For someone contemplating dropping meat from their diet, the vegetarian meal menu can be so daunting, it seems easiest to just carry on eating meat. And especially if your spouse and kids love burgers, bacon and chicken, you're probably looking at an almost unwinnable battle. But this does not have to be the case, and you might be surprised how quickly you can turn the family into enthusiastic vegetarians.
A Basic Vegetarian Meal Menu
You know one advantage of vegetarianism is the reliance on nutrition found in fresh fruits and vegetables for the bulk of your meals. This gives you more nutrients, more energy, is better for your skin and hair and is great for the planet. Combined with whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and some dairy products and eggs, this way of eating is healthy, inexpensive and delicious.
When coming up with a vegetarian meal menu, the first thing you should do is treat yourself to a good vegetarian cookbook. Many meal plan suggestions and recipes can be found online, but for new vegetarians, it can be easier and more pleasurable to have a book in the kitchen. Plan meals exactly as you would meals that include meat. That is to say, combine foods that have a good protein source, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Remember, you don't need as much protein as the meat industry would have you believe. Protein is found in many plants and when combined, as in nut butter on whole-grain toast, you get a full protein source. So this frees you from having to emphasize a protein as the main course. Instead, think about color. This is not for aesthetic reasons: the deeper color a food has, the more rich its nutrient content. Think about vegetarial meals that have dark green, bright red, orange and yellow.
Popular Vegetarian Cookbooks
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food
- Quick-Fix Vegetarian: Healthy Home-Cooked Meals in 30 Minutes or Less
- Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook: A Seasonal, Vegetarian Cookbook
- Vegetarian Times Vegetarian Beginner's Guide
Not so long ago, vegetarians who were missing the taste and texture of meat simply had to rely on fried tofu and mushrooms, which, though delicious, weren't the same. Now, you can buy a host of prepared vegetarian foods that serve as meat substitutes. These may be as high in sodium as the meat you are substituting, so you don't want to emphasize them, but when you are starting out as a vegetarian, it's a great way to get nutrients and not feel deprived. Meatless meatballs, sausages, bacon and burgers are all available and many are delicious. Start substituting these in your favorite recipes. Gradually, add more tofu, beans, lentils and nuts to meals, allowing everyone to become accustomed to the new tastes and textures.
A Day's Menu
Here are some suggestions for vegetarian weekday meals:
- Breakfast: Whole-grain toast with nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew) and organic fruit preserves; orange juice; fruit salad mixed in yogurt; green tea
- Lunch: Pasta salad with pesto, peppers and cheese; chopped carrots and cucumbers; walnuts; fruit
- Dinner: Vegetarian sausage casserole; spinach salad with red peppers and goat cheese; mashed sweet potatoes with mushrooms; fruit with fresh cream
A weekend brunch might consist of pumpkin pancakes with fruit in season and organic honey; eggs scrambled with tofu and chopped onion and garlic; a fruit or herb salad and fresh lemonade or hot chocolate.
For a special dinner, consider pumpkin or carrot soup; moussaka or lasagna or a stew; stuffed tomatoes; spicy green salad; apple pie.
This may sound like a lot of cooking, but the bulk of your meals will actually be one-dish wonders that can be put together in as little as ten minutes. Meals like stir fries and curries only dirty a knife, vegetable peeler and cooking spoon. Even if you add a fresh salad and fruit for dessert, it's still quick, easy and healthy. And if you keep some chopped fruit and vegetables handy, or make homemade applesauce, tomato sauce or pesto and freeze it, meals become even quicker.
You'll soon find mouth-watering vegetarian options for every special meal you make and that, rather than being limited, you are positively spoiled for delicious choices!