the number 1 mistake of new vegetarians & how to avoid it

rice & lentils rice & lentils-3

I can’t believe it’s the last day of May and my last day of being vegetarian for a month already. It’s been a really interesting month for me on the food front. I certainly achieved my objective of gaining some new menu planning habits and had some great discoveries on making vegetables the star of the show. Gone are the days when steak and salad will be my default meal of choice.

I think some of my favourite dinners were when my Irishman took over the kitchen. Roasting different varieties of potatoes with garlic and rosemary to serve as a main course with a spicy romesco sauce or even a decadent bernaise. With a salad or some wilted greens playing the supportive role, it didn’t even occur to me to miss having a hunk of meat on my plate.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The first week or so was fine but then I found myself feeling tired and lacking in energy – something that rarely happens to me. And with some prompting from the comments of experienced vegos, I realised that I had made:

the number 1 mistake of new vegetarians:

Not planning for the change in my diet. In particular making sure that I was getting enough protein and iron.

how to avoid the number 1 mistake of new vegetarians

do some research
There are some excellent resources for people looking at becoming vegetarian such as:
the vegetarian society website
limes & lycopene – the blog of Sydney nutritionist kathryn elliott – especially her posts on vegetarians and iron, vegetarians and protein, and omega 3s for vegetarians.
the vegetarian resource group
Other resource recommendations would be welcome in the comments.

make the most of veggie protein sources
Unlike my initial thoughts, being vegetarian doesn’t mean you just eat vegetables all day every day. Your new diet needs protein in the form of chickpeas, lentils, beans, soy products like tofu, nuts and of course eggs and cheese.

keep and eye on your iron
Red meat is the best source of iron but vegetarians need not resort to iron tablets to get enough. I found my energy levels increased considerably once I started to eat chickpeas and tofu – which are good sources of iron.

look out for vitamin B12
This is one nutrient that is only available in animal products. If you’re eating eggs and dairy you should be fine. If you’re not, look for soy products that are fortified with B12 or get some Vegemite or other yeast extract.

monitor and adjust
Everyone has different tolerances and needs. Keep an eye on what you’re eating and how you’re feeling. If you start to feel like something is out of wack, there’s no need to give up. Do some research, make the appropriate adjustments and keep on your merry vegetarian way.

and what else did I learn?

restaurant vegetarian options aren’t always bad.
I did have a prejudice against anything on the menu with ‘veggie’ in the title. But as I’ve found from experience, vegetarian burgers or lasagne can actually be lovely. So maybe there’s no need to always revert to ordering a steak when faced with a pub menu.

eating out can be tough for vegetarians
When it comes to eating out, it can be frustrating to have the whole menu narrowed down to one or two carb-and-cheese vegetarian options. A little research on places that offer interesting veggie dishes is a good idea, they are out there. I even found a Sydney fine dining restaurant that offers a vegan menu.

it doesn’t hurt to ask
If there’s a cauliflower salad that has proscuitto and sounds divine, most places are happy to serve a vegetarian variation if they can.

tofu can be delicious
I wrote about my tofu discovery last week. Still amazed that I actually enjoyed smoked tofu and that it took the edge off my longing for bacon.

meat is expensive
When we did our weekly shop over the weekend and picked up a few meat (actually to be specific pork) items along with our veg, we spent significantly more than on our vegetarian fuelled shopping expeditions.

would I ever become vego full time?

In a word, No.

But not because I didn’t enjoy everything I ate over the last month. To be honest I had some of the best meals I’ve eaten this year. And it’s not because I’ve been feeling deprived or had crazy meat-fuelled cravings.

It’s because I love all food and I love variety. And I don’t like limiting what I eat in such a dramatic way.

Being vegetarian has strengthened my love of vegetables and legumes, but if anything it’s made me appreciate and respect the meat and fish that I do eat. And will make me think about my meat eating more, rather than making choices out of habit.

and what will I be eating for my first day back as an omnivore?

All is revealed over at my Vegetarian Monthpage.

rice & lentils-2

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
rice & lentils

serves 2 – 3

Inspired by Molly’s Mujadara over at Orangette.

I actually made both Molly’s long version with super caramelised onion and my quick 10 minute adaptation. They’re quite different beasts. While I loved richness that the long caramelised onions gave to the dish and the texture of the lentils cooked from scratch, I have to say that this fast method held it’s own in terms of its nourishing, soul-satisfying properties.

Serve it as a one bowl meal with natural yoghurt like I have here. Or use it as a more protein-rich alternative to plain rice to serve with a veggie curry.

There are tips on the simple secret to perfect fluffy rice in a blog post I wrote recently. For the photograph I used brown basmati rice but feel free to use whatever rice you prefer.

1 onion, peeled & finely diced
large pinch dried chilli flakes
2 cups cooked long grain rice (approx 250g / 9oz)
1 can (400g / 14oz ) lentils, drained
natural yoghurt, to serve

Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add onion and chilli and cook over a high heat stirring frequently until softened and starting to brown.

Add rice and lentils and stir fry for a few more minutes until both are heated through.

Season and serve with a dollup of yoghurt.

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