Practice Vegetarian

Recently my daughter’s friend asked about how to become a vegetarian.  She was concerned about lack of support from her family and that she would essentially end up only eating the sides that accompany dinner.  I recommended that she become a “practice” vegetarian as a Practicesegue from her current diet to one relying on plants.  As a practice vegetarian, she would slowly increase her consumption of vegetables, by eating more servings of the vegetables she already likes and committing to eat a few bites of all disliked vegetables.  This strategy serves her well immediately and would make the transition to vegetarianism fairly seamless down the road.

Although this tween may not routinely be involved in meal planning, she could suggest the family gradually shifts to whole grains instead of refined grains.  The easiest way to do so is to start with rice, by incorporating 25% brown rice into white rice, then increase to 50%, etc until eating only brown rice.  When cooking from dry rice, cook the brown rice for 5 minutes before adding the white rice to the same pot.  Boil in bag or microwave packages of instant rice are even easier- just combine after cooking.  The same concept works for shifting to whole grain pasta.

Perhaps the trickier adaptation for the practice vegetarian is increasing the consumption of beans and legumes.  This is where canned beans come in really handy.  Even non-cooks can whip up the bean salads below, which are perfect to have around when you are famished and about to reach for something less desirable.  Bean salads are also very portable and ideal for taking to picnics and potlucks- particularly when you aren’t sure how much other healthy food will be available.

Other great ways to increase legume consumption are to use beans and lentils as salad toppings, add to pasta and rice dishes, or puree and incorporate into sauces, like marinara for spaghetti.

Having that comfortably full feeling is key for a successful dietary transition, and beans are the secret ingredient for feeling satiated.

NY Times food writer Mark Bittman coined the concept of ‘vegan before dinnertime’ a few years ago, and more recently, VB6, the title of his book on the topic.  Due to health issues, a doctor suggested Bittman adopt a vegan diet, but at the time he felt becoming a full-time vegan was unrealistic for him.  After a few months of eating vegan until dinner, Bittman had lost 35 pounds and his medical issues had resolved.

Both the practice vegetarian and VB6 concepts may work quite well for ‘moderators’, people Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project describes as those who do better when they avoid absolutes and strict rules.  According to Rubin, the ‘abstainers’ find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately.

According to Rubin:

You’re a moderator if you… – find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure–and   strengthens your resolve
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something
You’re an abstainer if you… – have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits


Starting a whole foods, plant-based diet cold turkey (ha ha) may work better for someone who identifies as an abstainer.  I have trouble indulging in moderation and am less tempted by things that I’ve decided are off-limits, so I’m an abstainer.  Discovering this and then years later reading The Willpower Instinct have been instrumental for me in adhering to a whole food, plant-based diet.

Regardless of your strategy, each step you take in improving your diet will pay off.  It’s up to you which path you chose and how quickly you get there.


Three Bean Salad

3 cans of different beans (ex, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, black beans), rinsed well and drained

2 stalks of celery, diced

½ red onion, diced

½ c fresh parsley

1T fresh rosemary

1/3 c apple cider vinegar

1/6 c – 1/3 c sugar

¼ c EVOO (or ½ avocado pureed with a splash of orange juice)

1 – 1.5 t salt

¼ t pepper

Mix the vinegar, sugar, and olive oil or avocado in a small bowl and pour over rest of ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir and refrigerate to let flavors develop.  Stir again before serving chilled or at room temperature.

This bean salad is extremely versatile.  Use black and kidney beans with tomatoes, avocados, and organic corn for a South of the Border twist.  Use white beans and garbanzos with sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and roasted red peppers with lemon juice instead of vinegar for a Mediterranean twist.  Be creative!!


Black-Eyed Pea Salad

2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed well and drained

1.5 c diced red/orange/yellow bell pepper

½ c diced red onion

¼ c red pepper jelly

¼ c red wine vinegar


¼ c cilantro

¾ t salt

¼ t pepper

Just before serving, add:

2 avocados (diced) or 2 large fresh peaches (diced)

Optional: 1 jalepeno, seeded and minced (or substitute jalepeno jelly for the red pepper jelly)


Mix the jelly, vinegar and EVOO in a small bowl and pour over rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir and refrigerate to let flavors develop.  Stir again before serving and add avocado or peaches.  Serve chilled or at room temperature, on its own or over fresh greens.


Other no-cook bean salads you may want to check out include:

Taco Salad

Black Bean Mango Salsa

Massaged Kale Salad



McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct : How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. 2012

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