Veggie Might: Vegetarian Meal Planning for Meat Eaters

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Meal planning is a hot topicround these parts; you’d think we’d covered it all. But what if you’re a mostly vegetarian, or a family of omnis trying to work in a few vegetarian meals a week? A reader wrote in asking specifically how to plan for vegetarian meals that don’t involve tapas.

This Veg is here to help. Here are some tips and tricks to help you plan weekly meals that will improve your health, reduce your budget, and satisfy everyone at the table.

Decide How Many Vegetarian Meals/Week
Decide how many times a week you want to eat vegetarian meals and to what degree. Will you eschew all animal products (like dairy and eggs) or just meat?

Mark Bittman endorses a “vegan before dinnertime” lifestyle, only eating meat for his evening meals. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath suggests giving Meatless Mondays a try. Take a poll of your household (or rule like the theistic monarch you were born to be) and decide what works best for you and yours.

Take a Look at Your Pantry
All those staple items are about to come in very handy. Grains, beans, and pastas are your friends when you go veg. If you’re not already stocked, don’t worry: dried beans and rice are about as inexpensive as foodstuffs come.

Compare what you have to the recipes you want to make, and then supplement with fresh or frozen vegetables. You’ll be amazed at how far your food budget goes.

Tweak Your Favorite Recipes
There are probably dozens of meals you love that are already vegetarian or can easily become so: spaghetti with marinara sauce, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…and those are just the beginning.

With minimal effort, you can convert your and your family’s favorite meals into vegetarian delights. Swap meat with spinach or zucchini, and you’ll have a killer veggie lasagna. Chili sin carne is just as delicious as con; and don’t forget, every kid’s favorite: pizza. Just load up the pie with cheese and veggies, like mushrooms, peppers, and spinach.

Try Something New
A common myth about vegetarians is that our diets are very limited. “What can you eat?” I’m often asked. “EVERYTHING!” I say, “except four things: beef, poultry, pork, and seafood. All the other food in the word is available to me.”

Eliminating one type of food forces creativity in other areas. I’ve tried things I never would have otherwise, just to keep things interesting. Explore foods of other cultures or experiment with spices. Vegetable curries, beans and rice, and stir fries are among the most versatile and delicious dishes in my repertoire. Try adding them to yours.

Forget the Food Myths
Worried about carbs? Fear not: complex carbohydrates are energy. Stick with whole grains and you’re golden. “But what about protein?” you ask. “What about it?” I answer. Allow me to put to rest another myth: that of the anemic, peaked vegetarian/vegan. Protein is available in variety of plant-based sources, the key being variety. Ingest a combination of grains, legumes, and nuts throughout the day, and you’ll be mighty and strong.

Know Your Audience
Some meat eaters want a meat replacement with their veggie meals. Some don’t. If you decide to go the meat analog route, please head this warning: Fake meat does not taste like real meat. If you can appreciate the fake meat on its own, you’ll be a much happier omni on the vege path.

That said, don’t fear the bean curd. It’s a beautiful, misunderstood food, and, in the right hands, can make your vegetarian day. Other meat subs, like tempeh or seitan, can add protein and B vitamins, not to mention texture and pizzazz, to your playlist.

Save Money, Eat Well, and Be Healthy
Planning ahead saves time in the long run and money at the market. It curbs impulse buying and keeps you on budget. Decide what you’ll make before you head to the store. Armed with your shopping list and empowered with a plan, you’ll be ready to make healthy, delicious vegetarian meals as often as you like...and hopefully more and more.

Did I leave any unanswered questions? Would you do anything differently? Do you need a recipe for something amazingly veg you’d like to see here? Let us know in the comments.

Happy Earth Day!


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(Photos courtesy of Flickr members Steeena [peanut butter],  DodogoeSLR [pasta], Ze Eduardo [veggies].)