Nutrition Articles

The Vegetarian Way

Adapting Your Recipes

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The 2005 USDA Food Guide Pyramid favors plant-based proteins (like legumes and nuts), and even recommends fewer servings of meat than before. Research has shown that eating a few meatless meals per week can lower risk of heart disease and may even prolong life. Why? Well, vegetarian meals are usually rich in complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fiber, while low in cholesterol and saturated fat.

The majority of people aren’t vegetarian. But you probably eat like a vegetarian now and again without even thinking about it—your morning toast or oatmeal, a garden salad, pasta, or vegetable stir-frys—even cheese pizza.

Whether you’d like to increase the number of vegetarian meals you eat, or you need to adapt a meat recipe for a vegetarian guest, you can turn your favorite recipes into a vegetarian meal with a few simple changes. Here are a few recipe tips to get you started:

In casseroles, stews, soups, and chili, substitute cooked legumes (like beans and lentils) for the meat. Try kidney beans in chili or stew, red lentils in spaghetti sauce or stuffed cabbage rolls, or refried beans in burritos, tacos, and enchiladas.

In stir-fry dishes, use firm tofu, tempeh, cooked beans, nuts, and sesame seeds in place of meat, poultry, or seafood. Firm tofu and tempeh can even be cubed and skewered as kebobs for grilling. Try scrambled tofu for breakfast. Marinated tofu, sliced thin, makes a delicious sandwich.

Prepare pasta sauces, pizza toppings, soups, stews, and other mixed dishes as you always do. However skip the meat and add more chopped vegetables. If you eat dairy products, sprinkle cheese on top for more protein and calcium.

Meat "analogs" are soy protein products that mimic different types of meat. Try vegetarian patties, bacon, and sausages at breakfast, pepperoni on pizza, burgers, "chicken" nuggets and patties—even barbecue ribs! Textured soy protein is often sold in a granular form. This works perfect in casseroles, soups, stews, lasagna, chili, enchiladas, and other mixed dishes.

Vegans take vegetarianism to the next level. They omit all animal products—including eggs, milk, and dairy products. Vegan dishes can make a healthy addition to your diet as well. Here’s how to adapt:

Eggs have many functions in a recipe. They can be used to thicken a recipe, bind ingredients together, coat breaded food items, or produce a baked product with a light tender texture. Without eggs, the quality of the food product often changes. Experiment with one of the following substitutions, but know that the results may differ.

  • 1 mashed banana in breads, muffins, or pancakes
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot to thicken a product
  • 1/4 cup silken tofu (blend tofu with the liquid ingredients until smooth, then add it to the dry ingredients)
  • Vegan egg replacement products
Try tofu, soymilk, soy cheese, and soy yogurt in recipes that call for dairy products. Crumbled tofu can take the place of ricotta cheese in lasagna. To make buttermilk, mix 1 cup soy milk with 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Use soymilk when making puddings and mashed potatoes. Enjoy a thick, creamy fruit smoothie for breakfast or a snack. You can also blend the fruit with soft tofu, soymilk or juice.

When cooking for a vegan, read labels carefully. Not all soy-based products are devoid of milk derivatives (like casein, whey, etc). Some companies save you time by printing the word "Vegan" at the very beginning or end of the ingredients list. The same goes for vegetarians. Don’t assume the can of vegetable soup is vegetarian—many dishes like this have beef, chicken, or fish-based broths.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I can be a vegetarian for at least three days out the week. I can do without meat. Great article. - 8/14/2013 4:08:00 PM
  • IEREQUEEN
    I think your articles are all very informative and I continue to learn more about better Heath each day

    Thank you! - 12/17/2011 5:53:27 PM
  • IEREQUEEN
    I've been raw vegan for 8 month now, I eat a very balanced diet w/ out legumes or grains. I get the necessary B-12 from nutritional yeast. I also eat a good deal of fermented foods and love kumbacha which I make at home. I lost 27 lbs since and all my labs have been stable. Prior to this change, I weighed 161 lbs, had high blood pressure and high glucose.

    - 12/17/2011 5:50:26 PM
  • I enjoyed learning from this article that a bannana can be substituted for the egg in pancakes. I am familar with the egg substitute which is rather costly still it works well in recipes and the tofu too another costly item still works well and tofu is delicious to me. I am well over the desire or need to taste so it suits me just fine. Now I am going to experiment with the bannana in pancakes. - 3/2/2011 11:25:21 AM
  • I'll second CIRCUSRD's comment- I think that it's important to be able to back up any claims of scientific findings with credible peer-reviewed research. I understand that a lot of people have concerns reagrding genetically modified food products and processed foods, and I don't intend in any way to minimize or brush off those concerns, but a lot of the discussion happening out there is based on a shaky scientific foundation, or none at all. Soy is high in phyto-estrogens, but there is no hard evidence to show that any one plant variety (i.e. GM, non-GM, Eastern or Western cultivars) is substantially higher than another. Worth noting too that soybean actually contain fewer phytosterols by weight than flaxseed (see the following study from my home and native land: http://www.ncbi.n
    lm.nih.gov/pu
    bmed/16898863.

