It's not about denial -- it's about bounty and adventure. Seek out ethnic grocery stores: Their aisles are filled with inspiration. (Can you say Chinese Forbidden Rice?) Pick up vegetables you've never tried before: ivory eggplants, Tuscan kale, Jerusalem artichokes.
Don't Do Anything Radical
"You can't just say, 'I'm not going to eat meat anymore,'" says author Kim O'Donnel, who embraced the Meatless Monday pledge. "Institute change in baby steps." Her book "Licking Your Chops," coming out later this year, will offer 52 meat-free menus.
Build your meals around a vegetable or flavorful ingredient like ginger or coconut milk instead of a piece of meat. In most cuisines, meat is served as a side dish. The vegetables and grains get equal real estate.
Eat Out at Ethnic Restaurants
At Mexican, Thai, Chinese, and Indian restaurants, vegetarian dishes are standard. At American restaurants, vegetarian dishes can often feel more like something "done special," says Tal Ronnen, author of "The Conscious Cook," "like a bunch of side dishes thrown together, which means you leave feeling unsatisfied."
Consider Transitioning with Meat Substitutes
Look for products made without additives, like Gardein. Ronnen, who worked on the development of Gardein products, says, "You're more likely to succeed with your family if you replicate their favorite chicken pot pie instead of just springing a quinoa pilaf on them out of the blue."
Don't Call Yourself a Vegetarian
Cornell nutritionist T. Colin Campbell says, "That term is so loaded," and it can sometimes set you back. (He prefers calling it "a plant-based, whole foods" diet.) Ideologically, you take some of the pressure off by ignoring the politics and just concentrating on the extraordinary health benefits.
Make Sure Your Meals Stick to Your Ribs
As author Tara Weaver says, "Make hearty food using beans and grains and other ingredients that will stay with you, especially in winter. Don't subsist on lettuce and carrot sticks."
Use Strong Flavors
Says Weaver: "You never want to feel your dinner is a paler version of what it once was." She recommends experimenting with flavors that replicate meat sensations. "So many people don't know about smoked paprika!" she says.
"It's not super spicy and has this wonderful smoky flavor that people who like ham and bacon are used to." And caramelized onions, she says, "are the bacon of the vegetarian world," adding a viscosity and a "sort of greasiness" that meat eaters can sometimes miss when they switch.
"People don't know you can get all your protein from a good mixture of reasonably intact grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables," says T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University. We require about half a gram of protein for each pound of body weight.
For vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo vegetarians)
- 1 percent milk (1 c.): 8 g
- Yogurt (6 oz.): 6 g
- Large boiled egg: 7.5 g
- Cheddar cheese (1 oz.): 7 g
For strict vegetarians who eat no animal by-products (vegans)
- Lentils (1 c. cooked): 18 g
- Black beans (1 c. cooked): 15 g
- Veggie burger: about 13 g
- Chickpeas (1 c. cooked): 12 g
- Quinoa (1 c. cooked): 8 g
- Peanut butter (2 Tbsp.): 8 g
- Almonds (1 oz.): 6 g
- Soy milk (1 c.): 8 g
- Bulgur (1 c. cooked): 5.5 g
- Wheat bread (2 slices): 7 g
- Cooked spinach (1 c.): 5 g
- Cooked broccoli (1 c.): 4 g
- Tempeh (4 oz.): 41 g
- Seitan (3 oz.): 31 g
The Vegetarian Bookshelf
Check out these cookbooks for ideas and inspiration.
- "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison
- "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman
- "World Vegetarian" by Madhur Jaffrey
- "Super Natural Cooking" by Heidi Swanson
- "Vegan Soul Kitchen" by Bryant Terry
- "The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest" by Mollie Katzen
- "The Conscious Cook" by Tal Ronnen
- "The New Moosewood Cookbook" by Mollie Katzen
- "Licking Your Chops" (out later this year) by Kim O'Donnel
- "Hot Sour Salty Sweet" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
- "Chez Panisse Vegetables" by Alice Waters