17 tasty products that fit into a vegetarian diet, plus 4 vegetarian recipes that use them.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Whether you're following a vegetarian diet full-time or part-time, and whether you're eating more vegetarian foods because of health, budget, or ethical reasons, you probably want to know which vegetarian products are worth buying. I'm a practicing "part-time vegetarian," so I have tried all sorts of non-meat and alternative meat products. Some products I buy again and again, while for others, one taste was too many.
Vegetarian products generally fit into these categories:
- Meat substitutes, which are made to replace or look like popular meat or dairy products. Products like soy cheese and vegetarian versions of hot dogs, breakfast sausages, chicken nuggets, ground beef, and burgers are included in this grouping.
- Unapologetically vegan foods, which are not meant to look or taste like meat. This group includes frozen entrees that feature tofu or beans instead of chicken or beef, for example.
- Foods for lacto-ovo lovers (lacto-ovo vegetarians are those who consume milk and egg products as well as plant foods). There are many dishes that are naturally meatless or can be made in a meatless version. Dishes like vegetable lasagna, cheese pizza, and vegetarian burgers that include cheese would fit into this grouping.
Thinking back to some of the products I've tried over the last couple of years and including products recommended by friends, here are some of the best-tasting vegetarian products that can be found in supermarket chains and specialty markets. Below that, you'll find some vegetarian recipes using these products.
Best Supermarket Vegetarian Foods
Here are some favorites that are available in most major supermarket chains.
Morningstar Farms Meal Starters. You can use this instead of cooked ground beef. The first three ingredients listed on the label are textured vegetable protein, water, and corn oil
How Does It Taste? It has a mild pleasant flavor and seems to work best when added to a mixed dish like chili, enchiladas, or casseroles.
Nutrition Information: 2/3 cup has 80 calories, 10 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 240 mg sodium. Calories from fats: 28%.
Gardenburger Breakfast Sausage (meatless). The first five ingredients are soy protein concentrate-hydrated, canola oil, ground flaxseed, vegetable gum, and salt. Each patty contributes .28 grams of plant omega-3s from canola oil and ground flaxseed.
How Does It Taste? It doesn't taste like pork sausage, but it's good for a non-meat sausage. It's even better when you include it in a breakfast dish with other flavorful ingredients.
Nutrition Information: 1 patty (43 grams) has 45 calories, 5 g protein, 3 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 270 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 50%.
Amy's Cheese Pizza Pocket Sandwich (contains milk products). The first five ingredients are organic wheat and whole-wheat flour, part-skim mozzarella cheese, organic tomato puree, filtered water, and organic extra-virgin olive oil.
How Does It Taste? This is a nice-tasting alternative to the more processed pizza pockets on the market.
Nutrition Information: 1 pocket has 310 calories, 14 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 450 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 29%. (10% Daily Value for Vitamin A, 20% Daily Value for calcium)
Amy's All American Veggie Burger, made with organic vegetables & grains.The first 10 ingredients are wholesome enough: organic onions, organic mushrooms, filtered water, wheat gluten, textured soy protein concentrate, organic bulgur wheat, organic celery, organic carrots, organic walnuts, and organic oats.
How Does It Taste? It's a tasty burger with a great texture. I suggest pan-frying your burger with a little olive oil cooking spray. After it's cooked, add condiments like sundried tomato bruschetta sauce, or your favorite mustard or salsa.
Nutrition Information: 1 burger has 120 calories, 10 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 0 gram saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 390 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 22.5%. (15% Daily Value for Vitamin A)
Gardenburger (Original). The first five ingredients are cooked brown rice, vegetables (mushrooms, onions), water, rolled oats, and bulgur wheat (hydrated).
How Does It Taste? This is Gardenburger's top-selling burger for a reason. It has the same great flavor and texture that helped define veggie burgers many years ago.
Nutrition Information: 1 burger has 100 calories, 5 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 5 grams fiber, 420 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 31.5%.
Boca Garden Vegetable Meatless Burger. The first five ingredients are water, organic textured soy flour, organic zucchini, organic red bell peppers, and organic textured wheat.
How Does It Taste? The mild flavor works well with stronger flavored toppings and condiments, like stone-ground mustard or spicy BBQ sauce.
Nutrition Information: 1 burger has 130 calories, 15 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 0 gram saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 400 mg sodium. (10% Daily Value for calcium)
Boca Italian Meatless Sausage (contains eggs). The first five ingredients are water, soy protein isolate, expeller pressed canola oil, textured soy protein concentrate, and egg whites.
How Does It Taste? The texture is far from a real Italian sausage, but isn't altogether unappetizing. The flavor is pretty good; I had no problem finishing the whole sausage. These would work well in dishes calling for whole or sliced Italian sausage, like marinara sauce for pasta.
Nutrition Information: 1 sausage (2.5 ounces) has 130 calories, 13 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 650 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 41%.
