Diet

Want to become a vegetarian or cut back on meat? Eight tips to help

Excellent reasons to add more vegetables into your diet and a sweet potato shepherd's pie that will satisfy meat lovers and vegetarians

vegetarian diet, eating more vegetables

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Have you been considering reducing the amount of meat in your diet or becoming a vegetarian? This can be a pretty major lifestyle shift so keep in mind that you don’t need to make any drastic changes right away. Instead, you can gradually ease your way into a plant-based diet. This isn’t necessarily about becoming a full vegetarian; it’s about your overall health and wellness. But beware, once you start eating more greens and veggies there’s no turning back! I can say from personal experience that you just start to feel better – even if it’s just adding one more salad a day. If you’re not sure how to approach a more plant-based diet, here are a few tips to get you going:

How to begin?

Start simply Find the reasons you are choosing to eat more plant foods (e.g. animal rights, health, weight loss) and stay true to your goals.

Get educated Do your best to find resources (e.g. books, websites, blogs) that will support you.

Eat the best Choose local sustainable and organic foods as much as possible.

Get stocked Go to local farmers’ markets or health food stores, or arrange to have an organic box delivered right to your door through websites such as Mama Earth Organics.

Get cooking Create a culinary masterpiece by joining my vegetarian cooking class – you’ll learn how to prepare delicious dishes using the healthiest ingredients.

What are the benefits of plant-based foods?

1. They contain more balanced nutrients including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, chlorophyll, fibre, and even protein.

2. Eating them adds more variety and colour to your diet so that your meals are more exciting.

3. Vegetables offer several health benefits by helping to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and balancing cholesterol levels.

4. Plant-based foods save you money, since meat can be expensive financially and its environmental costs are even worse.

5. You’ll save the lives of animals. If you’re an animal lover like me, you’ll want to keep as many of them alive as possible.

6. Ultimately, they make you feel better. Plant foods are lighter to eat so you may even lose some weight along the way with all that fibre.

7. Eating more veggies will boost your energy levels by giving your body fresh nutrients to burn through. Meat, on the other hand, is heavy and makes you feel tired and sluggish.

8. And you’ll improve digestion. Fruits and vegetables assimilate into your body easily, allowing for immediate absorption of nutrients. It takes your body a lot of extra work to break down a piece a steak – but a carrot is no problem!

Choosing to eat more plant-based foods is the way of the future. Agricultural systems, communities, and resources are now finally in place to help support the growing desire to eat more plant-based foods. If you have access, make sure you get to local farmers’ markets or, better yet, plant your own garden in the spring. There is nothing better than eating your own homegrown food. Take advantage of the immense diversity of plants that exist on our planet. The winter months can make it challenging to obtain fresh, local produce, but there are definitely a lot of good options out there if you’re willing to do a little digging.

If you think you are going to miss your meat, try this version of a shepherd’s pie for your next family meal!

Sweet potato shepherd’s pie
Ingredients

2 tsp virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 sticks celery, washed and sliced
1 bay leaf
1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved, deseeded, and cut into small pieces
15 oz vegetable stock (made with 1 vegetable stock cube or your own stock)
15 oz can of “no added salt” red kidney beans, rinsed in a colander under cold running water and drained
1 cauliflower, cut into slices or chopped
2 medium zucchini, sliced
1 broccoli head, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp arrowroot
4 sweet potatoes, steamed for 15 minutes until soft, and mashed

Directions

1. Heat a little water and the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and bay leaf and simmer for approximately 3 minutes.
2. Add the squash and heat for a further 3 minutes, stirring. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil overmedium heat. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the kidney beans, cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, and carrots. Simmer for a further 5 minutes until the squash is just tender. Stir in the parsley. Add a little arrowroot to thicken.
3. Transfer into a baking dish, mix the mashed sweet potatoes with a little of the cooking water and a dash of tamari sauce. Add as a topping and bake for 15 minutes at 400 F. Just enough time to set.

Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.