Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guide for New Vegetarians

Poor little Vegan Wolfe, how I have neglected you....

Recently an old schoolmate friended me on Facebook and asked for some pointers on becoming vegetarian/vegan - I guess she saw some rant or another via a mutual FB friend.

Anyways, it reminded me that I had compiled this Guide for New Vegetarians for another friend months ago.

And, as I was re-reading it, I thought it might be useful to put out there in the wide web of our world.

Without further ado.....

Recommended Reading/Cookbooks (do some homework!)
Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedmon and Kim Barnouin – a great rundown of all the gross stuff we put in our bodies, a lot of really great information, CAUTION: the language is NOT for the faint of heart.

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!) by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet by Alicia Silverstone – a lot of great information regarding being vegetarian/vegan with a lot of resources. Much “kinder” than the Skinny Bitches

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero – great recipes, tips, plus funny commentary

Vegan with a Vengeance: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes that Rock by Isa Chandra Moskowitz – lots of great information and recipes, she’s fun to read

The 4-Ingredient Vegan by Maribeth Abrams and Anne Dinshah – quick and easy dishes

Great Websites (ahhh…what would we do without the internets?) – huge database of user-contributed recipes (like but all vegetarian/vegan) – a couple takes classic Betty Crocker recipes and “veganizes” them, I love these guys! Highly entertaining to read! – an awesome guide to finding vegetarian/veg-friendly restaurants and grocery stores all over the world (we used this to find vegetarian restaurants in Paris – not an easy task!)

I know this list is very short, but, seriously, you must already know that there are really a bazillion websites about being vegetarian/vegan and/or have recipes – just get your Google on (or Bing it if that’s your thang)!

Some Favorite Products (they’ll make “the change” a lot easier)

Gardein - Meat alternatives in a million delicious varieties such as herb Dijon “chik’n” breasts; bbq pulled shreds; santa fe good stuff (chick’n stuffed with black beans and corn); buffalo wings; beefless tips, etc, etc. Products available at Whole Foods and Kroger.

Boca – Meat alternatives such as “hamburger patties,” grilled and breaded chick’n patties, crumbles (use in place of ground meat), etc. Available at most grocers.

Daiya – vegan cheese alternative – the ONLY vegan cheese you should try! Others will scar you and make you never want to try a vegan cheese again! Available at Whole Foods and Kroger.

EnerG Egg Replacement – a powder that is mixed with water to make a quick and easy egg substitute, best used in baking recipes. Available at Whole Foods and Kroger.

Quorn – another meat alternative. Not vegan. Very “meat-like”, so it's great for new vegetarians.

Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread – amazing butter alternative – tastes the exact same! Available in soy-free, tub, and sticks (for baking/cooking). Available at Whole foods and Kroger.

Light Life – meat substitutes such as bacon, pepperoni, sliced turkey, hot dogs (don’t try other brands – they’re gross!), ground “beef”, buffalo wings, etc, etc. Available at Whole foods and Kroger.

Silk Almond Milk – there are tons of “other” milks out there – try them all! My favorite just happens to be Almond. There is soy, rice, hemp, coconut, and probably some more I can’t think of right now.

Tofutti’s Better than Cream Cheese and Better than Sour Cream – you’ll be amazed at just how good they impersonate the “real” thing! Available at Whole Foods and Kroger

Eating Out (it’s really not that hard)

It’s best just to tell the server up front that you don’t want any meat on anything (or dairy if you’re going vegan) – that saves you from forgetting to cut the bacon or cheese on your salad or accidentally getting meat sauce on your spaghetti instead of marinara.

Italian – pasta with marinara, cheese ravioli, cheese ziti, eggplant parmesan, pizza, etc. – there are lots of vegetarian options at Italian restaurants. A lot of times, you can simply ask them to leave the meat off of any dish on the menu.

Mexican – veggie fajitas, rice, beans, tortillas, quesadillas (bean and cheese; cheese; or veggie), bean and cheese nachos, etc.

Indian – so many choices!

Middle Eastern (Greek, Lebanese, etc.) – hummus, falafel, spanikopita, etc.

Asian – so many choices!!!

“American” – a lot of places offer a veggie or black bean patty as an option for their burgers, order some side items a la carte, check out the soups and salads for meat-free options. Fuddruckers, Cascio’s, and Chili’s all have either a veggie or black bean burger. Deli’s have veggie sandwiches and vegetarian soups, but be aware of the rampant use of chicken/beef stock in soups.

