars. Other than that, chicken and fish were staples, but their pricetags became the bane of my grocery shopping existence. I had to give them up.

Delicious vegetarian burgers with black beans and mushrooms
Delicious vegetarian burgers with black beans and mushrooms

The How

The first step toward becoming an accidental vegetarian (my term for my own metamorphosis) is to become a conscious fiber-tarian. Doctors, magazines, and talk show hosts espouse the benefits of eating more fiber, and their advice is spot-on. Fiber not only helps keep us regular, but it has the added benefit of filling our stomachs with nutrition that breaks down slowly and helps us to feel fuller longer. Additionally, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables always contain vitamins and minerals that our bodies need in order to be healthy and energetic.

So add more fiber. Start your menu planning with fiber. Plan the rest of your plate around the grains, fruits, and vegetables you love. Add extra to pasta salad or fried rice. Use thin strips of zucchini or eggplant to bulk up cheesy lasagna. Opt for sweet potatoes over whites and cabbage in your salad over lettuce. Substitute a serving of pasta for a serving of quinoa or farro. Small changes-- like putting your steak on a bed of brussel sprouts instead of rice-- make a massive difference. And the shift is not just for your body (although your digestive tract will thank you). The shift is mental; it means you consider the produce department first before the meat and fish cases.

The next step toward becoming an accidental vegetarian is to consider alternatives to meat in the meals you love. Let's be honest: if you want a hamburger, you better have a darn good alternative in the works or burger night will live on forever. Try a thick slice of grilled eggplant dusted with hickory seasoning. Peruse recipes for veggie burgers that use ingredients you already love like black beans or brown rice. Add some smoke flavoring to simulate the grill if it helps. If you can't live without chicken stir-fry, consider slivers of portabello mushroom or tofu instead. For many dishes, the meat is more about mouth-feel than it is about flavor. Search for alternatives (even the packaged tubes of vegetarian products you can find in the produce coolers) that help ease the transition.

The final step in the transition to accidental vegetarian is to commit one week to exclusively vegetarian meals. Plan it out and see how much variety you can pack into seven days. At the end of that week, you will find that you've got an arsenal of ingredients and techniques at your disposal. Now you can take it one week at a time. Keep track of the meals you've created so that you can riff on them later.


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