It’s not that your parents haven’t tried to introduce you to other options. You’ll eat rice and beans, quesadillas, pizza, bananas, goldfish crackers, bananas, raisins, pureed fruit, cereal, and… well, actually, that’s pretty much it.
However, if we gave you macaroni and cheese every single night for dinner, you would never complain or ask for anything else.
What is the proper size portion of meat to eat in a meal? In the documentary Super Size Me, Lisa Young, PhD, RD, CDN and the Professor of Nutrition at New York University explains that the federal government defines 3 ounces of meat as a sensible portion.
I knew a guy who got an app on his iPhone that kept up with exactly how many calories he ate each day, as he wanted to only consume the appropriate amount for his age, weight, and height.
Despite being very careful about his food choices, he reported back to me after a week that he was coming up too high on his sodium count each day. I suggested he only eat meat in one of his daily meals, and that he make sure the portion was no larger than a deck of cards.
He did, and that was the only way for him to consume the proper amount of sodium.
To be clear, I am suggesting that eating meat for more than one meal a day (and/or consuming more than a deck-of-cards-sized portion of meat in that one meal) is adding too much meat (and sodium) into one’s diet. So for those who are crazy enough to follow my logic on this and actually believe that information is true and relevant, I want to explain how vegetarians plan their meals; at least how my wife and I do it.
So for the meals you don’t eat meat, you can remember what you learned here today to build a satisfying and fulfilling meal, sans the meat.
1) Half-veggie, half-whole grains, seasoned with cheese. That is the formula for how we plan our meals. No vegetarian should ever finish eating a meal and still be hungry. That’s why whole grain pasta, bread, and rice (along with beans) are crucial for making a hearty vegetarian meal. Don’t even bother with “white bread,” which leaves you longing for more substance unless you pair it with meat. It’s like eating a Kleenex; virtually no nutrition.
2) Think of your favorite meals that do contain meat, but remove the meat. My wife and I both love lasagna, pasta, and pizza. So we make the healthy version of these foods with whole grain pasta and whole wheat dough. We pack these meals full of veggies, like spinach and zucchini, held together with a little bit of cheese. What’s interesting is that when you use whole grain instead of white noodles or dough, you get fuller quicker on less food.
3) Put together a list of your “heavy rotation” vegetables to serve as your staples. Our list is basically this: spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, cucumbers, avocados, romaine lettuce, green beans, green peppers, celery, okra, and basil (which is actually an herb.) We keep all these veggies stocked every week in our fridge to serve as the “flavor” of our meals, whereas the whole grains are the “substance.” Cheese is the “fun part.”
4) Make a distinction between your main dish and your side dish(es). Much of the time, our side dish is a salad consisting of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and Italian dressing (full of good fats from oils.) Sometimes it’s sauteed spinach with garlic and a little bit of butter. (As you can see, we’re not opposed to a bit of dairy to make things interesting.) Meanwhile, the main dish may be veggie lasagna or bean and rice burritos stuffed with veggies and avocados in a whole wheat wrap.
5) Make sure your meal has some fat in it. If you end up making a meal that doesn’t have cheese in it, make sure you throw in a whole avocado or at least some almonds. At least for me, I got to have some fat in my meal to be full. Again, vegetarian meals shouldn’t leave you hungry. Otherwise, you’re doing something wrong.