How to Go Plant-based (A Regret-free Guide)

By Sam Kirkwood

A few months ago (pre-virus times), I headed into the city for dinner with some friends after a particularly nasty, assessment filled week. After getting off the bus, appetites rearing and ready to go, we did the usual check around the circle for preferences and restrictions. Surprisingly, we found a lot of plant eaters – of the seven of us, six were vegetarian! Banding together in an unexpected majority, we headed to an all-vegetarian Indian restaurant where fortunately the food was good enough to appease the lone omnivore as well.

Though our group was definitely above the average, a large number of Australians have made the switch over to the plant side in recent years. In 2020 there are 2.5 million Australians eating either entirely or largely vegetarian – that’s about 10% of the population!

And it’s certainly easier than ever before. Vegetarian and vegan friendly items are much easier to come by in supermarkets, most events will have tasty plant-based option, and you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t have at least a vegetarian item or two on the menu. So, if you’ve been thinking about making a dietary change, here are some tips and things to look out for.

1)     Sources of protein

Changing to a more plant heavy diet will require you to change the way you think about planning meals. The classic meat-and-three-veg is literally off the table, and you’ll have to think about alternate protein sources. But worry not, as there are many protein rich plant-based options!

Tofu is usually associated with plant-based diets, and it’s not quite as boring as it sounds. Try coating it in some lightly salted corn flour and frying it in vegetable oil – It’s delicious on top of a stir fry or even plain as a tofu nugget! Tofu can also be subbed in for meat in noodle dishes and curries, and even crumbled up and used like mince.

Legumes are also a great plant-based protein source. Chickpeas are nutritious and can be roasted, mashed or tossed through a salad. Lentils are also a great option - check the end of this post for my favourite lentil soup recipe.

Quinoa is another good protein source. It can be used in place of rice in many dishes to give an extra protein boost, or used in a salad to make it a bit more filling. Just make sure you rinse it well first (otherwise it will have an unpleasant bitter taste) and add a small amount of veggie stock to the water when you’re cooking it.

Finally, nuts and seeds can be easily incorporated into a whole range of dishes and are rich in protein as well as omega-3.

2)     Sources of iron

It is important to make sure you’re getting enough iron from plant-based foods. Iron is essential in having healthy red blood cells, and a deficiency can lead to dizziness and fatigue. Foods high in iron include tofu, lentils, beans, peas, and leafy greens such as spinach and kale. However, the type of iron found in plant foods is non-heme iron, compared to heme iron in animal derived products. Non-heme iron is much less readily absorbed by the body and therefore the RDI for iron is 1.8 times higher for vegetarians – bringing it to around 15mg/day for men and 32mg/day for women. Vitamin C has been shown to help the body absorb non-heme iron though, so consider pairing an iron rich food with some citrus, capsicum, or tomatoes for an extra boost.  

3)     Sources of vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 might not be one you’ve heard much about, but it is imperative for healthy nervous system function and is found only in animal products. If you’re vegetarian, this means that you’ll be able to get it from dairy products and eggs – though many vegetarians find it hard to consume enough of these foods to meet the daily recommended intake. Fortunately, B12 supplements can be easily found at the chemist or supermarket. If you’re thinking of going vegan, then supplementing this vitamin is a must – and it’s probably a good idea for aspiring vegetarians too.

There are many reasons why you might consider reducing your meat intake - whether they’re related to animal welfare, environmental sustainability, or health – but now is a great time to try it out as the world is becoming more and more plant-based-friendly. Even if jumping all the way to vegetarianism seems impossible, cutting back on meat and having a few plant-based dinners per week is still a huge step - and the planet will thank you for it! A parting tip from my own experiences – going vegetarian is a great way to explore all kinds of foods I never would have eaten before. Instead of looking for ‘meat replacements’, try out different vegetarian friendly cuisines and dishes and you’ll find yourself regret-free. Maybe even give my favourite soup for this cold winter weather a try!

Lentil soup with feta roasted cauliflower and walnuts (from Family, by Hettie McKinnon)

Ingredients:

For the soup:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 110g tomato paste
  • 400g rinsed green lentils
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 litres vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Handful of parsley

For the roasted cauliflower:

  • Olive oil
  • Half a head of cauliflower, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 140g feta (omit for vegan)
  • Half a cup of walnuts, roughly chopped
  • Pinch of dried oregano

Method:

For the roast cauliflower, place the cauliflower and feta on a baking tray. Coat in olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and the dried oregano. Roast for 10 minutes at 220°C, then remove the tray from the oven and add the walnuts. Toss to combine, then roast again for around 8 minutes, or until the cauliflower is golden brown.

For the soup, start by drizzling some olive oil into a large pot and cook the onion, carrot and celery over medium heat until slightly softened. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir through, and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Add the lentils, bay leaves and stock and simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. Finish by adding the red wine vinegar and season well with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle over the parsley leaves. Top with some of the roast cauliflower. Also delicious with some crusty bread with butter, or some homemade croutons!

Other blogs that may interest you...

Deterring Pests and other Creepy Crawlies

Dislike pests and their harmful effect on your gardens? Want to shoo away mosquitos, spiders, slugs and more? Read about our awesome tips to help protect your garden from pests.

Read More

Winter is Coming – 5 Tips for a Winter Garden

Whilst the rainier weather and shorter days might seem like encouragement to stay indoors, there is plenty to be getting on with in your garden bed during winter!

Read More

Peanut Butter in Unexpected Places

Hungry? Craving for sustenance? Want to bring flavour into your day and home? These weird and delicious peanut butter snacks seek to solve your problems!

Read More

Mother's Day Edition

Unable to buy a Mother's day card this year? Need something quick, easy and cheap? Check out our fun DIY suggestions to jazz up your Mother's Day card.

Read More