So you want to drop some meat from your weekly rotation? You're in the right place. Let's talk about moving towards a more plant-based lifestyle for the planet (and for you.)
Well, hello there. I hear you’re plant-curious. Welcome to a safe space where all your veg-forward dreams can become a reality. LOL! The truth of the matter is that you don’t need to transform into a full-on raw vegan overnight to feel better about what you’re doing to help the planet and your body. I get that some vegans on social media can come across as uber hardcore and preachy, but I can assure you I’m totally not about that life. So settle in and see how you can make some small changes that will help you on your journey to living your best flexitarian life ever.
My vegetarian backstory involves a cow named Derek
A little about me. I went lacto-ovo vegetarian when I was 13, after my mum passed away and my cousin shipped my fave cow–named Derek–off to the freezing works. Despite growing up in a pretty rural area, when I went to boarding school, I was finally able to go full veg and it was amazing. I quickly learned how to cook a plethora of vegetarian options for my family during the holidays, and ditching meat was super easy because I’ve never actually enjoyed the taste of it.
Working at cafes and restaurants during university helped me to expand my repertoire (plus I was living in the second most hippy place in the whole of NZ) and the veg life was a joy. When I was living in South Korea though, I actually brought fish and seafood back into my diet as it was basically in everything anyway, and now I’m back as lacto-ovo vegetarian.
What I’m trying to say is: there’s no one way to do this plant-based lifestyle, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – especially not those annoying vegetarians who think they need to convert everyone. Now, on with the show.
How to move towards a more plant-based lifestyle
1. Baby Steps
Nobody expects you to miraculously change your diet overnight, in fact if you try to do this, you will more than likely find it WAY too difficult to adjust and give up altogether. A better way to move towards a plant-based lifestyle is to start with eating green just one day a week.
In Hong Kong, meat-free Mondays have long been a thing, so you might find this a great day to pick as loads of restaurants have special veggie menus on Mondays. Whatever day you choose, be sure to plan ahead (see point three) so you’re setting yourself up for success. Once you’ve mastered the single day, you can gradually increase to two or three when you find your groove.
There are so many different types of vegetarian diets. Here’s a crash course:
This is probably what you are moving towards. Flexitarians eat meat, fish, and seafood, but have days or meals that are fully vegetarian.
Pescatarians eat fish and seafood but no other meats. They usually eat dairy and eggs too.
When you don’t eat any meat or seafood but you still eat dairy products and eggs.
The same as above but without the eggs.
No meat, no dairy, but eggs are okay.
Vegans eat no meat, dairy, or animal products at all.
One of the strictest forms of plant-based living, raw vegans stick to a diet of raw vegetables and fruits and don’t cook anything over 40 degrees celsius.
3. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance (AKA the 5Ps)
If you really want to eat more plantfully, then you need to fill those cupboards with some hearty vegetarian staples. Dried legumes, grains, and beans are all used plentifully in veg-based dishes, from soups to curries and for bulking out salads. Here’s a list of all the goodies I’d recommend to have in your pantry (and why they’re so good!)
Chickpeas: either dried (way cheaper!) or tinned, these bad babies are so good to throw in salads, curries, and pastas. Roast them on a baking tray with a little oil and cumin for a snack or add them into a dish where you want some crunch. Plus, one other word… hummus!
Beans: kidney, haricot, black, or cannellini. However you like your beans, they’re both a great source of protein and also packed full of fibre. Beans can be used as a replacement for mince in vegetarian bolognese and who can say no to a refried bean taco? I mean, we all eat Mexican for the cheesy, sour cream goodness right?!
Quinoa: This Aztec superfood has long been hailed by vegetarians as it takes up flavour so well and leaves you feeling not as heavy as carbs such as pasta or rice. Swap it as a base for curry, risotto, or use it in a salad, or as a base for homemade vegetarian burger patties.
Couscous: So. Bloody. Easy. Honestly, if you can’t be arsed, couscous will be your BFF. Simply add water and butter/oil and you have a no-cook base for a tasty salad, spiced vegetable dish or what about a stuffed mushroom?
