There are several ways to make the change. Do whatever feels more comfortable for you. Like other types of cooking, vegetarianism can be simple or complicated, expensive or inexpensive, and use foods that can only be bought in a natural foods store or your local supermarket.
There are a lot of common recipes that are easily made veggie/vegan, or already are - spaghetti and other pasta dishes, burritos, tacos, tostadas, mashed potatoes, three bean salad, pancakes, French toast, waffles, grilled cheese sandwiches, hummus, grilled veggies, oven-roasted veggies, rice, etc. The other way would be to start exploring other cuisines or methods of cooking (go for Thai, Indian, Chinese, etc.) that exclude meat in the dishes to begin with. Some people like to try both approaches.
You could also try making the dishes you usually do and just substitute tofu, seitan or other meat substitutes for the meat in the dishes. (Most supermarkets carry tofu and often other meat substitutes in the produce section. Check the frozen section, near the breakfast foods, for veggie burgers, veggie crumbles, links, and patties.)
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets (2003) helps clarify the nutritional needs of vegetarians.Food Guide for North American Vegetarians (ADA & Dietitians of Canada) (PDF) This contains a vegetarian food pyramid.
We have a wealth of nutrition information on our website. The Nutshell Section is at www.vrg.org/nutshell/ and there you will find many of our brochures and guides. Our Nutrition Section, at www.vrg.org/nutrition, offers answers to more specific dietary questions. Also look at "Heart Healthy Diets: The Vegetarian Way" on our website at: www.vrg.org/nutshell/heart.htm. There are also lots of recipes on the website.
Among the many reasons for being a vegetarian are health, ecological, and religious concerns, dislike of meat, compassion for animals, belief in non-violence, and economics.
People often become vegetarian for one reason, be it health, religion, or animal rights, and later adopt some of the other reasons as well.
You might want to check our readers survey at www.vrg.org/journal/vj98jan/981coord.htm, which gives a general perspective on vegetarians.
The majority of us here in the VRG office have chosen veganism due to animals rights/ethical concerns.
The Nutshell portion of our website might be very helpful and is at www.vrg.org/nutshell/. You might also want to look at the nutrition section on our website at: www.vrg.org/nutrition. There you will find information on calcium, iron, protein, and more.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets (2003) helps clarify the nutritional needs of vegetarians.
You might find Feeding Vegan Kids by Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D, to be extremely helpful. This is the opening paragraph:
Many members of The Vegetarian Resource Group are glowing testimony to the fact that vegan children can be healthy, grow normally, be extremely active, and (we think) smarter than average. Of course it takes time and thought to feed vegan children. Shouldn't feeding of any child require time and thought? After all, the years from birth to adolescence are the years when eating habits are set, when growth rate is high, and to a large extent, when the size of stores of essential nutrients such as calcium and iron are determined.
You can access "Feeding Vegan Kids" on our website at: www.vrg.org/family.
Our "Tips for Parents of Young Vegetarians" is also helpful. Please e-mail us requesting an attached text copy or with your mailing address for a paper copy. You might also want to read over Raising Vegan Children for information, as well as the articles "Wholesome Baby Foods from Scratch" and "Healthy Fast Food for Pre-Schoolers." These are online at www.vrg.org/family.
Vegetarians easily meet their protein needs by eating a varied diet, as long as they consume enough calories to maintain their weight. It is not necessary to plan combinations of foods. A mixture of proteins throughout the day will provide enough "essential amino acids."
For more detailed information read Protein in the Vegan Diet online at www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm
Almost all foods except for alcohol, sugar, and fats are good sources of protein. Vegan sources include: potatoes, whole wheat bread, rice, broccoli, spinach, almonds, peas, chickpeas, peanut butter, tofu, soy milk, lentils, kale...
For example, if part of a day's menu included the following foods, you would meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for an adult male: 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup soy milk, 2 slices whole wheat bread, 1 bagel, 2 Tablespoons peanut butter, 1 cup vegetarian baked beans, 5 ounces tofu, 2 Tablespoons of almonds, 1 cup broccoli, and 1 cup brown rice. From Vegan Diets in a Nutshell
Calcium, needed for strong bones, is found in dark green leafy vegetables, tofu made with calcium sulfate, and many other foods commonly eaten by vegans. High protein diets appear to lead to increased calcium losses. Calcium requirements for those on lower protein, plant-based diets may be somewhat lower than requirements for those eating a higher protein, flesh-based diet. However, it is important for vegans to eat foods regularly that are high in calcium and/or use a calcium supplement.
For more detailed information read Calcium in the Vegan Diet online at www.vrg.org/nutrition/calcium.htm
Dried beans and dark leafy green vegetables are especially good sources of iron, better on a per calorie basis than meat. Iron absorption is increased markedly by eating foods containing vitamin C along with foods containing iron. Vegetarians do not have a higher incidence of iron deficiency than do meat eaters.
For more detailed information read Iron in the Vegan Diet online at www.vrg.org/nutrition/iron.htm
Read The American Dietetic Association (ADA) Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets (2003) , Simply Vegan (Wasserman and Mangels, 1999), Vegetarian Way (Messina and Messina, 1996), and Becoming Vegetarian (Melina, Davis, and Harrison, 1995) for more information.
