Credit: Wendy Wei
By: Cheryl Chiew

If you grew up in a Chinese family, you’ve probably heard your mum say “eat the meat, don’t eat the rice” during meal times, especially after complaining that you were too full. This phrase perfectly encapsulates my relationship with meat. I would push myself to consume meat at every meal, which resulted in me feeling tired, sluggish, and uncomfortably full. My weight also fluctuated, and I looked bloated. But, it wasn’t my bodily discomfort that pushed me to change my diet.

I started to realize some of the damaging effects that the production of meat, as well as our appetite for it, had on the environment. This inspired me to consume less meat, in hopes of reducing my own carbon footprint. A few years later, I now feel better mentally and physically. For those who are looking to transition into a plant-based diet, here are 5 ways I was able to do so successfully.

1. Stop expecting plants to taste like meat

During my first attempt at a mostly vegetarian diet, my main problem was my craving for meat. As a result, I tried numerous mock meat alternatives, which all left me dissatisfied. I started to realize the mental barrier around the consumption of soy-based ‘meats,’ as we are wired into thinking that none of them are tasty. At the same time, we also have a certain expectation that plants have to taste like meat.

Though there are developments in the alternative meats industry, we need to accept that plants will never taste like meat. Because plants are not meat. When having an unfair expectation of mock meats, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. Instead, focus on how delicious vegetables can be.

2. Learn about the different types of vegetables

Going vegetarian doesn’t mean only eating cauliflower, beans and avocados; or only picking carb-heavy pasta or untasty salad options at restaurants.

Instead, be curious about local produce, or aim to try different vegetables. For example, when I would go to the supermarket, I would pick up sweet potato leaves and Chinese spinach, instead of making a beeline for broccoli. By making this small change, I was able to expand my palate and find new vegetables that I liked!

3. Start slow and give yourself flexibility

Going cold turkey and cutting out meat is difficult. Instead, dedicate one meal a day to having no meat, which will make it eating vegetables easier.  And if you slip up and eat meat, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a process, not a competition.
Start small with easy-to-make vegetarian meals that you enjoy. For me, using sandwich charts with three-ingredient sandwich combos for lunches, was helpful. This is an article that I constantly referred to.

Credit: Trang Doan
4. Bulk prepare meals

One trick is to prepare vegetarian meals in bulk and freeze them over the weekend. This way, when you’re feeling tired or lazy, you can simply reheat a portion within 10 minutes.

Also aim to prepare homey foods such as vegetarian lasagne or chilli. When you look forward to your leftovers, you’ve painlessly and effectively replaced one more meal with veggies.

5. Pay attention to your nutrition

While it is possible to only subsist on oreos and diet coke to avoid meat, devouring large amounts of processed foods will only make you feel like trash.

It is also essential to find a balance between making your food taste good and hitting your required vitamin and mineral intake. So make sure you eat enough, get enough protein, and consume supplements like B12 to fuel your body. 

Eating Less Meat And More Plants

I’m not 100% vegetarian and on some days, I give in and order myself a steak. But I can confidently say I consume considerably less meat than I used to and feel better for it. If you’re trying to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet, hopefully, these tips will be useful for you!

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