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Quarantine has made me want to try new things and experiment, so since March I have been slowly working my way towards eating more plant-based meals. With conversations I’ve been having around climate change I decided to try to become either a vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian. This was a challenge for me because I’m Hispanic, so for me, I grew up eating a ton of chopped meat. I wondered if I would ever be able to take meat out of my diet after eating it consistently for the past 19 years of my life, but by following these tips I have been able to slowly cut out meat from my meals. 

 

 

Slow & Steady: Eliminating meats

It may seem intimidating to start working towards becoming either a vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan; so, start small and eliminate meat slowly. At the start of this process, I did some research by reading articles, watching YouTube videos, and by talking to my friends that were vegans about their experience. I realized that making the change to eat more plant-based foods can be a challenge, but, by taking small steps, it is possible. The first step I took towards eating more plant-based meals was reducing the amount of red meat I consumed. Focusing in on one meat at a time made it easier for me to find substitutes to fill my cravings, like veggie burgers and plant-based burgers. Within a few weeks I had lost the urge to eat red meat and was able to slowly eliminate other kinds of meat from my meals as well.

Plant-based alternatives to your favorite dishes

You would be surprised by the number of meals (with meat) that can be transformed into flavorful plant-based dishes. Finding new recipes and learning how to cook new things can be a fun part of the process in becoming more of a plant-based eater. These are a few of my new favorite vegetarian style meals.

Chicken Parmesan to Eggplant Parmesan

https://minimalistbaker.com/vegan-eggplant-parmesan/

Lasagna to Eggplant Lasagna 

https://healthyfitnessmeals.com/vegetarian-eggplant-lasagna/

Beef Empanadas to Sofritas Empanadas

https://www.naughty-kitchen.com/sofritas-empanadas/

 

Vegetarian Restaurants

My favorite fast-food restaurant has been Chipotle for years and it was my kryptonite in the process of eliminating meat from my meals. But once I replaced my usual carnitas bowl with sofritas there was no going back! For those who don’t know, sofritas is made from organic GMO-free tofu that is crumbled and soaked in chipotle and poblano peppers. This tofu is made to be so flavorful that I felt like I was eating meat. On the east coast, there are very limited options to eat good plant-based meals, so looking into the menus of some of your favorite restaurants for plant-based options can be helpful whenever you feel you may slip up. 

My Top 5 Restaurants: Vegetarian Options

1. Chipotle

2. Panera Bread

3. Houlihan’s 

4. Taco Bell

5. Moe’s

Create a good relationship with food

The most helpful tip that I can offer is to make sure that you maintain a good relationship with food. Meaning, through this process you should not label specific foods as good or bad. When reducing meat and increasing plant-based foods it’s crucial that you do not feel restricted. In order to feel fulfilled with plant-based meals you must feel good about what you are eating. In addition to this, having a better understanding of nutritional health can help you create a balanced meal. Hitting all the food groups and receiving all the necessary nutrients each day is possible even as a vegan, but you must be mindful of how you plan your meals.

Now I consider myself to be a pescatarian, or possibly a flexitarian. Although this is still new to me, I have noticed a change within myself and my relationship with food. I see food as something that fuels me versus seeing food as something that is either good or bad. When deciding what to eat, I look for food that will energize me and plant-based meals can light me up with satisfaction in a way that a hamburger never could! Eating plant-based meals offers many health benefits: it can boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, it contains healthy fibers, and it can even lower your risk of getting cancer. Don’t get me wrong though, eating more plant-based food doesn’t mean I never snack! I still indulge myself in ice cream, cookies, and other treats. On a final note, remember that this takes time, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the process!

 

Nicole Vega

Rutgers '23

Nicole is a rising sophomore at Rutgers University that plans to major in Social Work. She is passionate about music, theatre, and mental health awareness.
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