Preparing vegetarian meals is a challenge because most consumer foods are created for people who eat animal products. Fortunately, vegetarians who have been dealing with this issue for many years have created and catalogued many standard recipes for you to try and enjoy. Depending on the type of vegetarian you are, a vegetarian meal can be one that’s familiar and one you can enjoy for many years.
Look to vegetarian staples like beans, lentils, rice and nuts for your protein
Before you start looking at individual dishes or creating ideas for lunches or dinners, write daily menus (including snacks) to help you create a balanced diet that provides you with sufficient protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Read nutrition labels to determine how many calories and nutrients your daily plan will provide. You can find your individual needs free on the USDA’s website. Get approximately 50 to 60 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent of your calories from protein, and 20 to 25 percent from healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, fish and olive oil. Yep, that’s right – you can eat more fat than protein eat day if you do it correctly.
Instead of croutons on a salad, use crushed almonds or walnuts for protein and healthy fats. Add them to chile and stew for crunch. Substitute nuts, beans, legumes and vegetables for key components of traditional dishes. For example, instead of a meat lasagna, make an eggplant parmigiana with tomato sauce. If you are a vegan, skip the cheese. If you are a lacto or ovo vegetarian, use egg whites, low-fat cheese and skim milk to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol. Tofu, made from soy, is high in protein, iron and calcium, and is a staple of vegetarian cooking. Add it to soups, stir fries and breakfast skillets to get your protein. Check our article on healthy substitutes for more ideas.
Why Rice and Beans?
Rice and beans are not complete proteins individually, meaning that neither provides an adequate source of all nine essential amino acids you need for good health. But rice-and-beans together gives you these enzymes (just keep it close to a 50/50 ratio). This is why they are a staple of vegetarian cooking. You can use ethnic recipes to make a nice variety of rice-and-beans dishes. Use refried beans or black beans with cilantro and lime juice and pair with Spanish rice for a Tex-Mex treat. Combine diced celery, onions, green peppers, white rice and kidney beans, and season with Cajun spices for red beans and rice. Pair garbanzo beans or lentils with basmati rice and spinach and your favorite Indian seasonings for another classic vegetarian take on this dish.
Add leafy green vegetables to your meals to help you get the iron and calcium you need. Nuts are high in calories, but good sources of protein and healthy fats. Cabbage rolls are a healthy way to get these foods into your meals. If you want a burger, try grilling a whole Portobello mushroom and serving on a whole grain bun with lettuce, tomatoes and grilled onions.