When you think of vegetarians, do you picture sickly looking folk with dark circles under their eyes and no meat on their bones? Well, sometimes it can be quite the contrary as a good percentage of people who eat a vegetarian diet can be heavily overweight, supplementing animal products with unhealthy processed vegetarian food choices that can sometimes be even worse than eating a cheeseburger! I call these people “chips and salsa” vegetarians. Veggies who eat worse than people who consume meat but think they are doing so well because they are saving animals’ lives. Now, I myself am vegetarian and choose this way of life for several reasons, but I want to send a message to people who may or may not be vegetarian, or some form of veggie (some people consider themselves vegetarian, but eat fish, which would make them “mostly” vegetarian, etc). You can be vegetarian and 1. still enjoy food and 2. don’t have to be stuck eating chips and salsa for dinner or crappy processed Morning Star veggie patties. When you have your staples on hand, the world is your oyster (not that you vegetarians would want to dine on oysters, but you get my drift…). So, I wanted to give you a list of some basics to have on hand if you are vegetarian, partial vegetarian or just enjoy eating veggie on occasion. Eating vegetarian does not mean forgoing flavor, excitement or the pleasure one gains from eating a satisfying meal. I have to share that I made my butternut squash soup for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner and even my Dad ate it AND enjoyed it! And it was even vegan! It was the hit of the party (patting myself on the back and recipe can be found here if you want to make it) and this made me very excited and inspired to spread the word because you truly can eat well and healthy AND be vegetarian.
So, some staples I have in my home include (of course, these are all organic if I can help it):
Brown Rice-an excellent whole grain which I make a batch of typically every Sunday night to have on hand for the week. This will stay fresh for up to 5 days in your fridge and can be eaten reheated (on the stove, NOT in the microwave) or enjoyed cold in a salad or for breakfast in muesli.
Steel Cut Oats-another amazing grain that can be eaten for breakfast. I make these in my rice cooker (you must rinse them in a fine mesh strainer first and soak them over night-1 cup oats/2 cups water). These are SO versatile and you can add brown sugar, apples slices, bananas, shredded coconut, maple syrup, raisins-the possibilities are endless, so enjoy!
Organic, Cage-Free, Brown Eggs-I could not live without eggs, although some pure veggies prefer not to eat them. Eggs supply you with a decent amount of high quality protein at low financial cost. They are a complete protein source and this always seems to come up as a hot topic for vegetarians-where do we get our protein? I know a lot of veggies/vegans have ethical reasons, but I encourage any veggie peeps I know to at least eat eggs if they are not doing it for animal rights reasons since they are nature’s perfect food. They contain only 78 calories in one egg, so you get a lot of bang for your buck, but you have to make sure to avoid commercially produced eggs as they contain hormones and can be not as healthy for you.
Nut Butters (almond, peanut or my fave lately-sunflower seed butter!)-these are great to have on hand as they are easy to use to make sandwiches, dip carrots or apples in, spread on a rice cracker or just scoop out of the jar. They contain a rich source of healthy fat and supply a good amount of protein. Just try to limit your serving size to 2 tablespoons/day (I know this can be challenging!), as you don’t want to consume too much fat. This is a good, unsaturated source of fat though and should definitely be included in your eating lifestyle.
Spelt Tortillas-spelt is great source of complex carbs and can be a nice alternative to wheat. I like to keep these on hand to eat with my eggs at breakfast or to make hummus wraps for lunch. Again, very versatile and they travel well.
Hummus (garbanzo beans)-which is prob my favorite food and I make my own every week, but even if you don’t make your own, you can pick up a tub at Trader’s or Whole Foods and do just about anything with it. I dip carrots in it, put in it tortillas and make a little roll, spread it on cracker. So yummy, and a good amount of protein for a veggie and low cal.
Loose Spinach-this is good to have on hand, as I put this in everything from my eggs to stir-fry, to soups and salads. Chock full of vitamins and minerals and so delicious, you should not be without this wonderful leafy green.
