In spite of the fact that vegetarians have eliminated an entire category of foods from their diet, believe it or not, they generally tend to eat a wider variety of foods overall. If you pick up any vegetarian cookbook, you will see recipes that include items unknown in the typical western meat-based diet. Of course, meat eaters can enjoy all of this wonderful variety of foods as well.
Meal planning without meat
For those who are used to planning meals with meat as the centerpiece, it may be difficult to know where to begin with a meatless meal. The way to do this is to start with a main course that includes a protein food or two. Then add some side dishes that will complement the main course just as you would with a meat-based meal.
As with any meal plan, try to make your selections colorful and pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate. By adding a deep green, leafy salad or some deep orange or red vegetables, you will not only increase eye appeal, but you will make the meal a phyto-rich cancer fighter.
Make foods count
Whenever possible, choose the whole grain versions of pastas, breads and rice or pilafs, since they will help round out the nutritional requirements for your meal. There are many varieties of whole-grain pastas available now that taste great. You can also make your own pasta using a pasta maker.
If you buy your bread, buns and rolls rather than make them yourself, check the labels carefully to make sure they are 100% whole grain and that they do not have any bad actors such as high-fructose corn syrup. If you don’t like 100% whole grain, at least try to find products that have some whole-grain flour.
You can subtly “beef up” your baking by adding whole grain flours, finely-ground nuts and seeds or a variety of protein supplements. One enterprising author even suggested adding pureed vegetables to your baking as a way to get some extra nutrients into the diet. It is probably better to eat your veggies raw or lightly cooked, but this is not a bad idea if you are trying for more nutritious baked goods.
Vegetarian Cooking with meatless "meat"
Former meat eaters who find themselves missing some of their favorite meat dishes may find that at least some of those dishes can be made with “meat analogs.” These are soy or grain based foods that are designed to resemble meat. For instance, you can make a “chicken” salad with a chicken analog or add “burger” to your tacos or chili. Since these are processed foods, it is not recommended that you use them all the time, but occasional use can add protein—and maybe some fun--to your diet. You could even have a “BLT” using fake bacon if you are so inclined. Here is a list of some of the foods that my be included in a nutritious vegetarian diet (or any diet!)
For a detailed description of these foods, along with cooking tips, please click on the link for each category.
Amaranth, Brown rice, Wild rice, Cornmeal, Barley, Quinoa, Teff, Buckwheat, Rye, Wheat, Spelt, Oats and Millet.
Aduki beans, Cannellini beans, Chick peas (garbanzo beans), Mung beans, Lima beans, Pinto beans, Black beans, Navy (white) beans, Haricot beans, Kidney beans, Soybeans, Green split peas, Yellow split peas, Black-eyed peas, Red lentils, Brown lentils and Green lentils.
Almonds, Hazelnuts (Filberts), Brazil nuts, Cashews, Pecans, Pistachios, Walnuts, Pine nuts, Coconut, Sesame seeds, Chia seed, Flaxseed, Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppy seeds, peanuts.
Apples (all varieties), Oranges, Bananas, Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Strawberries, Grapes, Peaches, Melons, Pears, Pineapple, Lemons, Limes, Cherries, Apricots, Mangos, Papaya, Guava, Figs, Pomegranates, Cranberries, Dates, Passion fruit, and Tangerines.
Basil, Dill, Mint, Oregano, Tarragon, Rosemary, Marjoram, Turmeric, Sage, Parsley, Chives, Cayenne, Chevril, Bay leaf, Coriander, Cloves, Nutmeg, Juniper, Cinnamon, Mace, Cardamom, Caraway, Anise, Fennel, Cumin, Fenugreek, Ginger, Tamari, Miso, Brewer’s yeast, Mustard, Tahini, Celtic sea salt, Pink Himalayan salt and Saffron.
Avocados, Bok choy, Radicchio, Endive, Beets, Kohlrabi, Sweet potatoes, Radish, Asparagus, Okra, Cabbage, Arugula, Romaine, Spinach, Carrots, Pea pods, Broccoli, Artichokes, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Peppers, Cauliflower, Green beans, Sorrel, Dandelion, Watercress, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Celery, Rhubarb, Eggplant and Sea Vegetables, such as Kombu, Dulse, Nori and Arame.
Raw sugar, Turbinado sugar, Honey, Molasses, Malted barley, Sorghum, Demerara sugar, Maple syrup, Date sugar, and carob.
Note: Some vegans consider honey to be off-limits since bees are animals!
Here are some examples of meatless dinner main courses:
Vegetarian roasts (loaf dishes usually made with nuts)
Look for recipes for these dishes on the web:
Meat analog-based dishes
Keep in mind that these are only suggestions. There are thousands of vegetarian and vegan recipes that can be found in cookbooks and on the web.
Vegetarian Babies and Children
In most cases, breast milk is the best choice for babies—including vegetarian ones--because it contains the right quality and quantity of protein and other nutrients for your baby’s good health. If breast-feeding is not possible, there are soy-based formulas on the market for those who wish their baby to be a vegan. It is generally recommended that babies be on breast milk or formula for the first year of life, but cereals and other cooked vegetables and fruits can be added starting at six months. Wheat-based cereals should not be given before six months to avoid the development of allergies. Egg whites should not be given until the baby is at least one year old for the same reason.
You can make your own baby food by first steaming and then pureeing fruits and vegetables in the blender. (Some people use ice cube trays to freeze portions of homemade baby food for future use.) As the child gets older, and can handle more texture, you can use a hand-crank baby food grinder to make the dishes you serve to the rest of the family, suitable for your young child.Remember not to add sugar or salt to baby foods that you make. If you buy baby food, look for brands without added salt, sugar or chemicals.
--Caveat for Vegetarian Cooking: When you feed your baby, don’t rely on your own taste buds to decide if the food tastes good. I once watched a grandmother feeding her grandchild a jar of baby food. Grandma kept tasting the food and adding salt until the food tasted good to her and then she fed it to the child. The added salt was not only unnecessary since the baby’s taste buds are more sensitive, but it also was undesirable in terms of the baby’s health.
By the age of two, your child should be able to eat most of the things that the rest of the family eats. However, you should avoid giving him nuts (unless they are in nut butters) due to the choking hazard. Always make sure that the foods you give your young child are in small enough pieces for him to easily handle without choking.
Starting at a young age, encourage your child to eat a wide variety of foods, so that he will be more likely to get all of the nutrients he needs for growth and development. Junk foods should be avoided or kept to a minimum, since they can lead to obesity and poor nutritional status in children—vegetarian or otherwise.
Vegetarian children—particularly vegans—may be more likely to have deficiencies of protein, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iron, Zinc and Calcium as mentioned above. These deficiencies can be avoided by feeding your baby breast milk or fortified formula, fortified cereals, a variety of vegetables and fruits and with age-appropriate supplements. Once the child is older, he will be getting his nutrients from the same sources as you do, so if you cook and eat healthy, he will be more likely to be healthy, too.
What you need to know about Vegetarian Cooking
Regardless of your reasons for eating a vegetarian diet, the most important thing you need to remember is to eat a variety of fresh, whole foods, including legumes, grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Stay away from empty calories, and make everything you eat count towards a nutritionally complete diet.
Be adventurous, adding some new flavors and textures to your meals from the vast array of healthy foods that are available. This will keep your diet interesting and allow you to enjoy your food and stay well.