I call myself a "part-time" vegetarian because, while I do eat meat, I like to eat vegetarian meals often. I even like to order vegetarian entrees at restaurants, just to get new ideas for making meatless dishes. I still eat fish, chicken, lean beef and pork, but I would guess at least half of my meals are lacto-ovo vegetarian (meaning they include eggs and/or dairy products).
There was a time when all my meals were meatless (can you say University of California at Berkeley graduate school?). Oddly enough, the one thing I totally craved every so often was a good lean cheeseburger (that was before they had all these great vegetarian burgers.)
Two decades and two kids later, I have evolved into a happy, part-time vegetarian. Becoming a part-time vegetarian comes with a slew of benefits. It often costs less to prepare meatless dishes, it helps the environment when we eat more plant-based meals (some would argue), and then there's the health advantage.
Besides reducing the saturated fat content of your diet, a meatless day or two each week, has other benefits, says Julie Upton, MS, RD, with the Environmental Nutrition Newsletter. Upton says vegetarian diets are lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. They also tend to include more of the beneficial nutrients found in plant foods, like vitamin A and C, potassium, fiber, and phytonutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene.
There's never been a better time to eat meatless meals, whether you do it part time or all the time. Today's supermarkets have many healthful and creative options, including meatless convenience Items you can keep in your freezer for those action-packed weeknights. Here are a handful of quick options to consider:
1. Burger Alternatives. Soy and veggie burgers usually contain less saturated fat than beef burgers, some feature high-quality soy protein, and most have at least a couple of grams of fiber, too. Here are a few examples:
- Boca Burger -- Vegan (110 calories, 2 g fat, 13 g protein, 5 g fiber)
- Gardenburger Flame Grilled Soy Burger (120 calories, 4 g fat, 14 g protein, 4 g fiber)
- Gardenburger Savory Portabella Burger (100 calories, 2.5 g fat, 9 g protein, 4 g fiber)
- Morningstar Farms Grillers Original (140 calories, 6 g fat, 15 g protein, 2 g fiber)
- Amy's All American Burger (120 calories, 3 g fat, 10 g protein, 3 g fiber)
- Whole Foods 365 Organic Classic Veggie Burger (100 calories, 2.7 g fat, 14 g protein, 4 g fiber)
2. Frozen (non-meat) pizza. Check the ingredient label to find out for sure, but some brands are definitely suitable for lacto vegetarians. Check out these fun flavors:
- Amy's Pizza Pesto (1/3 Pizza, 128 grams, contains 310 calories, 12 g fat, 12 g protein, 2 g fiber)
- Freschetta Brick Oven Roasted Portabella, Mushroom and Spinach (142 gram serving contains 280 calories, 10 g fat, 12 g protein, 2 g fiber)
- Whole Foods 365 Roasted Vegetable & Goat Cheese (142 gram serving contains 270 calories, 7 g fat, 12 g protein, 3 g fiber)
3. Frozen cheese-filled tortellini and ravioli. In the fresh and frozen pasta sections of your supermarket, you'll provably find at least three brands of meatless tortellini and raviolis. Just pop them in your freezer and when the mood hits, you're about 20 minutes away from tender tortellini (including the time it takes to boil the water)! Add a meatless sauce (marinara, a drizzle of olive oil, pesto, or a vegetarian white sauce) and some vegetables, you're good to go.
More Meatless Dishes
Here are seven more meatless dishes to appeal even to the chronically carnivorous:
- Bean there, done that! Beans make great meat replacements, probably because they're super-satisfying with high amounts of protein and fiber. You might not notice the meat's missing when you dine on chili bursting with beans. A bean burrito makes a fine meal, and vegetable stew can be quite filling when you add beans.
- Veggie pot pie, featuring potatoes, peas, mushrooms and any other vegetables with a vegetarian gravy and a vegetarian pie crust (if desired).
- Mexican dishes featuring beans and veggies instead of beef and chicken: burritos, nachos, enchiladas, etc.
- Stir-fry up some Chinese entrées with veggies and tofu, and serve atop rice or noodles.
- Stuff bell peppers with a mixture of rice with spices and vegetables. Add vegetarian sausage, tofu, or beans to make the dish more satisfying.
- Layer your lasagna with veggies, not meat. Lasagna has so much going for it (sauce, cheese, noodles, spices, etc.) that you won't miss the meat. You can do the same with other pasta dishes, too. Macaroni & cheese doesn't need meat to pass muster. Neither does fettuccine Alfredo, nor cheese tortellini with pesto or marinara sauce.
