It’s funny; in today’s culture, we all want and seek quick fixes but big problems. How many times have you’ve heard of someone who wants to lose weight fast but yet they aren’t entirely willing to go the distance and get discouraged to find that really there’s no quick fix. When it comes to losing weight, and maintaining your weight after you’ve lost it, there IS a quick fix – vegetarianism. Oh, I know, the eye-rolls, the sighs, the thought of PETA and hippies trying to lecture you on the feelings of animals. Let’s skip that.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been dishing out the basics on vegetarianism. Let’s just say it gets a bad rep. People think that being a vegetarian isn’t all that much fun. They think all you have to eat is, well, vegetables. Bland, tasteless, raw vegetables. Who wants to eat that when there’s a world of great smelling, tasty, fatty meats and chemical-laden syrups and chemical experiments?
Well, I already covered how a vegetarian can tackle breakfast. There’s of course two other main meals of the day, not to mention the necessary re-fueling snacks to keep you going throughout the day. So, what’s lunch and dinner like for a vegetarian? Pretty boring? Not so. I found that becoming a vegetarian actually requires you to put MORE thought into what you eat, how you prepare it and what you’re eating. You see, the great thing about being vegetarian is that you should be eating healthier. You should be using more whole foods, natural foods, real foods instead of boxed, processed, “fake” foods.
Lunch actually starts long before mid-day. Here’s the issue with most people’s lunches: it’s their first meal of the day! Yes, people think breakfast is unnecessary or that they’re too pressed for time to indulge. So, lunch becomes the first meal of the day and people think that’s ok. They think it’s their time to indulge and go overboard because they, they haven’t eaten all day! Wrong. You’re wrecking yourself by skipping breakfast and I wrote an entire post about breakfast and how to tackle it when you’re ditching meat for vegetables.
So, the first step in how to lunch as a vegetarian is to eat breakfast. Why? You’ll have food in your system and so lunch will be just another meal. If you’ve starved yourself all day until your lunch break, you’re likely to give into all your cravings and temptations. This means when you’re going out, McDonald’s and tons of other fast food options will look mighty desirable. If you are eating on a regular schedule throughout the day, not only will you feel satisfied and fuller through the day but you’ll rev up your metabolism and will burn more calories (and fat) throughout the day. Seems easy enough, doesn’t it?
People really underestimate the power of snacking. Snacking isn’t just for kids and grazing isn’t just for cows. Snacking is a fun break from the vegetables you should be eating during the main three meals of the day. This is when you may want to go for some healthy fats: avocados, nuts, olive oils. All of these fats will help you to feel fuller, contain essential vitamins and minerals, and fibers. Basically, you could easily snack and include fats in your diet and really not get fat by eating them! The problem with many freshman vegetarians is that they are scared of fats and deny themselves to the point of failure. Treat yourself with healthy snacks throughout the day like peanut butter, raw nuts, air-popped pop corn, carrot sticks and fruit and you’ll feel fuller throughout the day and wont go overboard at lunch or dinner.
If you’ve eaten breakfast and have snacked throughout the morning and early afternoon, lunch shouldn’t feel intimidating or that much of an ordeal. Have fun at lunch but don’t think you need to completely let loose to feel full. First, avoid fast food. Even these salads sold at places like Wendy’s at McDonalds can be calorie and waistline bombs. So, fix your own lunches. Salads seem like the go-to choice for vegetarians, which is fine. Buy romaine lettuce, mix in a variety of other green leafy vegetables such as spinach, add some raw nuts or sesame seeds and toss in some vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and broccoli and voila, you’ve got yourself a healthy, huge, low calorie lunch. Make your own salad dressing by mixing a little olive oil with any variety of vinaigrette to spare yourself the fat that’s packed into dressings like ranch.