Vegan* Convenience Foods (when you need some cruelty-free junk on the run)

Hard Pretzels (soft pretzels, too, as long as you skip the butter bath!)
Wheat Thins
Boxed cake mixes (use an egg alternative such as EnerG Egg Replacer or ¼ c applesauce per egg)
Canned cake frosting (not the cream cheese types)
Boxed pancake mix (get the kind you’re supposed to add the eggs and milk to – not the “just add water” kind)
Cornbread mix
Nutter Butters
Regular and Buffalo Wild Wing flavored Pringles
Lays Potato chips
Bean Dip
Chex Mix – original
Peanut Butter and Crackers

*Always check the ingredients – different brands add different stuff!

How do you get enough protein? My blood pressure goes up a notch or two every time I get asked this question! You have probably asked this question and you will, without a doubt, be asked this questions thousands of times! It will get pretty annoying and even more so if you don’t know how to answer the question. Here’s what you need to know:

Protein—A Primer for Vegetarians
Written by Matt Frazier in Food Philosophy

This is a guest post from Matthew Ruscigno, MPH, RD, whose personal blog, True Love Health, is about veganism, adventure, and being stoked.
“But where do you get your protein?”
As a vegan, a nutrition professional, and an athlete, I get this question more than any other.
At a recent talk I gave on vegetarian nutrition to 200 dietitians at the American Dietetic conference, my message about protein was that it should be a non-issue: High quality protein is abundant in plant foods.
Yes, even for athletes. So what happened at the end of my presentation?
A dietitian approached me and said, “I understand what you are saying, but where do you get your protein?”
If you’re confused about protein or have a feeling in the back of your mind that you aren’t getting enough, relax—you are not alone. The good news is that vegetarians (even vegans!) can and do get enough protein. Easily.
This is the message I have to share with the world. I’d like to start with this article for No Meat Athlete, one of my favorite blogs.
What exactly is protein?
Protein, most simply, is a combination of amino acids. These amino acids have specific roles in our bodies, from metabolism to muscle development. Nine of them are absolutely essential to our basic functions, because they can’t be created by our bodies.
When we talk about dietary protein and getting enough, our concern is with these indispensable amino acids.
So how much protein do you need?
In the U.S., the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To calculate your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. (For those whose eyes have already glazed over because you’ve now seen two numbers with decimal points in them, the USDA provides a handy DRI calculator.)
This equates to roughly 10-15 percent of your total calories—remember that every gram of protein has four calories. Vegetarians and vegans easily get this amount of protein.
Why the advice that “athletes need more protein” is misleading
Sure, athletes need more protein than non-athletes. But we also need more carbohydrates and fat—our overall caloric needs are much higher since we burn so much energy in our training.
So because we’re eating more calories, we’re automatically consuming more protein if we stay at 10-15 percent of the total.
For example: I’m about 80 kilograms and I need 2500 calories most days. If I want ten percent of those calories to be from protein, then I need about 63 grams of protein.
When I’m Ironman training or have an otherwise heavy load, my caloric needs double. Therefore, so does my protein, to 126 grams.
I tell the vegan athletes I consult to shoot for 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. You can see from my numbers above that even when protein is only ten percent of calories, I’m getting 1.5 grams per kilogram body weight.
Contrary to what most people believe, more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to protein. The body can only process so much per day, and any additional protein is inefficiently converted to energy or even stored as body fat.
Don’t stress over combining incomplete proteins at meals
If I am going to rid the world of ignorance about plant proteins, I’m going to start by eliminating the phrase “incomplete protein.” It is misleading and biased and vegetarians should stop using it.
The problem with the idea of complete and incomplete proteins is this: It assumes we only eat one type of food!
It’s an example of a common mistake in the nutrition field: focusing on the specific nutrients of one food without seeing it in the context of an entire diet. Saying a protein is incomplete ignores the big picture and is often used by pseudo-nutritionists as a critique of vegetarianism.
While it’s tempting to want to combine these “incomplete” proteins to form a whole, the truth is there’s no need to combine protein sources within a given meal.
Really. I know you have heard this one over and over—even the college textbook I teach from says it’s a must!—but trust me, it is not necessary to form complete proteins within single meals. Our bodies pool the amino acids we need as we eat them, and we use them when needed.
Some combinations happen naturally—think pinto beans with rice, chickpeas with couscous, or granola with soymilk. But this is not a requirement in order for us to get all of the indispensable amino acids. Combining proteins was popularized in the 1970’s, and even though it has been deemed unnecessary for decades, the idea lives on.
What it means when people say animal protein is “higher quality” than vegetable protein
When you hear about one protein source being better than another, it’s in reference to the amino acid makeup.
It’s true: Animal foods contain all of the amino acids in the amounts we need. So if you ate only beef and nothing else for months and months, you would not get an amino acid deficiency (but probably a host of other ones). Do the same with only lentils, however, and you may not get enough of the amino acid methionine.
Fortunately, no one eats like this. We eat a variety of foods, most of which have some protein, and at the end of the day, we get all of the amino acids we need.
Okay, okay, enough with science and numbers, what do I eat?
If you’re eating enough for your activity level and consuming a variety of whole foods, you will get all the protein you need. Guaranteed. No need for supplements!
For example, lentils and soymilk are over 30 percent protein. Fifteen percent of the calories in whole wheat pasta are from protein, and even brown rice has protein, at about eight percent of calories.
See? It’s that easy to reach 10-15 percent of calories. If you want more help in creating a nutrition plan with adequate protein, see a fantastic list of vegetarian protein foods and meal plans compiled by my colleague Reed Mangels.
Now go fight for vegetarians!
The choice to be vegetarian, like the choice to do anything beyond what’s considered “normal,” constantly puts us on the defensive. But with the knowledge I’ve now given you, you can speak confidently the next time you get the protein question. Oh yeah, and you can tell Uncle Jerkface at Thanksgiving that you aren’t about to die of protein deficiency.