Boca Original Meatless Chik'n Nuggets. These nuggets are made with water, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, textured wheat protein and yeast extract. I suggest using the oven or toaster oven to warm them up instead of the microwave.
How Does It Taste? OK. They don't have a lot of flavor, so are best served with a dipping sauce.
Nutrition Information: 4 nuggets (3 ounces) have 180 calories, 14 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, .5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 500 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 35%.
Michael Angelo's Eggplant Parmesan (contains eggs and cheese). One container of this frozen entree actually contains 2 servings, so you'll need to serve it with some whole-grain pasta or bread and perhaps some fruit to round out the meal. The first five ingredients are organic tomatoes, eggplant, mozzarella cheese, water, and breadcrumbs.
How Does It Taste? Good enough to make me want to eat the whole container.
Nutrition Information: 1 serving (3/4 cup) has 160 calories, 11 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 500 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 39%.
Best Vegetarian Foods from Whole Foods Market
Here are some vegetarian favorites you can find at your local Whole Foods specialty market.
O'Hana House Vegetarian Indian Curry Bite Size Won Ton (mini pot-sticker appetizers). The main ingredients in the won ton filling are organic tofu, organic cabbage, baby bok choy, green peas, and carrots. Seasonings include organic curry powder and organic soy sauce.
How Does It Taste? These brown nicely if you fry them in a nonstick pan coated with canola or olive oil cooking spray. They have a soft textured filling with a mild curry flavor.
Nutrition Information: 1 serving (about 6 pieces) has 80 calories, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 230 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%. (10% Daily Value for Vitamin C)
Amy's Indian: Vegetable Korma. This is made with organic vegetables and rice, curried vegetables with rice, and dal.
How Does It Taste? Pretty tasty, and not too spicy. The small amount of food was surprisingly satisfying.
Nutrition Information: 1 entrÃ©e has 300 calories, 9 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 680 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 36%.
Favorite Vegetarian Foods from Trader Joe's
Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs. The first five ingredients are textured vegetable protein (soy protein concentrate, caramel color), water, wheat gluten, soy protein, and canola oil.
How Does It Taste? The meatballs have an appealing, tender texture and a pleasant, mild flavor. They work well with high-flavor sauces or ingredients.
Nutrition Information: 6 meatballs (85 grams) have 140 calories, 16 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 560 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 38.5%. (6% Daily Value for calcium and 15% Daily Value for iron)
Vegan Pad Thai with Tofu. These are traditional Thai-style rice noodles in a peanut-based sauce with tofu, scallions, and carrots.
How Does It Taste? Pretty good. I like to sprinkle in some soy nuts or chopped peanuts for added flavor and crunch.
Nutrition Information: 1 container has 600 calories, 18 g protein, 114 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 840 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 11%. (45% Daily Value for Vitamin A, 10% for Vitamin C)
Trader Joe's Garden Vegetable Lasagna (contains milk products). This is made with Organic Vegetables and organic wheat flour.
How Does It Taste? Pretty good. I like to sprinkle some freshly grated Parmesan cheese over the top for added flavor.
Nutrition Information: 1 container has 290 calories, 13 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 720 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 28%. (70% Daily Value for vitamin A, 25% for calcium, 60% for Vitamin C)
Trader Joe's Thai Vegetable Gyoza (pot stickers). One bag makes about 3 servings of 5 gyoza each.
How Does It Taste? Pretty good. If you like a little dark brown crust on the bottom of your pot stickers, preheat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a nonstick skillet, then place the frozen gyoza flat-side down in the pan and saute on medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. Pour in about 1/4 cup of water; reduce heat to medium and cover. The pot stickers are done when the water has evaporated.
Nutrition Information: Five gyoza have 270 calories, 5 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, < 5 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 600 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%. (35% Daily value for Vitamin A)
Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs. These veggie corn dogs are made with soy protein concentrate, wheat gluten, egg whites, dextrose, canola oil, and other ingredients.
How Does It Taste? Surprisingly good -- my teenage daughters even like them. I have them in the freezer so they can make themselves a quick snack every now and then.
Nutrition Information: 1 corn dog has 160 calories, 9 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fat, .5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 560 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%. (6% Daily Value for Vitamin C)
Vegetable Masala Burger. The first five ingredients are potatoes, canola oil, carrots, green beans, and water.
How Does It Taste? This burger has a pleasant Indian flavor with hot spices. It has a slightly oily texture. I suggest serving it with high-fiber bread or bun to increase the fiber count for the meal.
Nutrition Information: 1 burger has 120 calories, 2 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber, 360 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 60%. (8% Daily Value for Vitamin A, 15% for Vitamin C)
Vegetarian Recipes Made Easy
These four vegetarian recipes are a snap to make because they make use of the products listed above.
