The Vegetarian Kitchen
Meeting your nutritional needs as a vegetarian is easy if you have the right foods on hand. Use these tips to get started.
Let’s dispel a myth about vegetarian diets. They don’t require hours of planning or fancy calculations just to meet nutritional needs. You do, though, have to do more than just cut out meat. A well-rounded vegetarian meal plan can easily be achieved by eating an assortment of whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. These foods give you plenty of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that may be lacking in an animal-free diet.
Getting enough of everything
To get started, you’ll need a well-stocked kitchen. With no animal foods, you need to be sure you have the right foods to get enough iron, zinc, calcium, B-12, vitamin D, and protein. This is especially true if you’re a vegan who cuts out dairy and eggs along with beef, poultry, and fish.
Use the following shopping guidelines on your next supermarket trip:
Choose whole-food carbohydrates
This food group should make up the bulk of your meals.
- Whole grains, such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, and brown rice are stocked with nutrients, including zinc and iron. Have them for breakfast, and add them to soups and casseroles.
- Products made from whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, pasta, and crackers, have more nutrition than their refined counterparts.
- Vegetables, from leafy greens to root vegetables, are bursting with nutrients. Many are good sources of calcium and iron, too.
- Fruits, rich in vitamins and fiber, can be used for snacks and desserts, or to enhance a salad or breakfast cereal.
- Stock up on legumes, such as kidney beans, pinto beans, split peas, and soybeans. They are good sources of iron, zinc, protein, and fiber and are great in soups, salads, pasta, and rice dishes. Buy canned for convenience.
Don’t fret about protein
As long as there are enough calories and your diet is varied, you’ll easily meet protein needs whether you’re a vegetarian or a vegan.
- Grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, and soy foods, such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, soymilk, and soy burgers, all provide protein.
- Foods like milk, cheese, and eggs are all good sources of protein and B-12. You don’t need to have them at each meal.
- Vegans will need to get vitamin B-12 from enriched cereals, fortified soy products, or supplements that contain this vitamin.
Focus on moderate amounts of healthy fats
Healthy fats help meet nutrient and energy needs and are satisfying.
- Raw nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, such as peanut, almond, or sesame, are perfect as snacks. Spread them on whole-wheat toast or on top of yogurt or cereal. Walnuts provide omega-3 fat.
- Avocado is delicious in salads or sandwiches.
- Canola, olive, and coconut oils are good for cooking. Flax and canola oils provide a source of omega-3 fats.
- Limit cheeses and other high-fat dairy foods in your diet because of their saturated-fat content. Low-fat dairy is still an excellent source of calcium.
A day in the life
To help you visualize a day’s worth of food, here are some vegetarian meal plans with some vegan options. To maximize your nutrition, don’t forget to also limit your intake of highly sweetened, fatty, and heavily refined foods.
- Whole-wheat English muffin with peanut butter and banana
- Veggie omelet with whole-wheat toast and fruit
- Large salad with vegetables, beans, avocado, and vinaigrette
- Hummus, sliced tomato, and low-fat cheese in whole-wheat pita
- Whole-wheat pasta topped with spinach and mixed vegetables
- Brown rice mixed with tofu and veggies, sprinkled with cheese
- Handful of walnuts and a large apple
- Cinnamon rice cake spread with soft cheese, grapes
Finally, vegetarians should be sure to get adequate vitamin D through fortified foods or supplements.