The Part-Time Vegetarian

You won't miss the meat with these vegetarian recipes and meal ideas.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

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 entrees 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.