Going Veg*n: Lots of Protein, Little Stress

I’m inspired by how many friends, family, and others I’ve come across recently who are considering going vegetarian or vegan. In particular, it’s been interesting to note how many children of non-vegetarian families have decided to forgo meat.  To those of us in the yogic and spiritual communities, this is a wonderful sign of the ascension of the collective consciousness, naturally drawing to a state of greater harmony, connection with others, and ultimately, ahimsa, or non-harming.  Not only is this a more compassionate and healthy path, I’m here to tell you there is plenty of protein to be had within a plant-based diet.

That being said, non-veg Mamas (& Papas!) are asking for a little help figuring out how to feed newly veg*n kids in a wholesome way, and perhaps begin to move into more veg lifestyles themselves… so here are my top tips!

Living as a Long-time Vegetarian

I’ve been vegetarian or vegan for most of my life, so it’s second nature to cook and eat without the use of meat or other animal products.  Growing up, I never really liked meat, eggs, or dairy very much in the first place, so it wasn’t a really a stretch to become vegetarian and then vegan.  At certain points when I’ve been compelled by medical situations to release the veg*n, it’s actually been harder on me.  I was probably in my 20’s before I was even willing to consider giving mayonnaise a fair shot.  For others who have different tastebuds or family habits, it can be a little more challenging to figure out how to move through a day eating well  as a new veg.  Once you do, though, the benefits will speak for themselves!

My lil Mighty O is veg since the womb, though that doesn’t mean it’s not tricky sometimes, especially when constantly presented with those unhealthy, meat-centric, and very limited kids’ menus at restaurants and school lunch options (and I could go on…).  Healthy nutrition for children can be a really tough nut to crack in our society, regardless.

protein is easy for healthy vegetarians

Vegetarian elf in the wild

 

Top Tips for {Protein} Success in Your New Veg Lifestyle

Here are my basic tips for getting into a groove for (adult and) kid-friendly, family-oriented healthy veg*n eating:

 

  • Protein is EVERYWHERE!  This is my #1 point for a reason. Everyone freaks out about getting enough protein.  I’ve had people show up to a 3-day, vegetarian yoga retreat with 2-gallon tubs of protein powder. Listen – even kale has protein! And rice, and peas, spinach, cranberries, beans… the list goes on!  Once you embrace the full spectrum of vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, and all the rest of Mother Nature’s bounty, you will be swimming in a sea of plant-based protein before you know it, with no need to supplement.  So don’t worry about it – just start experimenting, and it will all fall into place as long as you keep well-rounded nutrition in mind, and don’t go all “junk food vegetarian,” eating muffins and Oreos and what not all day long.  Speaking of which, keep the carb-crazies at bay (known to many a new veg*n) by trying out the wide variety of flourless, gluten-free, protein-rich pasta and noodle choices in the grocery these days, including edamame spaghetti, brown rice and quinoa pastas, lentil noodles, and so many more interesting protein-rich, low carb choices.

 

  • Beans – and their cousins – are your friends.  And they’re EVERYWHERE.  See #1… PROTEIN – but also – fiber – is filling.  Meat is very dense and difficult for our bodies to break down, which is one reason why it’s filling and satisfying (and also hard on the colon).  To make the adjustment from meat-based to plant-based, you’re going to want to feel full and satisfied and have it last a while.  A few easy, accessible, and protein-rich meal and snack suggestions in this arena include black bean and other styles of veggie burgers, bean burritos, black bean quesadillas, chilis, soups,  dips, rice and bean veggie bowls, Indian, Mexican, North African, Middle Eastern style casseroles and side dishes (become main dishes!), salads with beans and/or quinoa, chick peas, hummus, lentils, or legumes, in every combination and variation of the above.  My rule of thumb is just basically throw some kind of beans (etc) into whatever you’re making.  Red lentils practically dissolve after a few minutes of cooking and have a super-mild flavor, so they’re a perfect “invisible” add-in when you need it.  Use spices, salts, citrus, herbs, and different greens to vary your flavor profiles to see what works for you and keep it interesting.  Lots of these items are available as  veg*n options when eating out, or can easily be made so simply by saying, “Just no meat.”  Bear this in mind for the kids, too – it can be fun to order off the adult menu, right?!  Often, the best veg choices are listed under Side Dishes.

