What Do Vegetarians Eat?
It's not just "Rabbit Food"

rabbit eating clover

What do Vegetarians Eat?

I couldn't resist putting a photo of a bunny eating clover on this page, because many people think that the best way to describe what vegetarians eat is "rabbit food." However, if you think about it, you will realize that, of all the types of foods available to us, most of them are actually meatless.

So, while people who pursue a healthy vegetarian lifestyle do share some food preferences with this fuzzy lagomorph, they also eat many foods that would probably make him turn up his cute little bunny nose!

Vegetarians, for a variety of reasons, do not eat meat, or, in some cases, any animal products. 

There are several categories of vegetarians, based on the type of animal foods, if any, that they include in their diet.

At one end of the spectrum, you have what are called “vegans,” who do not eat any food derived from animal sources. This group may also be called “strict vegetarians” for obvious reasons. There are also “lacto-ovo vegetarians,” who eat no meat or fish, but do include eggs and dairy products in their diet, and “lacto-vegetarians,” who do not eat meat, fish or eggs, but do include dairy products.


Lacto-ovo VegetariansLacto Vegetarians Vegans
Include eggs and dairy products in diet. Include dairy products, but not eggs in diet.Exclude all animal products, including eggs and dairy products.

Interesting Fact about what do vegetarians eat:  There are people who do not eat red meat, but do include fish and/or poultry in their diets, but they are not usually included under the label of “vegetarian.” As a rule, in order to be labeled “vegetarian” the diet would exclude all flesh foods.

Click here for information on the reasons why people may pursue a vegetarian diet.

What do vegetarians eat - Amaranth to Zucchini

In spite of the fact that vegetarians have eliminated an entire category of foods from their diet, 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.

Here is a list of some of the foods that my be included in a healthy vegetarian diet (or any diet!)

For a detailed description of these foods, along with cooking tips, please click on the link for each category.

What do vegetarians eat - Beans, peas and lentils

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.

Click here for more information on Beans (Legumes).

What do vegetarians eat - Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, Hazelnuts (Filberts), Brazil nuts, Cashews, Pecans, Pistachios, Walnuts, Pine nuts, Coconut, Sesame seeds, Chia seed, Flaxseed, Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppy seeds, peanuts.

Click here for more information on Nuts and Seeds.

What do vegetarians eat -Grains

Amaranth, Brown rice, Wild rice, Cornmeal, Barley, Quinoa, Teff, Buckwheat, Rye, Wheat, Spelt, Oats and Millet.

Click here for more information on Grains.

What do vegetarians eat - Vegetables

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.

What do vegetarians eat - Fruits

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.

Vegetarian diets also may include a wide variety of seasonings, spices and herbs.

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.

Click here for more information on Spices and Herbs.

Vegetable protein sources

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.

Here are some examples of meatless dinner main courses: 

Four-Bean Chili 

Meatless "Meatballs" 

Tofu Sloppy Joes 

Vegetarian roast

Cottage Cheese Loaf 

Lentil soup 

Vegetarian calzones 


Potato Borscht 

Vegetarian Lasagna

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.

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.

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.

kids eating healthy food

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.

What do vegetarians eat for Baby food?

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.)

What do vegetarians eat when they are children? 

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.

As your 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 What do Vegetarians Eat: 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.

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.

What do vegetarians eat at Restaurants?

Depending on the part of the world you live in, restaurant eating may also be a challenge for those who eat a vegetarian diet, because in many cases, restaurants do not include meatless meals on their menus--most likely due to the lack of demand for them. Oddly enough, the very low-cost restaurants and the very pricey restaurants are usually the most meat-centered.However, if you are not too picky, you can usually find something on the menu, or you can ask your server if the kitchen can prepare one of the dishes on the menu without the meat. This works well with many pasta dishes, salads and even some sandwiches. After all, we have no problem saying, “skip the mayo” or “hold the onions”!

Portobello mushrooms, which have a kind of “meaty” flavor and texture, have become popular in restaurants as components of meatless sandwiches, “burgers” and other meatless dishes.Vegetable stir-fry and even vegetarian sushi is becoming more popular as well. In addition, many restaurants that specialize in burgers, will allow you to exchange the meat burger for aveggie burger—and you can still have all the trimmings!

More selections

If you are looking for a restaurant that has a larger selection of vegetarian entrees, you may findMexican restaurants, Italian restaurants and Chinese and other Asian food restaurants will generally have the widest range of meatless dishes. Vegans may have a harder time finding Mexican or Italian food that does not have cheese in it, but Chinese and other Asian food may work well for them.

What do vegetarians eat for casual foods?

One option for more casual eating, especially for vegetarians that include dairy products, is to order a “veggie” sub at the sub sandwich shop or a meatless pie at the pizza place. Even vegans can skip the cheese in the veggie sub, and still have a great sandwich, but a pizza without cheese may be more of a challenge! Many sandwich shops and pizza places are now offering a whole-grain bun or crust, which will make them a more nutritious choice.

Breakfast out

Breakfast is probably the easiest meal for vegetarians to eat out. Even a vegan, can find fruts and cereals that will fit in with their eating plan, while a lacto-ovo vegetarian will have an even wider selection, including omelets, pancakes, and French toast. If you find yourself eating at a restaurant that serves breakfast or brunch menu selections all day, you can order a vegetable omelet, which can be as good for supper as it is for breakfast.

There are even restaurants, most often found in large cities, that offer exclusively vegetarian food. These can be a real delight for vegetarians, since it is rare to find so many meatless options on the menu.

Click here to go from What do Vegetarians Eat page to Vegetarian Nutrition page.