Exploring Vegetarian Meals (FN1897, Aug. 2018)

Eating a balanced diet doesn’t have to be a challenge for those who choose to follow a vegetarian diet. Using a variety of protein sources can add zest to dishes while keeping them healthful and hearty. From Cooking 101 (Week 9) Quick and Easy Menus, Recipes and Tips for Singles and Couples

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., food and nutrition specialist

Availability: Web only

From Cooking 101 (Week 9)  Quick and Easy Menus, Recipes and Tips for Singles and Couples
Veggie Plate

Pop Quiz:

What do you know already?

1 True or False: Being vegetarian is the same as being vegan.

2 Lacto-ovo vegetarians will eat:

a) Dairy and eggs
b) Only fish
c) Every type of meat except red meat
d) No protein foods at all

3 Which vitamins or minerals could be lacking in an unbalanced and/or unsupplemented vegetarian diet?

a) Vitamin B12
b) Vitamin D
c) Iron
d) All of the above

4 What plant-based food is considered a high-quality protein that provides all the essential amino acids?

a) Corn
b) Dry edible beans
c) Potatoes
d) Soy

Quiz Answers: 1: False 2: a 3: d 4: d

What is a Vegetarian?

A vegetarian is a person who chooses not to eat most or all animal-based foods. People who choose to be vegetarian do so for a variety of reasons. They may exclude animal-based food for religious or cultural beliefs, specific health reasons, personal taste preference or other reasons.

Some of the subcategories of vegetarianism that include different food restrictions are:

  • Lacto-vegetarian: Consumes dairy products but does not eat other animal-based food
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Consumes dairy products and eggs but does not eat other kinds of animal-based foods
  • Pescatarian: Does not consume any animal-based foods except for fish
  • Pollotarian: Does not consume meat, dairy and fish but allows poultry
  • Vegan: Does not eat any type of animal-based foods (Vegans run a higher risk of nutrient deficiency, but if the diet is properly planned, it can be a healthful diet.)

Recommended Food Group Servings for 2,000-calorie/day Vegetarian Diet

All cups are cup equivalents.

Vegetables – 2½ cups per day
Dark green – 1½ cups per week
Red and orange – 5½ cups per week
*Legumes (beans and peas, cooked) – 1½ cups per week
Starchy – 5 cups per week
Other – 4 cups per week

Fruits – 2 cups per day

Grains – 6½ ounces per day
Whole grains – 3½ or more ounces per day
Refined grains – 3 ounces or less per day

Dairy or equivalent – 3 cups per day

Protein foods (low-fat) – 3½ ounces per day
Eggs – 3 ounces per week
*Legumes (beans and peas, cooked) – 6 cups per week
Soy products – 8 ounces per week
Nuts, seeds (unsalted) – 7 ounces per week

Oils – 27 grams per day

Added sugars, solid fats, added refined starches – No more than 290 calories per day (15 percent of total calories)

*Legumes can be considered vegetables or protein foods but should be “counted” in one group only.

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-20.

Vitamins and Minerals

Following a vegetarian-based eating plan is more than avoiding animal-based foods; it involves planning to meet your nutritional needs. Vegetarians run the risk of deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals that are found in animal-based products. These are the common vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet, along with their typical sources. “Fortified” means that vitamins and minerals have been added to a food.

Vitamin B12: Animal sources such as eggs and milk products, beef and other meats, as well as vitamin B12-fortified products (added to select grain products)

Vitamin D: Fatty fish, egg yolks, vitamin D-fortified dairy products

Calcium: Dairy products, leafy green vegetables, fortified cereal, fortified orange juice, fortified soy milk (not all soy milk is fortified with calcium)

Iron: Animal products (darker meat has more iron), leafy green vegetables and fortified cereal (calcium limits iron absorption, vitamin C improves absorption)

Lacking any of these nutrients for an extended period of time can be detrimental to your health. To avoid deficiencies of these nutrients, vegetarians can fortify their diet with a supplement containing these micronutrients if necessary. See this website for more tips. 

All About Protein

How to calculate protein needs:

The recommended dietary allowance for protein is 46 grams for women ages 14 to 70 and 52 to 56 grams for men ages 14 to 70. To calculate the amount more specific to you, multiply your weight in kilograms (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds) by 0.8 grams. For example, a 150-pound male’s protein needs are calculated as follows: 150 ÷ 2.2 x 0.8 = about 55 grams/day.

Protein content in common foods:*

• 1 cup edamame, frozen, cooked = 18 grams
• ½ cup fat-free cottage cheese = 13 grams
• ½ cup cooked lentils = 9 grams
• 1 cup low-fat milk = 8 grams
• 1 cup cooked quinoa = 8 grams
• 1 cup cooked farro = 8 grams
• ½ cup canned kidney beans = 7 grams
• 1 cup brown rice = 6 grams
• 1 large egg = 6 grams
• 3 ounces tofu, soft, silken = 5 grams
• 1 slice whole-grain bread = 4 grams
*Protein levels may vary; read the Nutrition Facts label to learn about your choices.

High-quality Protein

A high-quality protein contains an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids. All animal proteins and soy (tofu, etc.) are considered high-quality, or complete, proteins. These are some examples of complementary proteins, where one food has the amino acids (protein-building blocks) that the other lacks. However, you can eat complementary proteins within 24 hours instead of within a meal, according to recent recommendations.

