Healthy eating can often seem difficult, expensive, or complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. In this chapter, I’ll talk about how plant-based foods fuel your body and share the pantry staples that will help these meals come together easily. You don’t have to make dramatic changes to your lifestyle right away—just take a step toward more plant-based foods and your body will thank you! I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 10 years, but it didn’t happen overnight. I slowly phased out meat in high school, but it wasn’t until college that I officially decided to go vegetarian. When I started, I didn’t understand how to replace meat with truly healthy options. I enjoyed some vegetables, but I ate almost nothing except carbohydrates. While there is nothing wrong with healthy carbs, I was picky and didn’t like trying new foods, which meant I ate a lot of pasta and bagels with peanut butter. Eventually, I learned that health was about more than just counting calories and that the ingredients I put into my body had a direct impact on how I felt. When I started incorporating more whole, plant-based foods into my diet, I noticed I had more energy. My skin was clearer. I didn’t feel hungry all the time. And I stopped worrying about calories.

Why Ditch Meat? 
Whether you’re already a vegetarian or you’re just thinking about eating a little less meat, I hope this book will be a great resource for you. I’m the only one in my family who is 100 percent vegetarian, but over the years, the rest of my family has started eating more plant-based foods. The good news (for them and you) is that you don’t have to be a strict vegetarian to enjoy some of the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Focusing on whole, plant-based foods isn’t just good for your waistline. Plant-based foods are good for your whole body, literally from your head to your toes. Studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians typically have an easier time getting the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables because their meals can be centered on plants. Even if you’re not ready to give up meat entirely, your body can still benefit simply by replacing some of the meat you eat with plant-based foods. People who eat a vegetarian diet also tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight) and lower rates of obesity. This could be attributed to a number of things, but one simple reason is that fruits and vegetables aren’t very calorie dense. If you’ve ever struggled with portion control, vegetables are an easy way to fill up. Of course, simply eating a vegetarian diet isn’t necessarily a cure-all, and there are plenty of not-so-healthy vegetarian foods, but as you learn to incorporate healthy, plant-based foods into your diet, your body will reap the benefits. 

There’s a misconception that healthy eating has to be expensive, but it can actually be a cost-effective way to eat. A plant-based diet has been shown to be quite a bit cheaper than a diet that includes animal protein. Plant-based proteins, like lentils and beans, are inexpensive protein sources, so cutting back on meat can significantly lower your grocery bill. For example, ground beef, a relatively inexpensive meat, is typically between $3 and $4 a pound. If you were to purchase organic, grass-fed ground beef, it might be closer to $6 to $7 a pound. In contrast, a pound of lentils costs less than $2, and that would be enough lentils to feed a family of four! While fresh produce can occasionally be pricey, there are delicious frozen produce options that can be just as tasty, for a fraction of the cost.

Eating a vegetarian diet also has a positive effect on the environment. Producing 1 pound of animal protein uses 12 times more land, 13 times more fossil fuel, and 15 times more water than producing 1 pound of plant-based protein. In fact, a 2006 report from the United Nations found that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Whether it’s for your own health or the health of the planet, eating less meat can have a positive effect on your life. 

Meatless Does Not Equal Healthy 
There are tons of packaged and processed vegetarian foods that will try to fool you into thinking they’re healthy because they’re meatless. Similarly, just because a food is organic or expensive doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Oftentimes, meat is replaced by a refined carbohydrate or a dairy product. While these foods are meatless, they might not be healthy. In fact, it can be easy to fall into the trap of a high-carb, high-sugar diet when you’re eating vegetarian.

Pizza is vegetarian. Cookies are vegetarian. Macaroni and cheese is vegetarian. All of these delicious foods have a place (so don’t worry, I’m not asking you to give them up!), but be aware that a vegetarian diet isn’t a shortcut to health. You still have to make healthy choices. A typical vegetarian diet could be a bowl of cereal for breakfast, pasta for lunch, crackers and cheese for a snack, and pizza for dinner. That’s already carb heavy, but you might not notice that your cereal is loaded with added sugar or that your lunch is full of refined carbohydrates that won’t keep you energized throughout the afternoon. If you’ve ever felt that 2 p.m. sugar crash, you know the downside of eating a high-sugar/refined-carb diet that lacks substance. If you’re not focusing on whole foods, protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, your body will end up feeling tired and hungry. It’s important to choose foods that fill you up and keep you full. When you’re deciding what to eat, aim for a balance of complex carbohydrates (the kind that come from whole grains and vegetables), fiber, protein, and fat. Speaking of fat, don’t shy away from it—just try to focus on plant-based sources of fat, which are much healthier.

Types of Vegetarian Diet 
There are a few different types of vegetarian diet; they stem from different health preferences and belief systems. Whether you’re a strict vegetarian or you’re just trying to eat less meat, all of the recipes in this book are lacto-ovo-vegetarian-friendly, with options for substitutions based on your preferences. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products but not meat. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs or meat. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products or meat. Vegans do not eat meat, dairy products, eggs, or any other products (such as honey) derived from animals. 