What’s for Dinner?

The easiest way to start is to just take the recipes you normally make and use the meat alternatives (Gardein, Boca, tofu, Quorn, etc) or simply leave the meat out. Use whole grains when possible as they are a great source of protein and simply way healthier than the white stuff. Here’s a list to get you started:
  • Spaghetti with Marinara or a “Meat” Sauce (use Boca or Light Life crumbles – SO much easier than browning real ground beef!) check jarred sauces to be sure you’re not getting something with meat in it
  • Cheese Ravioli/Tortellini
  • Veggie Lasagna
  • Eggplant Parmesan with Angel Hair pasta
  • Baked Cheese Ziti
  • Pizza (pile on the veggies and Light Life pepperoni, or Italian “sausage” – check Morning Star or Boca)
  • Manicotti
  • Chick’n Parmesan (use the Boca breaded chick’n patties – very tasty and so easy!)


  • Tacos (use Boca or Light Life crumbles in place of ground beef)
  • Fajitas (just use the veggies (mushrooms make a nice “meaty” filler); use tofu in place of the meat; or use a chick’n such as Gardein or Quorn)
  • Quesadillas (fill with cheese, veggies, chick’n and/or beans)
  • Nachos – top with cheese, beans, veggies, and/or crumbles seasoned with taco seasoning


  • Hamburgers (there are tons of options on the market – don’t be afraid to try them all until you find one that you like)
  • Chili Dogs (Hormel makes a vegetarian chili that tastes just like the original and Light Life veggie links are a great sub for the real “dogs”!)
  • Frito Pie (see above)
  • Chicken sandwich (Boca chick’n patties on a bun – add some wing sauce to kick it up a notch!)
  • Veggie Sandwich
  • “Veggie Platter” (pick a few that sound good together e.g. baked beans (Bush’s has a vegetarian version), spinach salad, wild rice, green beans, corn, mac-n-cheese, steamed veggies, pasta salad, mashed potatoes, etc, etc.)

  • Sweet n Sour Tofu (grab a bottle of sweet and sour sauce and follow the directions on label replacing pork with cubes of tofu – see “Some Basics of Tofu”)
  • Steamed veggies and rice
  • Egg Rolls
  • California rolls
  • Sweet and Sour Soup
  • Miso soup

To build on this, consider buying (or borrowing from a library) a couple of vegetarian cookbooks and/or hitting up the internet for some brand new recipes!

Some Basics of Tofu

A lot of people instantly think of tofu when they hear “vegetarian, ” and a lot of people think tofu is super-gross and therefore they think they could never be a vegetarian. Well, you can totally be a vegetarian without tofu, and tofu can definitely be super-gross if the wrong type of tofu is used for the recipe, the tofu is not prepped properly, or the tofu is not seasoned/cooked properly. But, if you follow these basic guidelines, you might just see why so many do love tofu!

