“So…ummm, what do you eat?”
It is the inevitable question that follows after I tell people I’m a vegetarian, usually accompanied by a gasp and a look of either terror or confusion. It is a question I’ve been asked countless times, but it still makes me laugh. Because, you see, (and I’m going to let you in on a little secret here) meat is actually only one portion of one of the five food groups!
To put it another way, not eating meat is like not eating Twix; it’s only one of many different candy bars amidst a host of other junk food options. Becoming a vegetarian simply means you choose not to eat meat, and instead, find your protein from the many other delicious and nutritious sources that our available. And I’m not talking about tofu! So to answer your question, what do I eat? Lots of stuff! (That really is the truth. I’m a huge eater.)
I am also asked quite frequently how I plan a week’s worth of meatless meals, especially since my husband and toddler are not vegetarian. So today, I’ve dedicated my post to sharing some insight into how I meal plan, what we eat, and some of my favorite ways to eat protein that *gasp* don’t include meat! Don’t be scared, I know it sounds strange, but it is possible to plan meals that will satisfy your family and be good to your body without including meat. You can do this! Alright, now that you’ve had the pep talk, let’s begin with a few of my meal planning basic guidelines.
1. Look at your calendar for the upcoming week before you plan your meals and grocery list. This sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve planned a menu for the week that either a.) didn’t account for company we would be having over and I’d be stuck meal planning and grocery shopping twice in one week, or b.) didn’t account for the nights we wouldn’t be home and I’d end up with wasted groceries because we weren’t around to eat them quick enough.
2. Plan for snacks. Lets be honest. You snack. I snack. We all snack. So do yourself a favor and just factor them into your grocery shopping. Otherwise, you will end up like me. Running to the store at 8 PM, desperate for something, anything to satisfy the families’ snack craving. Or let me put it this way. When I plan for snacks, I buy trail mix, almond butter, and dried fruit. When I don’t plan for snacks, and end up impulse purchasing at the ninth hour, I buy chips, frozen french fries, and prepackaged cookies. Not. Good. Case in point? Last Saturday night’s unplanned, and totally impulse-driven snacks:
3. Unless you studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, don’t plan meals that include exotic (expensive) ingredients and complicated directions. Or maybe you like that sort of thing. But if you are like me, and don’t really have the time or energy to cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, then be sure you first read through the great new Pinterest recipe before you factor it into your meal plans for the week.
4. Plan one meal that is almost entirely effort free. For me, this might mean a night where I plan on cooking baked potatoes, a can of baked beans or package of frozen veggies, and a veggie burger for me and chicken nuggets for the boys. Why do I do this? Because cooking takes work, and you should be able to have a night that takes minimal effort but still gives you the satisfaction of putting a homemade meal on the table. You will thank me for this.
5. And last, but certainly not least, when it comes to meal planning: just. do. it. I know, it’s a hassle. It requires time, foresight, and, as the name implies, planning. But trust me, an hour of meal planning each week (yup, I put about an hour into each meal plan!) will save you time, frustration and money on the long run.
Ok, now that I’ve wowed you with the merits of meal planning, let me talk a little bit about how I plan a week’s worth of meat-free meals for me, but incorporate meat into a few meals for my hubby and toddler. (I should note that my family is fine eating meatless a majority of the week. I only factor meat into about 3-4 out of the 7 meals.) Let’s start with a sample meal plan.
Monday: homemade refried beans, burrito bowls, pineapple
Tuesday: SW burgers/veggie burger, cajun quinoa with veggies, pineapple
Wednesday: vegetarian three-alarm spaghetti from Betty Crocker, salad, bread, mixed fruit
Thursday: mac and cheese, grilled chicken, southwest salad, sliced apples
Friday: stir fry, fried rice, mixed fruit
Saturday: grilled veggie sandwiches, fries, peaches
Sunday: burritos, chips and guac/salsa, mixed fruit
muffins: almond poppyseed
my lunches: quinoa burgers
snack: homemade granola bars
Why this menu works:
1. The homemade burrito bowls are great for a variety of eating preferences. I arrange a bunch of options on the counter and let everyone assemble what they want. This usually includes: refried beans, rice, taco meat for the boys, lettuce, cheese, guacamole, salsa, chopped cilantro and green onions.
2. Burger night is great because I can either make myself a homemade veggie burger or use pre-made depending on the time I have (or don’t). Grains with veggies as a side dish are my secret weapon for meal planning because they pack a powerful punch-serving up protein, vegetables and carbohydrates for all of us. It can be used as a “side” for the boys, and a main dish for me.
3. For a lot of pasta recipes, I either: a.) sub beans for the meat which works well for a pasta dish or b.) I make the dish meatless and toss in some cooked chicken or beef at the end into the guys servings and leave the other half meatless for myself. However, with the particular one I mentioned from Betty Crocker, it is already vegetarian and it is awesome: Betty Crocker’s Three-Alarm Spaghetti
4. When I make my mac and cheese I use whole wheat pasta, so the combo of the whole wheat and dairy is a complete protein for me. Curious about what makes a “complete protein”? Here is a great article to get you started: What’s A Complete Protein?
5. Stir-fry night is also easy to do for vegetarian and meat eaters. Again, I make the stir fry completely meat free and cook the meat in a separate skillet. The boys just add meat into their dish at the table.
6. Sandwiches are so easy for a variety of eaters. It is the same principle as the burrito bowls. Simply offer a variety of fillers and have everyone create a sandwich according to their own preferences.
7. I usually make vegetarian burritos, no meat option. There are SO MANY amazing vegetarian burrito recipes out there! Here are a few of my favorite (click on title for the link to recipe):
- Enchiladas Verdes, Vegetarian Times
- Black Bean & Avocado Enchiladas, Budget Bytes Blog
- Vegetable Enchiladas (freezable!), Martha Stewart
8. One of my favorite vegetarian sandwiches right now is one of my own creations. Here is the recipe:
Spread hummus on both slices of bread and top with remaining ingredients. Sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper and sea salt. Enjoy!
Wrapping it up
Let me leave you with a final few tips for vegetarian meal planning:
Experiment! Try new things! One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a vegetarian is this whole new world of recipes and ingredients that I’ve discovered. It is so easy to get in a cooking rut, so just do a little recipe research, give a meatless meal plan your best effort, and dive right in!
When it comes to meatless meal planning, think variety, and think color. I try to put three things on the table every night. I don’t necessarily cook all three of those things, sometimes one of the items is purchased bread, or fruit, or a store-bought salad, but the important thing to remember is that you want to represent as many of the food groups as possible: fruits, veggies, grains, protein and dairy. Whether you are cooking a meat based or meatless meal, it is this combining of food groups that will satisfy your palate and your tummy.
I mentioned this earlier but I think it is worth saying again. Meal planning takes time, but it is worth it. I love knowing each morning what I’m going to be cooking that evening, and even more than that, I love knowing that everything I need for tonight’s dinner is already in my fridge. Plus, it is a great feeling to sit down to a meal that, while it took some planning and effort to prepare, is also healthful and delicious. Homemade meals also make for great lunches the next day!
I know I covered a lot of ground today, but hopefully you found inspiration and helpful information within the post. Let me know if you need a good recipe to get you started on your meatless meal planning journey, or if you need me to clarify or expand upon a point. I love talking food talk, so post a comment or a question, and let’s keep the discussion going!
For the record. Maven basically means awesome. Go forth. Plan meatless meals, and be awesome.