Whether your diet is meat-free because of religious, ethical or health reasons, you might need some help achieving a healthy, balanced diet. Try our top tips to live successfully and deliciously – without meat.
A diet containing lean cuts of meat provides protein, vitamins and minerals, but a good vegetarian diet can give you all the nutrients you need. With meat, meat products, fish and items such as gelatine and meat stocks off the menu, vegetarians still have dairy products, free-range eggs, fresh and frozen vegetables, grains, pulses, seeds and nuts, pasta, rice, flour, herbs and spices, vegetable stock cubes, noodles, oil and margarine at their disposal. You will also find plenty of meat substitutes on the free-from shelves – usually made from soya or wheat.
For most of us, meat is a key source of protein. To keep your protein content up on a vegetarian diet, use non-animal sources of the nutrient, such as beans and pulses, and fill your iron and B-vitamin quotas with green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, beans and pulses, cocoa, seaweeds and B-rich nutritional yeast (such as Marmite). Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E are vital antioxidant vitamins that protect you against disease – and they are found almost exclusively in fresh fruit and veg. Meat-free versions of popular dishes such as pies, pasties, pizzas, curries, pasta sauces, casseroles and stews are all easy to make – see our recipes for cooking meat-free for inspiring vegetarian swaps of family favourites. There are lots of good, easily available, ready-made options, too. If you’re eating out, lots of foreign cuisines are full of tasty meat-free meals – including those from Italy, India, Thailand, Greece and Turkey. Some may be listed as side dishes, so have a good look at the menu and ask for advice.
HOW TO START
If you plan to switch to a meat-free diet, you might want to start gradually – set an initial target of 10 days without meat, for example – or just opt to start with two meat-free days each week for a while. Alternatively, phase out meat gradually by starting with red meat such as beef, then moving on to fish, then white meat such as poultry. You could try this approach until you have cut out all meat and meat products – or use this method to trial your new diet and then set a date to commit to it.
GET INSPIRED – AND SOME SUPPORT
Another way to ensure that your lifestyle change goes well is to meal plan for the week ahead. This will give you a chance to consider nutritional content, variety and new recipes – and to shop for everything you will need to succeed. Now is the time to buy or borrow cookbooks with vegetarian recipes, or to browse the internet for inspiration. If possible, rope a friend into making the switch to meat-free living – you’ll have plenty of support and someone to share your experiences with. Finally, if you’re invited to eat at someone’s house, offer to bring along a vegetarian plate to share. That way the host will not feel pressured into cooking food they are unfamiliar with, and you might inspire others!