How to Make a Vegetarian Diet Healthy
It’s no surprise that there are many definitions of healthy. I like to think of healthy as a balanced approach to food and nutrition. There’s a time and a place for kale and a time and a place for a cupcake. Since I’m guessing you don’t need any help eating cupcakes, this book will focus on healthy recipes featuring whole ingredients and proper portions. I’ll talk about the benefits of complex carbohydrates and how to ensure that you’re eating a good balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The recipes will use healthy, plant-based sources of fat, and each will fill you up with protein and fiber to keep you satisfied. I’ll give you plenty of tips and tricks along the way to help with preparation, substitutions, and nutrition, but let’s start with four basic guidelines for a healthy diet.

The recipes in this book focus primarily on whole foods. They don’t contain things like artificial sweeteners or fake meat. You’ll see lots of vegetables and legumes, such as black beans and lentils; nuts and seeds, like almonds and chia seeds; and some healthy carbs, like 100 percent whole-wheat flour. I’ll also teach you how to swap out some of your favorite ingredients for more nutritious (but still delicious) whole-food options. For example, you can trade regular pasta for whole-wheat pasta or vegetable noodles. Where you might normally use mayonnaise, try avocado. Eventually, you might find yourself skipping bottled salad dressing, which is often loaded with heavily processed oils and sugars, and reaching for a salad dressing you made yourself. There might be a few ingredients in the book that sound unfamiliar, such as tempeh or nutritional yeast. (For the record, nutritional yeast is just deactivated yeast. It has a cheesy, nutty flavor that can be a great substitute if you’re avoiding dairy. It’s also a great source of protein.) Don’t worry, though—most of these recipes will use ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. 

Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Thinking ahead about what meals you plan to make for the week can help you eat a healthier diet, save money at the grocery store, and avoid a last-minute trip to the market for one ingredient. Even if you’re shooting for just one or two vegetarian meals each week, a little bit of planning can make a big difference. Prepping a few meals, or even just a few steps, ahead of time can keep you on track. Takeout is less tempting when you already have dinner in the refrigerator. But don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to spend your entire Sunday cooking lentils. Just a few shortcuts can help you speed through the process. Here are a few of my favorite meal prep tips: 
  • Make a big batch of quinoa in a rice cooker, or on the stove top if you don’t have a rice cooker. Quinoa can be used just like rice in lots of recipes. Cooking a batch ahead of time makes it easy to add a scoop to soups, stews, salads, and wraps.
  • Wash and chop things like celery and carrots as soon as you get home from the grocery store. These vegetables are often used as a base for soups and sauces, and they keep well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days.
  • Rather than buying precut fruits and vegetables, which can be quite expensive, consider purchasing frozen produce, which tends to be cheaper. Frozen vegetables are delicious in soups and stir-frys and don’t require any washing or chopping. Frozen fruits can easily be tossed into a smoothie or yogurt bowl with no extra prep work.
  • • Roast a big batch of vegetables all at once. Sweet potatoes, broccoli, and green beans are particularly great choices to roast ahead of time. I love sprinkling roasted vegetables with salt and pepper and tossing them into my favorite salads, but they can also be easily added to wraps, tacos, and sandwiches
  •  Don’t buy foods you won’t use. That might sound obvious, but a lot of people waste money on foods they think they should eat, even though they don’t like them. If you hate broccoli, don’t load up your cart with broccoli. Pick a green vegetable that you’ll actually want to eat. Food that goes bad in your crisper drawer won’t do you any good.
You’ll notice that in this cookbook, the recipes include a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The balance of nutrients is important, because while the carbs give you energy, the protein and fat can help you feel satisfied and full. Don’t skimp on the healthy fats from things like avocados and olive oil. These are important components in helping your body feel full and satisfied. Since vegetarian recipes don’t usually have a main source of protein, it can be hard to brainstorm new ideas for dinner. This book will help you rethink your plate and give you new ideas for healthy, satisfying meals. New dishes can be particularly hard for kids, especially if ingredients look unfamiliar. When introducing a new ingredient, whether it’s Brussels sprouts or hummus, sometimes it can help to serve it with something familiar. For example, instead of serving hummus with an unfamiliar vegetable, pair it with baby carrots or cucumbers.

 Don’t forget the importance of proper portions. Even healthy foods aren’t so healthy if you’re eating too much. All of the recipes here have moderate portion sizes. For some people, it might be easier to eat smaller meals with more snacks in between. Others might prefer three larger meals. However you prefer to break it up, make sure you’re not eating until you’re completely stuffed. Pay attention to your hunger cues, and eat slowly so your body has a chance to let you know when it’s had enough. Many of these recipes contain “high-volume” foods, which means you can still have a substantial portion without overeating. For example, I love piling up pasta dishes with fresh vegetables because it means I can have a larger portion without going crazy on calories or carbohydrates. 

