After being a vegetarian for 5 years, I have picked up several helpful tips along the way that have made my diet much easier to manage. Whether you're a new vegetarian or a seasoned veteran like me, here are ten tips to help you survive as a vegetarian in a world of meat-eaters.
1. Bring protein on longer trips.
Nothing's worse than being on vacation with friends or family and, being the only vegetarian in the group, not having meat-free options at mealtimes. In these cases, bring protein bars or other protein-filled snacks for gap times when you can't find real food to eat. Your stomach will thank you!
2. Take advantage of meat substitutes.
Morning Star, Gardein, and other brands offer vegetarian versions of meaty foods, such as the "chick'n nuggets" shown above. They taste very similar to the real thing, pack a lot of protein, and satisfy those times you have meat cravings.
3. Don't be afraid to make substitutions at restaurants and fast food places.
Don't see any vegetarian options on the menu? Don't be afraid to ask for substitutions. Get the chicken quesadilla without chicken; ask if the restaurant serves veggie burgers; substitute beans for meat on a burrito. It's the restaurant's fault they don't cater well to vegetarians, not yours.
4. Try not to get defensive.
Upon learning about your meat-free diet, others may have questions or concerns. Take these in stride, and answer patiently. It's a lot easier than stirring up a heated argument everytime you eat with someone new.
5. Ask before you order.
Aren't sure whether the mac and cheese has bacon in it? (This is a real concern. Not all restaurants advertise their use of bacon in food, for some crazy reason). Ask before you order whether certain foods are vegetarian, instead of waiting until your meal is brought out...and covered in bacon.
6. Do your research.
There are a lot more foods that contain animal products than what you might think. Gelatin, a thickener made from animal fat and bones, is found in many foods such as marshmallows, fruit snacks, yogurt, and, of course, Jello. Do your research to ensure you are not eating foods that go against your diet.
7. Potlucks are your worst enemy.
Never expect much from a potluck. Whether it's your church's Thanksgiving buffet or a family reunion cookout, people like to include meat in their homemade dishes. Don't get too excited before you attend these types of events, and make sure to bring vegetarian foods in case the only dishes you can eat are the fruit salad and dessert.
8. Don't make pasta your go-to.
As easy as it may be to cook pasta for dinner every night rather than make something healthier and more creative, it will become an unhealthy habit fast. The internet is full of unique vegetarian recipes that pack more nutrients than a bowl of mac and cheese. Get out of your comfort zone and cook up something healthy and fun; it'll make you feel better and limit your carb consumption, at least for one day.
9. If you accidentally eat meat, don't freak out.
I've had a couple of instances in my five years of being a vegetarian in which I accidentally ate meat. It's easy to panic and begin to hate yourself when these accidents occur, but that is not how you should react at all. One slip-up is nothing compared to how much meat you have avoided and will avoid eating in your time as a vegetarian. Don't beat yourself up about it.
10. Don't give up.
As much as you may want to quit being a vegetarian, it does get easier, and the overall benefits of cutting meat from your diet far outweigh the struggles. Not eating meat actively protests against factory farming, saves the lives of hundreds of animals per year, can be healthier if you do it right, and will overall make you a happier person. It's worth it; don't stop now!