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...
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
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.
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
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
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...