There are certainly a great deal more than 5 ways to get variety in a vegetarian diet, but since it's so easy to get stuck in the rut of eating the same things over and over, it can be helpful to incorporate a few main tips into your vegetarian shopping, cooking, and eating plans to better your health and open yourself up to greater culinary adventures.
5 Ways to Get Variety in a Vegetarian Diet
Meeting daily nutritional recommendations and getting a healthy variety in your vegetarian diet takes work. It's not always easy, especially if you view food as fuel rather than as an opportunity to explore, invent, create, and nourish. However, if you want to take steps to improve your overall health and want to invest more thought toward what you put into your body, it's worth it to start a more balanced eating plan by following the below tips.
Plan a Menu
Menu planning isn't the most enjoyable of food-related tasks, but it is a way to ensure you won't eat the same things day after day. If you're the type of person who is thrilled by looking through new cookbooks, start there. Take a trip to the bookstore or the library, load up on vegetarian- or vegan-friendly titles that seem promising, and pour through them to find recipes that look enticing. Write down a menu using them, make a list of ingredients for when you shop, and go from there, but as you consider new recipes keep your schedule and time constraints in mind.
You can also search the Internet for menu suggestions and pre-planned menus. Eating Well magazine offers balanced and varied 28-day meal plans for vegetarians at 1,200, 1,500, and 1,800 daily calories. If you don't like something in a proposed meal plan, simply swap it out with an alternative ingredient.
Go for Color
Perhaps the easiest of the main 5 ways to get variety in a vegetarian diet is to eat fruits, vegetables, and other fresh foods that encompass a rainbow of colors. Below are some examples.
- Red: Tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, sweet red bell peppers, rhubarb, watermelon
- Orange: Carrots, sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers, apricots, oranges
- Yellow: Summer squash, yellow bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, peaches, nectarines, corn
- Green: Jalapeños, green grapes, green peppers, zucchini, broccoli, leafy greens, peas, kiwifruit
- Blue: Blueberries, blackberries
- Purple: Eggplant, plums, purple potatoes, red cabbage, figs, beets
Don't forget eggs, grains, and other foods that are important nutritionally but that don't fall within the bright colors of the produce rainbow.
Climb the Pyramid
You're guaranteed to get variety in what you eat, if you plan meals with the vegetarian food pyramid in mind. Pescetarians may also want to follow the Mediterranean diet pyramid. Main vegetarian food groups include grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, which could include tofu, beans, legumes, and nuts. For ideal balance, include at least one item from each food group at every meal. If that seems too difficult, go for a more general balance and try to get at least two servings of each group per day.
Pick Your Proteins
Vegetarians have a lot to think about when it comes to protein. Although most meat eaters have no problem getting enough of the nutrient, it can be tough for vegetarians and especially vegans to meet their daily quotas. Since each protein-rich food contains different amino acids, it's helpful for your body to get a variety of such foods, so you may want to reconsider your eating plan, if you're just downing a block of tofu every day to get that protein. Try regularly eating the following foods, among high-protein options:
- Beans of any kind
- Split peas
- Nuts of any kind
- Nut butters
- Greek yogurt
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Low-fat cheese
- Skim or low-fat milk
- Soy milk
- Quinoa and other whole grains
- Protein powder
Eating seasonally isn't only healthy; it's also economical. If you shop at your local farmers' markets, stop at roadside stands for summer produce, and fill your cart with seasonal fruits and veggies from the grocery store that are on sale, you could save hundreds of dollars each year. Because it's fresh, seasonal produce usually tastes better than options that have been shipped from far away, so you won't need to use as many spices, condiments, or sauces to dress up its flavors. Choosing seasonal items is a natural way to get variety in your diet because what's available and fresh changes from month to month. You'll have juicy berries and ripe tomatoes in the summer, tart apples and leafy spinach in the fall, winter squash and greens as the weather grows cold, and peas and asparagus in the spring. To find out what's seasonal in your area at any given time of the year, visit LocalHarvest.org or EattheSeasons.com.
Variety Is the Spice of Life
There are a myriad of reasons why it's important to get variety in your diet. The essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs can't be found in just a limited number of foods; you need to branch out to get the most benefits, boost your immune system's operations, and keep your mood and energy levels high. In addition, eating a variety of foods is more fun! Pushing culinary boundaries in your cooking and your palate helps you grow as a person, encourages creativity, and expands your knowledge of food in general, which can be emotionally as well as physically satisfying.