Making the Transition to a Vegetarian Diet

People decide to eat a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons. But how they make the change requires they take one of two routes—the overnight approach or the gradual one.

The following suggestions can help you make the transition to a meat-free diet using either method.

The overnight approach

Changing from eating steak to veggie stir-fries overnight isn't easy, but people who like to take immediate action when making lifestyle changes prefer this route. While this approach certainly results in a quick transition to a vegetarian diet, it may not give you the time needed to learn how to prepare well-balanced vegetarian meals or deal with the practical issues of eating places where vegetarian food choices may be limited. In addition, sometimes a rapid diet change may be difficult for friends or family. This may mean that you will be spending more time than you would like explaining your new lifestyle. Finally, it has been found that people who make the overnight change to a vegetarian diet tend to be less likely to remain vegetarians.

The gradual approach

People who take the gradual approach to a meat-free diet are more likely to stick with their new eating habits. This may be related to slower diet changes that allow a gradual adjustment for both you and your friends and family. 

The following plan can help you make the change gradually:

  • Start by educating yourself. Gather information from vegetarian magazines, websites, and vegetarian cookbooks. Doing so will make it easier to shop for food, prepare meals, and deal with social situations, such as business meals. The UDSA has a variety of resources about healthy vegetarian eating.

  • Reduce your meat consumption slowly for a month or two. Eat a few meatless meals each week.

  • Next, reduce your meat consumption even more. Add a few more meatless meals to your weekly diet. Set a date a few months down the road when you'll start eating only vegetarian meals.

  • Continue to seek new information and new recipes.

Easy modifications

To make the transition easier, modify your current recipes.

For example:

  • Bean soup. Leave out the ham or bacon

  • Beef burritos, enchiladas and tacos. Instead of beef, substitute beans and lots of shredded or sauteed vegetables

  • Stir-fry. Use a variety of vegetables in place of meat

  • Chili. Make it with beans instead of meat

  • Hamburgers. Dress up grilled or pan-fried veggie burgers with all the trimmings

  • Lasagna. Substitute spinach or other sauteed vegetables for the ground meat

  • Pasta sauce. Substitute sauteed mushrooms, red and green peppers, and onions for meat

  • Stuffed cabbage. Substitute rice, garbanzo beans, and seasonings for ground pork

The USDA states that a well-balanced vegetarian diet can meet your daily nutritional requirements. The key—regardless of whether you decide to become a vegetarian overnight or over the next year—is to make certain your diet contains a variety of healthy foods in the right amounts to meet your caloric needs.