12/3/09

Vegetarian meal planning

I think the biggest fear for soon-to-be athlete vegetarians, or people seeking a semi-vegetarian eating routine, is the worry about getting enough protein. One of the main reasons people turn to vegetarianism is the desire to add more fruits, veggies and non-meat protein in the diet, in replacement for higher calorie and fat foods. However, I find that many people quit the meat-free lifestyle just when they are learning to enjoy the addition of fruits, veggies and non-meat protein because they are constantly hungry.
First off, when a large amount of calories are cut out from the diet, it is likely that you will feel hungry and your body will ask for more food. The trick to eating vegetarian is to well, eat more vegetarian-friendly food.
Now, just because a food doesn't have meat in it, doesn't mean that you can eat as much as you want of it. For a good part of my vegetarian life, I lived off cheese, cheese and more cheese. Cheese on anything and everything because I don't eat meat. However, that was super unhealthy and I'm glad I learned to appreciate the value of fruits, veggies and vegetarian protein.
I think the first part of being a vegetarian is to learn to enjoy fruits and veggies. Although beans and rice are great complementary proteins for a vegetarian, you will likely fill up on a salad with less calories than filling up on a big portion beans and rice. But, if you are only eating salads, you are likely to feel hungry an hour or so after your meal.
If you are thinking about a more vegetarian-friendly eating routine, I don't recommend eating only fruits and veggies for all meals and snacks. Obviously, you need some quality protein with a high biological value to repair damaged tissues after a workout. But then again, who says you can't fill up on veggies?
There are many nights during the week where Karel and I will have a huge salad for dinner. But this isn't the typical $5 side salad at a restaurant that is filled with iceberg lettuce, a few baby tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, bacon bits and croutons..and a side of fat-free dressing. I'll be honest, the first few weeks (or months) of eating vegetarian are tough because you are learning how to prepare balanced meals and feel satisfied after the meal. For many people, it is really easy to fill up on a huge salad and then feel starved 1 hour later and then justify your "saved" calories by eating a high calorie desert.

In order to feel satisfied at my meal and not feel starved an hour later, I love dressing up my salads with nuts, fruits and an assortment of veggies. But with my salad I always have protein and healthy fats.
For our meal last night I wanted to create a meal that any vegetarian or non-vegetarian would enjoy without feeling like they are in veggie-overload.
The majority of my plate is my salad. In my salad (which I made a huge salad for other meals in the week) I have:
cucumbers
chives
hard boiled egg whites (w/ 1/2 yoke)
trail mix (nuts, soy nuts, raisins)
tomatoes
celery
romaine lettuce
carrots
I topped my salad w/ salsa and a little shredded cheese

For my sides:
Chickpeas, beans, mushrooms and onions - cooked in 1/2 tbsp olive oil and seasoned with pepper and 1 tsp of horseradish

Long grain rice - cooked in the microwave WITHOUT the seasoning packet in the box. I added my own seasonings of cayenne, pepper and no salt garlic and herb.

Tofu - 1/2 block firm tofu cut in cubes, cooked in 2 tsp olive oil and seasoned with paprika

Protein and carb content of higher protein foods in the meal:
(I am not a high-calorie eater so the portions I listed are likely to be small compared to Karel or other individuals...thus, with bigger portions you will eat more protein, carbs and calories)

1 Hard boiled egg white - 3.6g protein, .2g carb
4 medium Mushrooms - 2.2g protein, 2.4g carb
1/4 cup long grain rice - 1.3g protein, 11.2g carb
1/4 cup black beans - 3.8g protein, 10.2g carb
1/4 cup chickpeas - 3g protein, 13.6g carb
1/4 block tofu - 6.6g protein, 1.4g carb
5 slices tomato - 1.2g protein, 5.3g carb
3 baby carrots - 2.5g protein
.5 oz trail mix - 3g protein, 5.5g carb
Total: 27.2g protein

Compared to 1 can tuna: 28.8g protein

Although I haven't had a fish or animal protein in almost 16 years I think I would enjoy my selection of foods to feel satisfied at my meal compared to 1 can of tuna. Don't forget your water! For me, no meal is complete without my 20 ounce water bottle (filled with water) at every meal. Even Karel is satisfied after our meals...and that's saying a lot for someone who loves to eat! I am still wondering where that food goes after he eats. :) He is a lean machine.
Although I have spent 16 years learning to live a balanced and healthy life, spend a few days swapping out our higher calorie and fat foods for more fruits, veggies and non-meat protein and see if you can find enjoyment of eating less calories and still feeling satisfied at your meal.

What's your favorite non-meat protein or vegetarian dish?