I love meat. I love bacon, hamburgers, BBQ ribs, and fried chicken. As a kid I could clean an adult-sized rack of ribs to the bone and could gobble up a double cheeseburger with room for dessert. Now, I still love meat, but I also love clear skin, a healthy planet, and seeing cows graze in a field. Thus, I avoid animal products and instead eat a mostly plant-based diet. For many meat lovers, this may seem impossible, but I am here as a former carnivore to share that it’s most definitely doable.
Plant-based diets are somewhat controversial because of the stigma around cutting meat out of your diet. According to many, specifically older generations, a healthy diet circles around meat and so the concept of purposely limiting meat raises many concerns. One of the many myths about plant-based diets is vegetarians and vegans do not get proper nutrition. Yes, if you live off of pasta and rice you are probably no better off than if you were eating nothing but Taco Bell and McDonald’s, but if you make sure to eat your veggies, a plant-based diet may even make you feel healthier than before. There are so many meat replacements out there to try: tofu, seitan, jackfruit, beans, tempeh, mushrooms, etc., many of which are superfoods (nutrient-rich foods beneficial to health and well-being). If you are still unsure about the nutritional value of cutting meat out of your diet, just ask Venus Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger how they manage to get their protein.
One major draw to meat, at least for me, is the flavor. I am a major fan of BBQ sauce, and what I’ve learned is sometimes BBQ seitan is just as good as some BBQ ribs. If you’re a fan of a steak, try grilling a Portobello mushroom and covering it in steak seasoning. Love buffalo chicken? Look up a recipe for buffalo cauliflower and watch your taste buds still explode. It is so easy, and usually healthier, to substitute meat with a vegetable, but use the same seasoning.
EXPERIMENTING WITH INGREDIENTS
Another reason why I struggled to change my diet was that some meals are just not the same without meat. A ham sandwich without ham is just bread and vegetables. This challenged me to not only learn about meat replacements but also try new, unique variations of meals without meat or another substitute. For someone new to plant-based meal planning, the unknown territory of experimenting with flavors and ingredients is definitely intimidating, but trust your instincts. Leave your comfort zone and try incorporating some of your favorite vegan items like nuts, fruit, and spreads into meals and see how you like it. For example, I learned hummus is good on a sandwich because it is creamy like cheese but is dairy-free. Pesto sauce can also fulfill meat cravings because of its saltiness. I love to put peanut butter and nuts into Asian dishes like fried rice and stir fry for some extra protein and a flavor kick. Instead of making a boring grilled ham and cheese, experiment with different ingredients to put a healthy twist on a lunchtime classic.
TOFU IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
For me, the most important ingredient in a plant-based diet is tofu. Made of soy milk and pressed into a firm block, tofu can be incorporated in almost all vegan meals. Need a replacement for chicken in your fried rice? Marinate some tofu and bake it. Craving mozzarella sticks but don’t like the way cheese sits in your stomach? Bread some tofu and fry it up. Want a creamy smoothie with some extra protein? Crumble up some tofu and mix in the blender with the rest of your fruit. Because it has almost no flavor, tofu is very versatile and is the main reason why I can maintain my veganism. Once you find a good tofu recipe and get comfortable with the concept of “soy meat”, tofu will be your best friend.
EAT YOUR VEGGIES
Surprisingly enough, the most important ingredients in a plant-based diet are vegetables. Because sometimes salads remind me of chewing on grass I’m here to recommend a few vegetables even the most dedicated carnivores will enjoy. First, edamame, immature soybeans still in their pods, is a delicious high protein vegetable found in many Asian dishes. Try boiling some edamame and sprinkling with chili or jalapeno salt and discover your new favorite side dish. Another one of my favorite vegetables is sweet potatoes, which are packed with more vitamins, and in my opinion taste better, than normal white potatoes. I love baking a big sweet potato and stuffing it with beans for a fresh but filling meal. Finally, chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are a great source of protein and taste great roasted, in soup, or in hummus. One of my favorite meals is cinnamon roasted chickpeas over couscous and raisins. This sweet Moroccan-inspired dish is super simple and delicious. With over 1000 vegetables around the world, there are so many opportunities to find your favorite plant-based dishes.
Sometimes, when you’re hungry the only thing that sounds good is a big juicy cheeseburger. Luckily, you can still have your “cheeseburger” on a plant-based diet. With the popularization of veganism, hundreds of brands (like Beyond and Impossible) are making the headlines with their plant-based alternatives, and it’s easier than ever to cut out animal products. Now, in order to be plant-based, you do not have to munch on lawn clippings and instead can experiment in the kitchen with tofu, cauliflower, chickpeas, and so many more alternatives. If I can cut out meat, the girl who grew up on hot dogs, pot roast, and rotisserie chicken, then other meat lovers can set down the ground beef and head to the veggie aisle, too.