Super Satisfiers Here are some great ingredients to add to meals if you’re particularly hungry. Quinoa: Whether it’s tossed into a salad or mixed into soup, quinoa is an excellent source of protein. And since it has a neutral flavor, it’s easy to add to just about any meal. Nuts and seeds: A handful of sunflower seeds, almonds, or walnuts is a heart-healthy snack. You can also sprinkle them on top of oatmeal and salads, and even in sandwiches. Nut butters: Peanut butter and almond butter are great bases for stir-fry sauces and salad dressings. Try them swirled into yogurt and smoothies or as a dip with fruit. Plain Greek yogurt: Yogurt isn’t just for breakfast! It’s a perfect sour cream swap on top of tacos or chili. It’s also a great way to add a little extra protein to your meal. Avocado: Is there anything avocado can’t do? It can be blended into a smoothie, added to salads, spread onto a sandwich, or sliced onto tacos and casseroles. Chickpeas: Roasted chickpeas are one of my favorite quick and easy snacks. Try tossing them on top of a salad or in a wrap. Whether you like them spicy, salty, or savory, they’re a tasty and versatile ingredient.

The Nutritious Vegetarian Kitchen
Once you stock your kitchen with a few essential ingredients, you’ll be on your way to a nutritious vegetarian lifestyle. Below, I share some of my favorite protein sources, healthy fats, and complex carbs. With this core list of ingredients, it’s easy to mix and match your way to healthy cooking. 

“But where do you get your protein?” I’ve been asked this typical question for years and years, and people are often surprised when I rattle off a long list of foods. Most people don’t realize that 1 cup of Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein, 1 cup of cooked wild rice contains 6 grams of protein, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams, and even kale has 3 grams of protein per cup! There are plenty of plant-based ways to get enough protein. Here are my top 10 power proteins that I love to incorporate into meals. 
  1. Tempeh: Tempeh is made of fermented soybeans, and it’s actually less processed than tofu. I love the hearty texture, and a 3-ounce serving contains 16 grams of protein and just 140 calories
  2. Lentils: Lentils contain 9 grams of protein per ½-cup serving. A bowl of lentil soup can easily provide more than 30 grams of protein.
  3. Chickpeas: Not only are chickpeas a super versatile ingredient, but they also contain 6 grams of protein per ½- cup serving.
  4. Edamame: Whether you enjoy them in a stir-fry or a salad, these baby soybeans have 9 grams of protein per ½ cup.
  5. Black beans: My favorite taco ingredient supplies nearly 8 grams of protein per ½-cup serving.
  6. Quinoa: Not only does quinoa have 8 grams of protein per cup, it’s also a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs.
  7. Greek yogurt: From breakfast to frozen-yogurt bites, 1 cup of Greek yogurt delivers 17 grams of protein.
  8. Chickpea pasta: This is one of my favorite swaps for white-flour pasta. It tastes like whole-wheat pasta but has more protein and fiber and fewer carbohydrates. 
  9. Chia seeds: Whether I’m tossing them into my overnight oats or blending them into my smoothies, chia seeds are a great protein boost, with 4 grams in just 2 tablespoons.
  10. Hemp seeds: I often sprinkle these on my yogurt bowls or smoothies, because 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain 10 grams of protein. 

We’ve all heard the term healthy fats, but let’s talk about what that really means. Mono-unsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as “good fats” because they’re the fats that can help lower your LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and raise your HDL cholesterol (the good stuff). These fats have also been associated with lowering blood pressure. Polyunsaturated fats are found in a lot of nuts and seeds, like walnuts and sunflower seeds. Monounsaturated fats are found in things like olive oil and avocados. In fact, avocados are a great source of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They’re actually made up of 77 percent fat, which is why they’re dense in terms of calories. Luckily, you need only a few slices to get both the flavor and the health benefits. Peanut butter is also a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Get rid of the reduced-fat peanut butter and go for the real thing. I love having a scoop of peanut butter with apple slices, or a spoonful blended right into a smoothie. Omega-3 fatty acids are a certain type of polyunsaturated fat that’s especially beneficial to your health. They can reduce inflammation in the body and even lower your triglycerides, which have been linked to heart disease. Omega-3s can be found in chia seeds, walnuts, edamame, kale, spinach, and more. 

While a vegetarian diet might not be particularly low-carb, it’s important to recognize that not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbohydrates are easy-to-digest basic sugars. These could be naturally occurring in things like fruit, but they’re also the added sugars that you’ll find in everything from baked goods to bottled salad dressings. You’ve probably also heard of refined carbohydrates, which include any carb-based food that has been processed—things like white rice, sugar, and white flour. These refined carbohydrates give you a quick and immediate burst of energy, but then you might feel a crash a few hours later. The recipes in this book focus on complex carbohydrates, such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates give you a slow release of energy, so there’s no crash later on, and they provide fiber, which helps with digestion. These are the carbohydrates that will fill you up, keep you satisfied, and give your body the fuel it needs throughout the day. In this book, I focus on a balance of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and proteins to keep you nourished and energized.

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