- Substitute hearty vegetables that have substantial texture and a rich, satisfying flavor (like eggplant, spinach, portabella mushrooms, zucchini) for the meat in your favorite dishes. Thick slices of broiled eggplant can replace chicken in eggplant parmesan, and spinach can stand in for ground beef in lasagna. Tofu can take the place of beef in chili. A grilled portabella mushroom served on a bun can even take the place of a burger.
Part-Time Vegetarian Recipes
Ready to give part-time vegetarianism a try? Start with a "meatless Monday," and work your way up to even more vegetarian meals each week. It might be easier than you think.
Here are a few recipes to get you started.
Vegetarian Sausage & Sage Gravy
Journal as: 1/2 cup "vegetables with 1 tsp fat maximum"
OR 1/4 cup "starchy foods and legumes with 1 tsp fat maximum"
You can use this gravy in all sorts of dishes, from vegetarian Shepherd's pie to vegetarian casserole to pot pie.
4 links vegetarian sausage links or patties, like Whole Kitchen brand from Whole Foods (about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon dried ground sage
- Heat the oil in a large, nonstick frying pan, then add the vegetarian links or patties and fry until done, crumbling into small pieces as it cooks.
- Add 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth and the 2 tablespoons of flour to a small, nonstick saucepan and mix together to make a paste. Slowly whisk in the remaining vegetable broth.
- Whisk in the salt (if desired), pepper, sage and cooked sausage pieces with oil. Bring mixture to boil and stir until it reaches desired thickness (about 2 minutes).
Yield: 1 1/4 cup gravy (about 4 servings)
Per serving: 93 calories, 6.5 g protein, 5.5 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.6 g fiber, 410 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 48%.
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
Journal as: 1/4 cup "starchy foods and legumes with fat" + 1/2 cup "vegetables with 1 teaspoon fat maximum"
15-ounce can chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 cucumber, unpeeled and finely chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, finely diced or cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
- Add chickpeas, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, basil, and mozzarella to medium serving bowl.
- Drizzle olive oil, vinegar, and salt over the top, and toss all ingredients well to combine.
- Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hour to let flavors blend.
Yield: 6 side servings
Per serving: 153 calories, 9 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 6.5 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 197 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 38%.
Sausage & Saffron Rice
Journal as: 1 cup "hearty stew, chili, bean soup" + 1/4 cup "starchy foods and legumes without added fat" OR 1 "frozen dinner light, pasta or rice dish with meat or fish or vegetarian with light sauce"
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red chili, stemmed, seeded, and finely minced, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 pinch saffron threads (find these in jars in the spice section)
5-6 ounces vegetarian sausage of your choice, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 cup diced, vine-ripened tomato (or use drained chopped canned tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped green onions (the white and part of the green)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a medium, nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chili or red pepper flakes, if desired, and sauté for exactly one minute. Stir in the brown rice and let brown in oil for a minute. Stir in the broth, saffron, sausage pieces, tomato, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to simmer; cover saucepan and cook 35-40 minutes (rice should be tender).
- Let the rice mixture sit in covered saucepan for 10 minutes. Stir in green onions, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 4 servings
Per serving (using Whole Foods brand Vegetarian Sausage Links: 291 calories, 13.5 g protein, 43 g carbohydrate, 7.4 g fat, 0.7 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 620 mg sodium (depending on the sodium in the broth and sausage). Calories from fat: 23%.
Journal as: 1 cup "entrée salad with starchy foods light salad dressing" OR 1 portion "frozen dinner light, pasta or rice dish with meat or fish or vegetarian with light sauce" OR 2 slices "bread, toast, whole grain bread" + 2 ounces low-fat cheese + 1/2 cup "vegetables with 1 tsp fat maximum"
4 medium portabella mushrooms, stems removed and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
2 teaspoons dried oregano flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 medium zucchini, cut into matchsticks (about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick)
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 corn or flour tortillas
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded, reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup salsa of your choice
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Add mushrooms, oregano, oil, salt and pepper (if desired), zucchini sticks, and onion slices to large bowl. Toss to blend well.
- Spoon mixture evenly into a jellyroll pan (line it with nonstick foil if you have it). Place pan in oven and let vegetables roast, tossing occasionally, for about 30 minutes.
- Soften tortillas by wrapping them in a damp cloth and heating in the microwave for about a minute. Or you can warm them in a nonstick frying pan (use a little canola cooking spray if you like).
- Fill each tortilla with mushroom mixture, some shredded cheese, and salsa.
Yield: 4 servings (2 tacos each)
Per serving: 309 calories, 15 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 370 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%.
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2006 Elaine Magee