Apples-typically always in season and especially good right now, apples are one of those fruits that are so versatile and you can take them on the go. Chop them into your steel cut oats, dip slices into nut butter, honey, or even bake them with brown sugar and cinnamon, for a nice, warm dessert. They contain an impressive amount of vitamin C, pectin and fiber-they truly will keep the doctor away-as long as they are organic 😉
Extra Firm Tofu-overdoing soy is a concern in this country because it can mess with your hormones, especially estrogen, so only use tofu sparingly and definitely make sure it’s organic-no joking around with this one. I bake it, crumble it and saute it, put it in miso soup or eat it raw in salads. It provides you with a good amount of protein and can conform to any flavor, so get creative and use a peanut sauce, or teriyaki to make it interesting!
Sweet Potatoes-right now, these are so nice to make because you just clean them, stick them in the over on 350 for about 50 min and there you have this warm, naturally sweet yummy little meal. I usually eat one half and save the other for another meal the next day. I will eat them plain, hot or cold, with brown rice and tofu or mashed up topped with spinach. They contain a ton of fiber and are a rich source of complex carbs.
Rice Milk (or almond)-we all know that dairy is not that good for us, so I try to stick to these alternatives. Some people like soy, but again, on OD on the soy can be no bueno, so give these other milk alternatives a try. I’m telling you, I made the butternut squash soup with rice milk and ZERO cream and it turned out as rich as Donald Trump! Sometimes you have to do the moo, but why not make it an occasional thing versus a grocery staple?
Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread-gluten free, lactose free, vegan and non-GMO, this makes a great alternative to butter and (gasp) margarine. Made with expeller-pressed (i.e. not some crappy heat processing that kills everything in it making it toxic) oils such as soybean, palm, canola and olive (note this is non-GMO, so you are safer here), this tastes great and spreads just as any fatty, animal product laden version. Use it for spreading on toast, for baking (although coconut oil is best and is another one of my cupboard staples) and anything else you would use butter for.
Bananas-who doesn’t love bananas? They can be eaten any time of they day and they contain a very impressive amount of potassium, which is one of the most important electrolytes our bodies need. Although they get a bad rap for their sugar content, they only contain roughly 90 calories per serving.
Salsa-salsa makes a great addition to eggs, to dip chips in or to top a baked potato with. Extremely low in calories and high in carotenes, such as lycopene, which is a anti-cancer component, salsa can add excitement and flavor to many of your foods.
Avocados-boy do I love me some avocados. I could eat a whole one plain (and have been known to do that on occasion). Avos contain a rich source of monounsaturated fat (good fat), but they also contain oleic and linoleic acid, which can help lower LDL cholesterol. Avocados can be used on sandwiches, eaten plain (as we established), chopped up in salads or salsas or even blended into guilt free desserts (find my recipe for my vegan chocolate mousse!).
Baby carrots-these make a great snack, travel well, can be dipped as well in nut butters or hummus, chopped into stir-fry dishes or thrown into soups. Their bright color lets you know they are full of antioxidants. They have the highest amount of provitamin A carotenes, which help to protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Extra-virgin Olive Oil-a rich source of omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid, olive oil is best eaten raw, so in salad dressings, as a dip or for lightly sauteing. I have it on hand to make my hummus and to use over salads. It’s so light and delicious! You do not want to over heat and burn olive oil, as it is fragile and can turn rancid, thus becoming a toxic substance to consume. Try to keep it under 250 degrees, but again, raw is best. For cooking purposes, sesame, avocado or coconut oil choices are best.
So there you have it, folks. Some of my faves and can’t-do-withouts. Do not be turned off or discouraged if you are trying to find your way as a healthy, conscious vegetarian eater. It takes getting your basics down and experimenting. As long as you live by the motto-eat to live, not live to eat, you can find some pretty healthy, yummy things to munch on that will keep you satisfied and animal byproduct free. There is a whole world out there for vegetarians and their preferences and believe me, there is a trend to cater to not only animal product free foods, but healthy meat free choices. Invest in some cookbooks, too if you do in fact enjoy cooking for yourself. Some of my stand by’s include:
Raw Food by Baird Rodwell (maybe a little advanced, but sure is fun to look through)
The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Diana Shaw-a gift from my beautiful friend Erin and chock full of fun ideas
Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson-unbelievable pictures and amazing recipes
and for anything else, there is google, my friends.
If you would like help in the kitchen or have any other thoughts or ideas, as always, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“You can judge a society by the way it treats its animals”-Ghandi