First, choose the right tofu for the job:

Silken – texture is similar to yogurt when blended; works great to make creamy sauces, smoothies, etc.
Firm – texture is similar to ricotta cheese when mashed up; use it in place of ricotta or cottage cheeses, scrambled eggs, etc.
Extra Firm – texture is most meat-like when prepared and cooked properly; use in place of cooked strips or cubes of chicken, beef, or pork.

Preparing Extra Firm Tofu

This process makes ALL the difference when it comes to replacing meat with tofu. Eventually, you may want to invest in a tofu press (about $40 at, and it will make this process much easier and Earth-friendlier. For now:
1. Freeze the tofu in its original packaging, and then thaw in the refrigerator. This takes some time, so you may find it convenient to keep a few blocks in the freezer, and one thawing/thawed in the fridge ready to be used.
2. Once thawed completely, open and drain the package. If marinating, this would be the time to do that, and then drain again before continuing.
3. Slice the tofu into half-inch slabs.
4. Press each slab between layers of paper towels. Use your palms to squeeze out as much water as possible. You may need to press again with a dry set of towels. This takes a lot of paper towels because there is a lot of water in tofu. The more water you get out, the better your tofu will cook. Again, a tofu press does all the work for you without the paper towels.
5. Continue slicing or dicing as needed for your recipe.

Cooking Extra Firm Tofu to Use in Place of Meat

1. Heat skillet on medium-high heat.
2. Add oil (about 2-3 Tbsp for one block of tofu) and allow it to heat up.
3. Add pressed, diced/sliced tofu and gently stir or toss frequently. Season appropriately.
4. Tofu should become a nice golden color and be crispy on the outside. Obviously, the smaller it’s cut, the crispier it will be.
5. Be patient – cook it until it’s all nice and crispy!!

General Tips and Advice
(Goooooo Team Veg!!!)

Don’t stress! It’s just food for goodness sakes!
You don’t have to jump in with both feet; it’s okay to dip one foot in or even just swirl your big toe around a little at first. Every meat-free meal is a good thing! It’s okay if you can’t figure out the whole year’s menu right now! Take it little by little, and it will get so stinkin’ easy!! Don’t get overwhelmed with making this huge life-changing decision and a big commitment – deal with it on a day to day basis.

Always do the best you can in a given situation. Sometimes, you may just feel like there aren’t any acceptable vegetarian options on the menu. Or you have no (nice) way of finding out what’s in that seemingly vegetarian soup your future mother-in-law is serving – just cross your fingers and pray to the vegan gods that it’s not chicken broth and go with it - if you’re hungry enough! But, sometimes, you may be willing to skip it if you’re pretty sure it’s got some animal part in it.

Don’t get into the habit of telling yourself (or, gasp, others) that you “can’t” eat something because you are a vegetarian/vegan. You are making a decision. You can eat steak, but you are choosing not to. You can have that piece of chocolate cake, but you don’t want to (I mean, you want to, -oh, you WANT to! - but you don’t really want to). When you tell yourself that you “can’t” eat something or aren’t “allowed” to eat something, it creates a bitter desire to eat what you have decided you don’t want to eat! And it sends the message to those around you that you are some deprived, starving individual. “Poor little vegetarian, not getting to enjoy any of this yummy carcass…..she only eats vegetables and tofu.” Definitely the wrong message to send – to yourself and others!

If you ever need help remembering why you made the decision to be vegetarian/vegan – consult the proper resources! Re-read Skinny Bitch or The Kind Diet to be reminded of all the ways it’s healthier for you and the planet. Watch those awful videos on the PETA website if you can’t recall just how horrible and nasty the meat and dairy industries are. Do what it takes. Just don’t slip back into blissful ignorance because it’s easier and more convenient to do what the majority around you are doing.

Don’t try to “convert” people who aren’t interested. Answer questions and offer resources, but don’t force horrible facts and scarring images onto someone who didn’t ask for it – it’s not helpful. And, it’s just not cool. On the flip side, don’t be ashamed of your decision. If you can’t confidently stand up for your choice, heed the previous bit of advice and remind yourself why you’re decision is definitely right for you.

Now, go forth and VEG!

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