Kosher gelatin can be made from fish bones, beef, Japanese insinglass, agar agar, carrageenan, and Irish moss. According to the September/October 1989 issue of Viewpoint, a magazine from the National Council of Young Israel, "a tiny minority of rabbis permit pork gelatin as a kosher product!" Contrary to assumptions, it is also considered kosher to use animal-derived gelatin with dairy products. Unless it is specified as being derived from a non-animal source, such as agar agar and carrageenan, it is very possible that kosher gelatin is animal-derived.
The general meaning of "pareve" refers to foods that are neither milk nor meat, and many people assume this means that the product is vegetarian. However, pareve certified ingredients can contain animal products, such as fish and eggs. Kosher law is very complex and the bones and hides used in gelatin production, even if they are not kosher slaughtered, can be considered pareve by some koser certifying agencies. "Getting Into the Thick of Things, Which Gelatin is Kosher?" an article from the February 2001 issue of Kashrus Magazine, explains the many complexities surrounding kosher gelatin. According to the article,
"[Horav Moshe Feinstein] writes that hides are not considered meat (to prohibit its mixture with milk) by Torah Law, but they are prohibited by Rabbinic Law. If they are dried and processed, the gelatin that comes out is not included in this Rabbinic prohibition. Therefore, gelatin produced from the hides of kosher-slaughtered animal may be intentionally used with milk, provided that the hides are cleaned to remove any meat residue."
For questions like this try our FAQ section on Food Ingredients.
According to our Guide To Food Ingredients, by Jeanne-Marie Bartas:
Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate -
An animal-mineral (cow or hog-derived, or milk), or vegetable-mineral. It is a common food additive which is often used to condition dough or to blend together ingredients which do not normally blend, such as oil and water. Our guide reports it as May Be Non-Vegetarian. Archer Daniels Midland Co., a manufacturer of sodium stearoyl lactylate reports that their product is of vegetable origin; the lactic acid is produced from microbial fermentation and the stearic acid, from soy oil. Sodium is a mineral which is added.
L-cysteine is an amino acid needed by human beings. The most common source is human hair and it is most commonly used in bread products. It is considered vegetarian.
You might find our Guide to Food Ingredients very helpful in deciphering ingredient labels. It lists the uses, sources and definitions of common food ingredients. The guide also states whether the ingredient is vegan, typically vegan, vegetarian, typically vegetarian, typically non-vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The guide is available for $6. You can read more about the guide at www.vrg.org/press/97juningred.htm. You can order online at www.vrg.org/catalog/order.htm; mail a check to VRG, P.O. 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203; or call (410) 366-8343 M-F 9-5 (EST) to order with a Visa or MasterCard over the phone.
We have many vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants listed in our book Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. It is available for $18. For more information about the restaurant guide go to www.vrg.org/catalog/guide.htm.
Also, don't forget about our Guide to Fast Food if you are on the road.
You can also check out the websites for many all vegetarian restaurants on our links pages at www.vrg.org/links/restaurant.htm.
You can access our A Shopper's Guide To Leather Alternatives online at: www.vrg.org/nutshell/leather.htm.
Try our Frequently Requested Recipes section of the FAQ.
You can also access our recipe sections. These are at www.vrg.org/recipes and www.vrg.org/journal. VRG also publishes several cookbooks including Simply Vegan, Conveniently Vegan, Meatless Meals for Working People, The Lowfat Jewish Vegetarian Cookbook, Vegan Handbook, and more.
There are also great vegetarian recipe websites online:
You can also go to the search engine of your choice and type in "vegetarian recipes" and you will discover thousands of websites.
There is a cookbook that might be of assistance, as well as an organization that might be able to help.
The Food Allergy Network
10400 Eaton Place, Suite 107
This is one of the best resources for information on food allergies. They have a number of handouts on foods which contain possible allergens and recipes which can be used. They could answer some of your specific questions.
VRG carries a book - Food Allergy Survival Guide that might be of interest. It is available for $20. You can order online at www.vrg.org/catalog/order.htm, just list the book title in the notes field; mail a check to VRG, P.O. 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203; or call (410) 366-8343 M-F 9-5 (EST) to order with a Visa or MasterCard over the phone.
You can also try and find it in your local bookstore or library. The ISBN is 978-1-57067-163-0, and it is published by Healthy Living Publications, an imprint of Book Publishing Company.
The book notes which recipes are safe for people with specific food allergies, especially wheat and soy.
If you are looking for specific food alternatives you might want to try contacting Ener-G Foods Inc.
Ener-G Foods Inc.
5960 First Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98108
Products: Wheat-free breads, pastas, Ener-G Egg Replacer, flours, and other products for people with special needs.
Go to VRG Publications, Resources, and Tabling Materials at: http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/materials.htm
The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on vegetarianism and the interrelated issues of health, nutrition, ecology, ethics, and world hunger. In addition to publishing the Vegetarian Journal, VRG produces and sells cookbooks, other books, pamphlets, and article reprints.
Our health professionals, activists, and educators work with businesses and individuals to bring about healthy changes in your school, workplace, and community. Registered dietitians and physicians aid in the development of nutrition related publications and answer member or media questions about the vegetarian and vegan diet. The Vegetarian Resource Group is a non-profit organization. Financial support comes primarily from memberships, contributions, and book sales.
For more information go to 31 Projects of The Vegetarian Resource Group