So you're new to the whole vegetarian lifestyle and wondering what you need to do to make sure you and your family are getting the nutrients you need, what you're going to eat in place of the former beef/chicken/fish entree, and how you're not going to get bored with all those vegetables.
There are 8 simple rules (well, maybe they're more like guidelines) to follow in order to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet.
Cook the majority of your meals at home, from scratch. That means breaking out the old cookbooks moldering away on the top shelf of the pantryâ€¦or going online and looking for some really good vegetarian recipes. When you cook at home, you are in charge of what goes into your food. There's no trying to decipher a nutrition label or ingredients list, no chemical additives and preservatives, and no hidden animal products you might not have been aware were in your food.
Pick the most flavorful recipes you can find and don't bother with the rest. If the recipe looks like green and brown glop on a plate and tastes like dirt, no one will want to eat it, no matter how healthy it supposedly is. Don't be afraid of your spice rack. And while you're getting reacquainted with said spice rack, consider buying your spices from now on in small amounts in bulk â€“ they are far more aromatic and flavorful fresh than if they have been sitting in a jar in the back of your cupboard for the better part of a decade. If you buy them whole and grind them yourself with a mortar and pestle, so much the better!
Don't eat the same meal twice in one month. Experiment with a variety of cuisines â€“
African, Asian, French, Indian, Latin, Mediterranean, you name it. You will not get bored if you are constantly trying out new recipes and adding them to your favorites. Make yourself a brand-new cookbook. Get a three-ring binder and some sheet protectors, and when you find a new recipe that you like, print it out and put it in the binder. You should end up with quite a large collection. Boredom is not an option.
Get acquainted with the common sources of protein in the vegetarian diet, and make use of all of them. Beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and grain substitutes such as amaranth, millet, quinoa, and teffâ€¦not to mention those twin soybean products, tofu and tempeh. If you intend to be a lacto-ovo vegetarian (giving up animal flesh only), you will have eggs and dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt, to provide you with protein as well.
Eat healthy carbohydrates. Introduce whole grain pastas and brown rice, and whole grain breads and cereals into your cooking. Experiment with other whole grains such as barley, bulgur, or spelt (often sold as Farro) in place of rice. Whole grains are much chewier, heartier, and more flavorful then their refined counterparts. They keep you full longer than their enriched brethren, which helps to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes. This reduces your risk of developing diabetes.
Eat a rainbow of produce to get the widest variety of vitamins and minerals. Deep reds and oranges, bright yellows, bright and dark leafy greens, deep blues and purples. Gone are the days of iceberg lettuce, pickled beets, and a dry, mealy tomato wedge drowned in Thousand Island dressing being considered "salad." Hit the farmer's market for heirloom tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers and Swiss chard, strawberries and new red potatoes, raspberries and watermelon, apricots and oranges, mangoes and starfruit, bananas and peaches, corn and cauliflower, asparagus and broccoli, avocadoes and summer squash, eggplant and plums, blackberries and blueberriesâ€¦the list could (and does) on and on and on.
Make sure you get enough fat. WHAT? Yes, make sure you get enough fat. The healthy kind, that is. Limit your use of saturated fats (present in dairy products) and avoid trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils) altogether. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian and you cook with butter, cut the butter in your recipes in half. Replace half of it with a healthier fat such as canola or olive oil â€“ you'll still have that buttery flavor with half the saturated fat. Use low- or non-fat dairy products. But do not deprive yourself of all fat â€“ your body needs fat just like it needs protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Take a high-quality multivitamin. Even with the best of intentions, none of us eat the way we should every single day. A good multivitamin will help bridge any nutritional gaps that might occur from time to time. If you are planning to eliminate all animal products â€“ in other words, become vegan â€“ you will need to take a Vitamin B12 supplement. B12 occurs naturally only in animal products, so if you eliminate all animal products, you will eliminate all sources of this vitamin.