10 things you should know before going veggie

Are you considering giving up meat and becoming a vegetarian? Georgie Kiely fills us in on what you should know before turning to the dark, green and leafy side...

10 things you should know before going veggie

There are as many reasons for going veggie as there are veggie chefs and writers. I've been vegetarian for a long time. So long, that the taste of a turkey twizzler is now a distant memory. I've never been a big meat eater and at about eight years of age, as I gradually went off an increasing number of meat dishes, my family had to widen our vegetarian recipe repertoire.

In many ways, going veggie was the start of my interest in food; where it comes from, how it's cooked and what other cuisines have to offer. The more you explore, the more you discover that there's a whole host of delicious dishes where vegetables are the star. 

Here are a few things to think about if you're considering becoming a 'veggievore'...

1. Protein power

Scrambled egg
If you're worried about protein and iron, don't be. You can get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a vegetarian diet, you just have to know what to eat. Non-meaty sources of protein and iron are nuts, pulses, tofu and leafy greens. Almonds, pistachios and cashews contain healthy fats too, and are perfect for snacking. Dairy is a good source of protein, as is quinoa which is ideal for a filling salad. Above all, embrace the egg, the easiest source of protein out there! Dried fruits, particularly raisins, apricots and dates are good iron sources. Vitamin C helps iron absoption so opt for foods that combine both, or have a glass of fruit juice with your meal to maximise benefits.

Before you kick meat to the kerb, read our guide to eating a balanced diet for vegetarians, plus try these iron-rich vegetarian recipes.

2. Added extras

Meat or fish can be a hidden ingredient in foods you wouldn't necessarily expect. Worcestershire sauce, for instance. Who knew?! Mousses, jellies, sauces, yogurts and cheeses can have gelatin or other animal fats in them to change the consistency and add different flavours. Make sure to check the packaging of any product you're not sure about. 

3. Prepare to be quizzed

If there's one thing I've learned, people love a debate. As soon as you say you've decided to go veggie just be prepared for a barage of questions, exclamations of disbelief and cries of, 'Even bacon?!' My grandparents still don't quite understand the concept and are eternally confused as to why I'd deprive myself of what they see as the best bit of the meal. Rejecting Irish stew in an Irish household is a risky business but if I can do it, so can you. 

4. Happy holidays

Being veggie often takes just a little bit of planning ahead. If you're going on holiday somewhere new, it's always worth checking if there are local vegetarian delicacies, restaurants or key phrases that might come in handy. Knowing the word for vegetarian is a good place to start!

5. Something fishy

Bakes sea bass
It's worth considering whether you're ready to go full-vegetarian or whether pescatarianism is for you. The latter gives you a little more flexibility in your diet. Remember, there are still dietary aspects to consider if you're giving up meat and only eating some seafood. Protein and iron may still be an issue. If you're fine with fish, try out new seafood recipes to tantalise your tastebuds. Being a pescatarian for a while can also be a great stepping stone to going vegetarian. 

6. Learn to love substitutes

Lentils for mince meat, quorn fillets for chicken fillets, beans for burger mince -  once you start branching out in your veggie cooking you'll get used to using new ingredients and trying new veggie substitutes for everyday meat dishes. Not only are they handy for getting extra nutrients into your meals but they're ideal for feeding a mixed crowd of veggies and meat-eaters. Good quorn bolognese or spicy bean burgers are always crowd-pleasers. 

7. Equip your kitchen

I'm not saying you need to buy out Lakeland but having extra storage jars for pulses, grains and other veggie staples, plus a decent blender for veggie soups and dips, won't go amiss. Depending on how adventurous your cooking is getting, a spiraliser is a fun gadget to play with for modern vegetarian health-conscious cooking with minimal effort. Good knives and chopping boards are essential to any kitchen but when you're chopping serious veg, you want the right tools for the job. 

8. Branch out

Seek out veggie and vegan cafés and restaurants in your community that perhaps you've never before considered. Explore different cuisines for vegetarian options. Who knows? You might discover a new favourite!

9. Snack happy

Energy balls
I'm a serial snacker. I have to have something to nibble on throughout the day or I get grumpy and/or tired. When an apple or a banana just won't do, I have a stash of natural fruit rolls, boxes of cashews and packets of popcorn that keep me going. You could also experiment with blitzing together some energy balls, they take minutes to make and can be packed up and whisked away with you. 

10. Eating out

Going out with friends doesn't have to change, it simply involves a bit of research. In the UK, we take it for granted that restaurants have a vegetarian alternative. Some places have more choice than others, so to avoid snacking on sides all night while everyone else tucks in, I suggest scoping out the menu online beforehand. 

Do you have a child who wants to be or already is vegetarian. Find out what you need to know in our Top 10 tips for veggie kids.

Tempted to go veggie? Visit our vegetarian recipe collections.

Are you a vegetarian with tips to share? Or are you thinking of going vegetarian and have questions to ask? Let us know in the comments below...

Comments, questions and tips

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5th Jun, 2016
Been a vegetarian since 1990. Don't listen to the crap about "complete proteins," a concept from the 1960s that has no real scientific foundation. Point #1: vegetables contain protein, especially the green leafy ones. Point #2: if you eat beans and legumes in *normal* amounts, you'll get enough protein. Point #3: if you include eggs and cheese, you'll get enough protein plus vitamin B12. Point #4: research nutrient-dense foods to learn what is actually good for you. Point #5: Vegetarianism is more than just meat avoidance; it is a pursuit of optimum nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Point #6: It's not a religion; don't try to convert anyone, except by example.
4th Jun, 2016
I´ve been thinking about "going veggie" for a long time. (Though I´m worried about the disappearance of the animals we eat, if we stopped eating them!) The main thing stopping me so far is the question of protein. There are many sources of protein, but you´d have to eat a huge quantity of lentils (say) to get the amount of protein needed per day. As well, of course, as having to add an unknown (at least to me) quantity of quinoa to supply the missing protein elements. It gets quite complicated. Or is it not true that the amount of beans needed to get the right total amount of protein is not large?
Mellie7's picture
2nd Jul, 2017
Hi there, I was brought up vegetarian from birth and still am as an adult and have never had a problem with a lack of protein. I actually grew up to be the tallest in my family and am rarely sick. If protein's your main/only concern regarding a veggie diet, I say go for it!
Georgina Kiely
6th Jun, 2016
Hi there, we've got some helpful feedback from our nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens which might be useful for you;"It’s important to remember that your protein intake is unlikely to be from a single source (like lentils). Protein may be found in many foods – some of which you might be surprised about. Eating a broad and varied veggie diet is the best plan – beans, tempeh, tofu, wholegrains like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth and teff as well as nuts and seeds are all good sources.One thing to focus on is to aim to include protein sources evenly throughout your day – our western diet tends to be carb heavy at breakfast and lunch with only dinner being protein packed. Instead aim to include veggie protein in all of your meals and snacks. Most of us manage to achieve our daily recommended protein intake (approx 0.8-1g per kg weight per day) – although if you are very active you may have greater protein demands than this. So examples of foods supplying 20g of protein each might include a couple of handful of nuts, a tin of baked beans and a portion of quorn."Many thanks, BBC Good Food Team
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