  • Beans and rice
  • Peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread
  • Hummus with whole-wheat pita bread
  • Tofu, vegetable, noodle and peanut stir-fry
  • Spinach salad with corn and nuts


  • Build meals around a healthful protein source such as legumes or whole grains.
  • Try meat substitutes such as black bean burgers. They can add variety to a vegetarian dinner or grill-out.
  • Buy in season. Fruits and vegetables that are in season are generally less expensive and at their peak quality.
  • Buy frozen fruits for quick smoothies and frozen veggies for easy stir-fry meals.
  • When going out to eat, ask the server about vegetarian options.
  • Cook once to eat two or more times. Rice and beans or lentil soup make tasty leftovers and can save you time on a busy day.

Grocery List for Recipes (and Side Menu Items)


  • 1 loaf whole-grain bread
  • 1 lb. uncooked white rice
  • 1 (12-inch) pre-baked pizza crust
  • 1 pkg. quinoa


  • 3 white onions
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 pkg. celery 
  • 2 green bell peppers 
  • 1 yellow bell pepper 
  • 1 pkg. mushrooms
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 pkg. cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 head romaine lettuce


  • 1 pineapple
  • 11 whole fruits (bananas, apples, strawberries, anything seasonal)
  • 12 oz. bag frozen berries (your choice)


  • 1 gallon fat-free milk or almond silk milk
  • 1 pkg. feta cheese crumbles or soy cheese
  • 1 qt. low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 qt. low-fat Greek or vegan yogurt


  • 5 oz. can tuna (or substitute)
  • 1 pkg. frozen veggie burgers (4 patties)
  • 2 (15-oz.) cans black beans
  • 1 (15-oz.) cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 (12-oz.) pkg. silk tofu
  • 1 (12-oz.) pkg. extra-firm tofu
  • 1 pkg. soy hot dogs (6 hot dogs)

Other goods and spices

  • Garlic, fresh or prepared 
  • 1 (17-oz.) bottle olive oil
  • 1 (4-oz.) can artichoke hearts
  • 1 (2-oz.) can black olives
  • 1 small jar pesto sauce
  • 1 (16-oz.) bottle salad dressing (of your choice)
  • Dill weed
  • Lemon juice (or fresh lemon)
  • 1 small jar of mayonnaise
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable soup base (or broth), reduced or no-sodium
  • Red pepper flakes (if desired)
  • Ground black pepper
  • Salt


Cooking Abbreviations

tsp. = teaspoon
g = gram
oz. = ounce
Tbsp. = tablespoon
mg = milligram
lb. = pound
c. = cup
qt. = quart
pkg. = package

Pesto Pizza

Pesto Pizza

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

1 (12-inch) pre-baked thin-crust pizza crust
4 oz. pesto
1 ripe tomato, chopped
½ c. green bell pepper, chopped
2 oz. chopped black olives, drained (optional)
½ small red onion, chopped
1 (4-oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and sliced
1 c. crumbled feta cheese (could use vegan cheese substitute)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Spread pesto on pizza crust. Top with tomatoes, bell peppers, olives (if desired), red onions, artichoke hearts and feta cheese. Bake for eight to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and browned.

*Optional: Add firm tofu if desired to boost protein content.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 300 calories, 15 g fat, 10 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 800 mg sodium.

Menu idea:

Pesto Pizza, lettuce salad, cottage cheese with fruit, milk or substitute

Chickpea Sandwiche

Chickpea Sandwiches

Preparation time: 20 minutes

1 (15-oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 stalk celery, chopped
¼ medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried dill weed
Ground black pepper (to taste)
Salt (if desired, to taste)

Drain and rinse chickpeas. Pour chickpeas into a medium-size mixing bowl and mash with a fork. Mix in celery, onion, mayonnaise (to taste), lemon juice, dill weed and pepper. Serve on whole-grain bread or buns.

*Optional: Add tuna, sliced hard-cooked eggs or silken tofu.

Makes three servings. Each serving (with two slices whole-wheat bread) has 280 calories, 5 g fat, 13 g protein, 46 g carbohydrate, 9 g fiber and 480 mg sodium.

Menu idea:

Chickpea Sandwich, lettuce salad, fruit smoothie (yogurt and frozen berries)

Rice and Beans

Savory Rice and Beans

Preparation time: five minutes • Cook time: 25 minutes

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5-oz.) can low-fat vegetable broth
¾ c. uncooked white rice
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 medium tomato, diced
2 (15-oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

In a stockpot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for four minutes. Add the rice and sauté for two minutes.

Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes. Add the spice, tomato and black beans. Cook over medium heat two minutes or until heated through.

The recipe makes 10 servings. Freeze the leftovers in meal-size amounts or refrigerate and eat within four days. Each serving has 180 calories,
2.5 g fat, 8 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber and 350 mg sodium.

Menu idea:

Savory Rice and Beans, steamed asparagus, fresh fruit, milk or substitute

Veggie Kabobs

Colorful Veggie Kabobs

Preparation time: 20 minutes

2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 small pkg. cherry tomatoes
½ lb. mushrooms, quartered
1/3 c. oil-based salad dressing, such as Italian

If using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for two hours prior to using to reduce charring. Thread vegetables alternately on skewers. Brush generously with salad dressing. Grill for three minutes; turn vegetables over, brushing with extra salad dressing. Grill for another three to four minutes until done.

Not able to go outside? Try broiling the kabobs. Place an oiled pan with kabobs about 6 inches from the top of the preheated oven. Turn over once and cook until golden brown (about six minutes).

Makes six servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 8 g fat, 5 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber and 360 mg sodium.

 Menu idea:

Colorful Veggie Kabobs, quinoa, grilled veggie burger, grilled pineapple, milk or substitute

For more information on this and other topics.


August 2018

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