    Becky Hand did another article on The Science Behind Soy (http://www.spark
    people.com/re
    source/nutrit
    ion_articles.asp?id=732) which I think it very balanced and informative, if folks are keen on more information on this specific issue.

    And now, what I actually came here to contribute:
    Flaxseed also makes a great egg substitute. To replace one (1) egg, mix 1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal with 3 tbsp water and allow to sit 10-15 minutes until it has a gelatinous (i.e. egg-yolk-like) consistency.

    - 2/28/2011 11:42:08 AM
  • I have been a vegetarian for 17 years and am just begin to dabble in veganism. I only disagreed with one thing I read and 1 other thing I felt like I needed to comment on. First, I have tried to make pudding with soy milk before and it doesn't work. It doesn't thicken up like it does when made with real milk...it just stays all liquidy. Second, soy based faux meat products are not the "god send" I used to think they were. Soy has a lot of estrogen and if consumed too regularly can cause problems for men and women alike. I am not going to touch on what those problems are as I am not an article writer...just thought it should be mentioned for future thought. I am simply working on making complete proteins at every meal possible. Mixing a protein (like nuts or legumes) with a complex carbohydrate may be old school, but it still does a body good. - 2/28/2011 7:25:36 AM
  • CIRCUSRD
    First off I would like to say that one should always site "articles" if you are going to project scientific based research on these forum for two reasons - 1) to prevent the spread of non peer reviewed faulty research 2) to really help others benefit from reading comment posts. When an research article is peer reviewed it means it is reviewed by a group of professionals without bias to whether the research is well founded according to sample size, outcome values, etc.
    As for the content of the article, I agree there are may great ideas as to meat alternatives if needed. - 2/27/2011 8:58:31 PM
  • I agree with much of what is being said here. It seems that people are always looking for the easy way out with processed foods. Why eat like that? Sure, tofu is good once in awhile but does it have to become your new "meat" and show up at every meal. Some processing can be very helpful, like canned beans for example, and I do use them. I feel that the less processed anything is the better. I would rather grab a can of beans though from the store if I am in a rush, than a package of tofu. The sodium reduction itself is huge. The easiest meal I make is a can of chickpeas, onion, garlic, curry powder, chopped fresh tomatoes and a bit of water to give it some liquid. Mix that all up and serve with some brown rice...Take about 15 minutes to make and I am ready to go. - 2/27/2011 6:25:37 PM
  • I dont know - I dont have a probelm with eating more vegetables but I m with a lot of you I dont want to eat some roundup laced frankenfood. I feel like maybe I should go hunting some time and get some truly healthy meat. - 2/27/2011 2:50:49 PM
  • I notice that the article claims that meat analogs are made of soy. Not necessarily so. Seitan, the meat analog most commonly found in Chinese restaurants, is made of wheat gluten. I know of at least two celiacs who've gotten into trouble because they didn't know that. - 2/27/2011 12:14:36 PM
  • SAMSUETWO
    I agree with MSCHOCOLATSANTE. I also would like to point out that if you have thyroid issues stay away from unfermented soy products. they are bad for you not to mention that over 90% of soy in the country is GMO and spray with Roundup weed killer. Do people really believe this is not getting into the plant? I fpor one do not want to be a "labratory test animal" and avoid all soy products and a lot of my stomach issues have disappeared. When I do have products containing soy products such as soybean oil or soy protein I get severe indigestion. You don't have to take my word for it just go off soy for a month or two and see for yourself. then when you have soy your body will let you know it is not good for you!!!
    - 2/27/2011 11:57:52 AM
  • Lizzabaker: I really like your comment as this is something I have experienced myself; meat analogs are usually filled with super stimulants like salt and sugars that makes you prone to cravings; its better to develop new palate.

    Tibbytoes; Indeed, genetically modified soy is hazardous to the hormonal system. The reason for that is that GMO food have been engineered so that the plant cant reproduce itself. This is done by altering the plant sex chromosomes. Since soy has lots of phyto-estrogen, it can impact women's hormonal cycle and it is usually recommended to avoid soy products when trying to conceive. For that very reason, and because GMO sterilized soy impact is not well known and documented, I prefer the "lets be safe rather than sorry" approach and skip GMO soy products completely. - 2/27/2011 11:43:14 AM
  • TIBBYTOES
    This is an interesting and helpful article!
    I'm just curious.....I've heard from some medical professionals that soy can act as a very potent birth control agent and potential sterilizer....som
    ething I would want to have nothing to do with. Anyone else heard anything like that? - 2/27/2011 11:23:39 AM
  • LIZABAKER
    My daughter & I plan to go vegetarian for Lent, so this was a timely reminder! I have to comment, though, that to me, it's more important to eat whole, close to the source foods - meat analogs are so processed that one might as well eat meat. It also seems that if you're trying to replace meat with meat analogs, you're not moving away from eating meat - it's like replacing soda with diet soda: you're not training your palate away from the sweetness, so that craving will remain. - 2/27/2011 9:39:15 AM
  • I've been a vegetarian for about 30 years. A thoroughly rude person once said to me "I thought all vegetarians were thin!"

    But the best comment came from a friend of mine who was a vegan and a young 20 something. "You can drink vodka and eat cool whip and be a vegan -- doesn't automatically make you healthy!" - 2/27/2011 6:22:43 AM

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