Meatless Meatball Marinara Sandwich
Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs (or similar product)
2/3 cup bottled pizza or marinara sauce
1 whole-grain sandwich roll
Canola cooking spray
2 ounces reduced-fat cheese, soy cheese, or other cheese of your choice
Optional: Sauteed green bell pepper strips or caramelized onions (In a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, saute 1 cup thinly sliced green pepper or thinly sliced onion in 1 teaspoon canola or olive oil or canola cooking spray until tender).
- Place frozen meatballs in a microwave-safe container; heat on HIGH for about one minute. Cover meatballs with the pizza sauce, cover the container and continue to heat in microwave for 30 seconds more.
- Meanwhile, toast sandwich roll halves in the toaster or toaster oven or grill in a nonstick frying pan (after spraying the cut sides of the rolls with canola cooking spray) until nicely brown.
- Lay half the meatball marinara mixture on top of each bottom roll half, then sprinkle half the cheese over each meatball mixture. Add sauteed green pepper or onions, if desired. Cover with the top side of the roll and enjoy.
Yield: 2 sandwiches
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 379 calories, 28 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat, 4.4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 7.5 g fiber, 1229 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%.
Vegetarian Cheeseburger Pie
This is the lacto-ovo vegetarian rendition of the popular recipe from Bisquick. If you like, use soy-based cheese instead of the reduced- fat cheddar.
2 to 2 1/2 cups Morningstar Farms Meat Starters (or similar vegetarian soy substitute for ground beef), partially thawed
3/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or ground white pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk or fat-free half-and-half
3/4 cups Bisquick reduced-fat baking mix
1 large egg (use a higher omega-3 brand, if available)
1/2 cup egg substitute
2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup (4 ounces) reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate with canola cooking spray.
- In medium bowl, toss together the meat starters, green onion, pepper and oregano; spread mixture in the prepared pie plate.
- In large mixing bowl, beat the milk or fat-free half-and-half, reduced-fat Bisquick, egg, and egg substitute with mixer on high speed until smooth (about 1 minute). Pour batter over the Meat Starters mixture and bake for 25 minutes.
- Top the pie with tomato slices, sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top, and bake about 5 minutes more (a knife inserted in the center should come out reasonably clean.)
Yield: 6 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 213 calories, 17 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 7.2 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g fiber, 533 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%.
Meatless Italian Hero Sandwiches
2 links Boca Italian Meatless Sausage, partially thawed
3 to 6 tablespoons nonalcoholic beer, light beer, or water
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 small green or red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch strips
2 whole grain hoagie or hot dog buns
- Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan generously with olive oil or canola cooking spray. Add the sausage links and beer, reduce heat to low, cover skillet and simmer for about 6 minutes.
- While the sausage is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until peppers are tender (about 8 minutes). After the first 4 minutes, add up to 1/2 cup water to the skillet as needed to help cook the vegetables.
- Preheat oven broiler or toaster oven broiler. Split the rolls lengthwise in half; spray the cut sides with olive oil or canola cooking spray. Set under the broiler briefly just to crisp the bread (watch carefully). Cut the sausages lengthwise in half. Layer the pepper and onion mixture and the split links on the roll bottom. Cover with top of the rolls. Cut each roll crosswise in half for easier eating.
Yield: 2 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 321 calories, 18 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 11 g fat, .9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 861 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%.
2 corn tortillas
Canola cooking spray
2 large eggs (use a higher omega-3 brand, if available)
1/2 cup egg substitute
2 links Boca Italian Meatless Sausage (or similar product), partially thawed and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained (or use canned or cooked pinto or kidney beans)
1/4 cup chopped green onions (the white and part of the green)
2 ounces shredded reduced-fat cheese of your choice (sharp cheddar, Jack, or other)
1/4 cup salsa of your choice
1/4 large avocado, thinly sliced
- Coat both sides of a corn tortilla with canola cooking spray; place in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When underside is lightly brown, flip tortilla over to brown other side. Remove from frying pan and repeat with the second corn tortilla. Set the tortillas aside.
- With fork, whisk or electric mixer, beat eggs with egg substitute until well blended.
- Add the meatless Italian sausage chunks to the same frying pan as the tortillas (adding another coat of cooking spray, if needed) and cook over medium-high heat until hot throughout and lightly brown in some areas. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low (if your stove runs hot); pour in the egg mixture and gently stir with the sausage pieces until egg is almost cooked throughout (1 to 2 minutes). Turn off the heat; stir in the black beans and green onions. Sprinkle cheese over the top of the egg mixture. Cover pan and let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes to melt the cheese and blend flavors.
- Place each prepared corn tortilla on a plate. Spoon half of the egg mixture on top of each tortilla, then top with half the salsa and half the avocado slices.
Yield: 2 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 448 calories, 37.4 g protein, 36.4 g carbohydrate, 17 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 233 mg cholesterol, 8.3 g fiber, 1318 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 34%.
Published August 2008.
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; ©2008 Elaine Magee
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.