Rice: ‘Nuff said really.
Tofu: Hear. Me. Out! Long before the Impossibles and Beyonds of the world came to pass, tofu was feeding the people of Asia, and it’s stuck around for a reason. Tofu is so easy to use and comes in so many forms. Marinate it, fry it, bake it, grill it; when it’s done right, it really is so good (my current fave is schmearing hard tofu with Korean gochujang, sesame oil and sesame seeds before baking to throw in salads.) Also, did I mention: scrambled tofu, tofu chocolate puddings, sweet & sour tofu, and Buddha Bowls (the laziest and tastiest fancy salad I ever did meet).
Corn: When I was a poor student, I would eat cans or whole kernel corn for dinner. Out of the can. It’s so good though, right?! Turn it into fritters, bulk out a big veg cobb salad with it or whip up a mighty corn chowder – bangin’
Tomatoes: Hey-o. You’ve got to have cans of tomatoes in the pantry. They’re the perfect base for vegetarian pasta dishes, vegetarian chilli, and speedy soups.
4. Swap or Drop
Don’t think that you need to ditch your favourite recipes on your meat-free days. It’s super easy to veg-ify a recipe.
Here are some swaps that I like to use (of course it depends on the recipe, but you get the picture):
Pork: Jackfruit or pulled oyster mushrooms (life changing!)
Mince: Finely chopped mushrooms
Chicken: Cauliflower or pumpkin
Fish: Potato or zucchini
On top of those you also have the likes of falafel, refried beans, tofu, tempeh, and fake meats like Impossible, Beyond, Gardein or Karana.
You can totally omit ingredients from recipes too. You won’t get in trouble.
5. Welcome to the Snack Life
I’m honestly not sure what you’re snacking on if it’s got meat in it… but nonetheless, I think it’s worth mentioning to prepare snacky snacks in advance.
Pre-chop those carrot, celery, and cucumber sticks to have on hand in the fridge. Stock up on nuts, yoghurt, and fruit. Or find your favourite cracker to spread some good ol’ avocado on. Plus, you’ll always have juices and smoothies when you’re going plant-based.
One of the easiest ways to find inspo for your next meal is through social media. Some of my faves include:
Plus check out our fave vegan YouTube channels.
7. Plan Ahead
If you know that you have a dinner out during the week, you can either opt to make it a non-veggie day or scope that menu in advance so you can see if the restaurant has vegetarian options. If you wanna make it a vegetarian meal, see if you can pick the restaurant. In general, Indian cuisine always has a great selection of vegetarian options, as do Mexican restaurants.
Also, we’ve already rounded up the best vegetarian or vegan restaurants in Hong Kong. Plus these are our picks for the tastiest restaurants in town with vegetarian options. So you definitely won’t starve!
8. Easy Peasy Meals
Sometimes, work and life just get too much and the idea of cooking fills you darkness (not to mention the washing up – gah!) Have some options in the freezer for those nights and don’t feel bad if you need to use them. Vegetarian dumplings (I like the Wan Chai Ferry and the Synear Mixed Vegetable varieties), frozen Margarita pizza, or Quorn sausages and fries are perfectly acceptable meals on your quest to living more plantfully. Oh, and Marks & Spencer has the whole Plant Kitchen range that makes picking up a vegetarian ready-meal easier than ever. Just get in early in the day.
9. Shop at the Markets
Whether it’s a farmer’s market or the wet market, you’ll usually save some money and come across a whole array of new and interesting fruits and veggies at the markets. Vendors will often be able to tell you how to cook with them and may very well stumble on a new fave.
10. Grow Your Own
If you’ve got the space, growing your own veggies and herbs is a great way to help you incorporate more vegetables into your diet on the regular. Mint, basil, and spring onions are all pretty easy to grow in Hong Kong and what’s better than cooking with your own ingredients?!
The coolest thing about moving towards a more plant-based lifestyle is all the new things you get to experiment with. Spend some time combing the internet for recipes that make you drool, pick up your first block of tempeh, or whip up a batch of your very own hummus; and when all else fails, there’s always thousands of options to choose from thanks to home delivery 😉