Well, which kind of vegetarian do you want to be? Most choose a lacto-ovo approach, turning their backs on meat, fish and poultry, but still eating dairy products and eggs. (Lacto-vegetarians, meanwhile, also nix eggs, whereas ovo-vegetarians also nix dairy; vegans exclude all animal products.) For the lacto-ovo camp, the government’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines can help you develop a healthy plan. You can figure out how many meatless calories you should eat (Appendix 2, page 77) and where they ought to come from (Appendix 5, page 86) to get all the nutrients you need.
A daily 2,000-calorie diet, for example, should include 2 cups of fruit, 2 1/2 cups of vegetables, 3 cups of dairy, 6 “ounce-equivalents” of grains and 5 1/2 ounce-equivalents of protein. The fine print will tell you how much actual food is in an ounce-equivalent. For grains, one ounce-equivalent is a slice of bread or a 6-inch tortilla; for protein, it’s an egg or quarter-cup of cooked beans. As with any diet, boredom is avoided through variation – like incorporating different-colored veggies and sources of protein to get the nutrients you need.
If that sounds tedious, countless books offer structure with vegetarian meal plans and recipes. The internet is also full of good information. On its website, Oldways, a nonprofit food think tank, simplifies with its vegetarian food pyramid, which it co-developed with the Harvard School of Public Health. The Mayo Clinic also offers tips to get started.
You don’t have to go cold turkey. You could start by preparing a couple meat-free dishes each week, and gradually make more substitutions – tofu in stir fry instead of chicken, say, or grilled veggie burgers instead of beef. If your aim is also weight loss, amp up your exercise routine and eat fewer calories than your daily recommended max.