 

  • Tofu is cool.  And it can taste good!  Seriously, one of the easiest things to cook ever. Pro Vegger tip: Squeeze the water out!  You can just squeeze with your hands over the sink, or place the block of tofu in between some paper towels on a plate with a heavy saucepan on top for about 15 minutes.  Once the water is out, the flavor can go IN!  Cut into small blocks or triangles, and toss with your fave BBQ sauce, peanut sauce, teriyaki, curry, whatever, and bake in the oven, grill, or saute on the stovetop.  Deepen the flavor with an extra brush of sauce after cooking.  Serve with whatever you might otherwise put meat in… or just mix into the aforementioned side dishes that were just a complement before, and you’ve got yourself a tasty, protein-rich, filling meal.  Extra firm is the “meatiest” tofu, and look for the “high protein” versions for the most firm mouth-feel.  If you’re open to dairy and you don’t want to do tofu or soy for whatever reason, the same applies to paneer (hard Indian cheese), and you don’t even have to squeeze it first.

 

  • Soup is magical. Kids love it, adults love it, and it can be a very easy complete food source, especially when you throw in some… beans! Or lentils. Or see above. And you can toss TONS of fresh veggies in to make it super nutritious, fiber-full, tasty, and filling.  Crock pot it if you know you’re going to have a long day, and WALLAH! Perfect meal when you get home. Serve with some delicious crusty bread, a sweet corn bread, naan, or tortillas, depending on the vibe.  Also – get an immersion blender if you don’t have one yet!  You can really add variety when you have this handy  tool to fully or partially blend your soups.  Check out my recipes for Quick and Healthy Potato (Veggie) Soup  and Hearty Vegetarian Black Eyed Pea Stew, and others here on the blog.  You can easily adapt most meat-based soup recipes to veg*n by simply substituting or even just eliminating the meat, and using alternative dairy if needed – or  just leave it out.

 

  •  Non-dairy is so easy. If you want to avoid dairy for kindness’ sake, digestive ease, or simply for variety in your veg diet, there’s never been a better time! There are all manner of non-dairy milks on the store shelves these days, from almond and coconut, to hemp, oat, and more, and each with a distinct flavor and best kind of use.   Yogurts, sour creams, ice creams, cheez, now all come in non-dairy varieties.  These can be really handy as “transition tools,” too… when you’re trying to get off the hard stuff, and want some of that old fashioned comfort/taste of yore.

 

  • Speaking of which, substitutes can help.  They’re not my first choice any day of the week, though when you’ve got a little one torn up about having chicken nuggets at school yet wants to stay veg, or you personally have a hankering for a meaty bite in your mouth, it can be helpful. The veg nuggets, cheezes, veg hot dogs, and other various items are usually pretty highly processed food products, even if the ingredients are decent, so they’re not something to make  a regular habit of… though there’s something to be said for a quick, convenient snack, having ye olde flavor of holiday tradition, or whatever it is you’re yearning for, to keep you on track with your principles or dietary needs.  If you grow toward a diet of mostly whole, fresh plant-based foods, these indulgences of veg*n “fast food” are just small diversions in an overall healthy and holistic diet.  In time, those convenient snacks more often become replaced by more whole-food choices like a handful of almonds or cashews, roasted garbanzo beans, a quick bowl of edamame, homemade black bean burgers, and so forth, especially once you get used to preparing more veg*n foods at home.  So again, don’t worry about it too much to get started, and just do what gets you over the hump to quell cravings, stave off the carb-loading, and enjoy trying new things.

 

vegetables have protein too

Veggie Love!

Getting Over the Hump

You may be wondering why this is so focused on how to back-fill the meat/ protein in your life, and it’s because this is usually the pitfall of most new veg*ns.  You can do this!!  Even after those first few days or weeks when you feel like you’re going to crack, just hang in there, have some veg comfort food, and get that salad tomorrow.  And please, I beg of you, do not try to go raw vegan overnight… Seen that ugly monster… I mean, friends, do that many a time, and s/he is not pretty. Baby steps!

Anyway – once you get this part down, you are free to stop worrying, stop being hungry or craving, stop regressing, and start feeling confident in your new vegetarianism by filling up heartily from the delights of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains (if you like), and so many other delicious, real foods that will support your health and wellness in every way.  Plus, you can feel good knowing how much you’re giving back to the environment, the lives of animals, and the reduction of suffering in the world.

Hope that helps, and so looking forward to hearing how it goes out there!  Let me know what works for you, and if you’ve got some of your own tips and tricks to share.

 

In Light,

Samadhi

2 thoughts on “Going Veg*n: Lots of Protein, Little Stress

  1. Robin says:

    Great read! Lots of helpful info. I’ve been losing my taste for meats over the past year or two. Must have something to do with my taste buds getting senile…
    Lol. I love beans and often eat them instead – chili, soups, on tortillas, etc. I have no plan to go full on vegan but its nice to have an understanding of the basics so I can easily enjoy more & more meatless meals.

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