There are of course other options for lunch. Try soups. The content is mostly water and it allows for you to enjoy some vegetables and a little pasta without over indulging. Another option could be the go-to meal of a veggie burger, but honestly, I’d avoid the veggie burger and save it for dinner. You can also keep healthy by having a peanut butter (all natural) sandwich coupled with a piece of fruit. My biggest tip for lunching as a vegetarian is to stop thinking of it as a meal that needs to be huge. It doesn’t have to be a large meal, it doesn’t need to be loaded with calories or fat, it doesn’t need to be complex or 3-courses. Think of lunch as a pit stop of the day. Breakfast is the starting line and lunch is when you stop to re-gas and get your tires checked up.
What happens after lunch? Again, keep lunch small and manageable and just as you should go into lunch having eaten a snack, you need to follow lunch with a snack before dinner. Snacking isn’t at all about indulging your cravings or your sweet tooth; snacking is about helping you to feel full so not to overcompensate or over eat at any given meal. So, again, fruit, nuts, peanut butter or even a healthy (note, healthy) smoothie is a great choice.
For me, dinner is the time to be a little indulgent. Breakfast through lunch you’ve eaten wisely and modestly. You’ve hopefully chosen meals and snacks that aren’t packed with calories or fat. For most people, dinner is the meal that comes with the most calories and fat. Earlier I suggested staying away from things like veggie burgers until you get to dinner. That’s because you should train yourself not to feel like every meal has to be big, huge and elaborate. If you start thinking of your meals as refueling opportunities to help sustain you rather than simple “meals” when you eat “just because”, you’ll start eating healthier and will choose your meals wisely.
So, are vegetables the only thing left for a vegetarian dinner? Yes and no. The key to going vegetarian and maintaining it is all in the spices. Think about it. When you eat meat, what’s so appealing about it? Could you eat chicken prepared the same way for weeks on end without getting bored? No, you’d vary it up – you’d bake it, fry it, grill it. You’d marinate it, saute it, season it. Think of your vegetables in the same way. Vegetables are very versatile and will take to seasonings very well. Crave Mexican food? Look up recipes for Mexican (or Chinese, Italian, Indian) and what ingredients will go into your favorite dishes and simply use vegetables as the “meat” of the dish. Mushrooms are very versatile but don’t count out some less common vegetables: daikon, leeks, sweet potatoes, green onions and even fruits can all provide a burst of color and flavor to your dishes.
Unlike breakfast or lunch, dinner is when you can include a couple courses in your meal. Whole grains and whole wheats are good at dinner. Some recommend saving your carbs for dinner, which means you could pair your vegetables with pastas (again, whole wheat, none of that unhealthy white stuff). You’ll also want some fiber during your dinner – eat lentils and beans! These will help you maintain a healthy GI tract and will help your body to naturally flush out toxins and waste. Along with fiber comes protein and that’s when things like veggie burgers come in handy. I’d recommend checking out Morningstar Farms’ product line. They offer “veggie” options of some of your favorite meats – burgers, chik’n, turk’y … you’ll honestly grow so used to these healthy options that you’ll feel like you’re still eating meat. Check out Smart Options as well – they offer protein links (veggie hot dogs) and vegetarian versions of lunch meats, bbq and more. There are a host of other brands that also have produced healthy vegetarian-friendly versions of meats that come with less fats, fewer calories but increased fiber and protein.
So, what’s a vegetarian dinner look like? Well, it can be small or it can include more than one dish. You want variety here – a vegetarian “meat” option like a veggie burger, chik’n patty or turk’y; whole grains and wheat (pastas, bread); vegetables (beans, leafy greens, peppers, onions etc.). If you’ve eaten wisely throughout the day as you should you shouldn’t have the desire or need to go overboard at dinner. One serving of each should do it for you. Still hungry after dinner? SNACK. I cannot say it enough how important snacking is to eating wisely. Great late-night snacks include nuts, a mashed up avocado paired with whole grain chips, air-popped pop corn and for non-vegans, yogurt. Of course, a piece of fruit wouldn’t hurt you either.