When confronting vegetarians, people are often nothing but consistent. In addition to questions about where we get our protein from and if we’re sure we don’t want a bite of a friend’s steak, one of the most common questions is “what do you EAT?” Luckily, America has become much more vegetarian-friendly over the years. Movements such as “Meatless Monday” have started, fast food places now offer better meal options, and with national chains like Wal Mart selling nondairy milk and faux meat items there is often no need to visit a specialty “health food store” to find ingredients for healthy vegetarian meals.
I remember one occasion where my family was cooking some sort of dish with meat or seafood in it when I had a friend over, and she seemed worried about me. “What are you going to eat?” She asked. “I don’t know, probably a sandwich.” The astonishment my response was met with was kind of comical; I don’t think my friend had ever considered the concept of a sandwich without meat, because the next words out of her mouth were: “But what will you put on it?” The truth is, many kinds of sandwiches are safe for vegetarians to eat. Peanut butter (or almond, or cashew, or soynut butter…) and jelly (or fruit preserves, or apple butter, etc.); grilled cheese; tomato, basil, and mozzarella; and egg salad (or, conversely, no-egg salad) are all typical fillings that many people don’t even realize are safe bets for most vegetarians.
Hummus, a chickpea/tahini based spread (true story: I used to completely avoid it because I mixed up the term with haggis, which…if you didn’t know, is not at all vegetarian-friendly), is another great sandwich filling option and is available in many flavors. Try it paired with vegetables like cucumbers, bell peppers, lettuce, sprouts, olives, and a little seasoning such as lemon juice and salt and pepper. Or, you might like a sandwich with avocado, feta cheese, shredded carrots, beans, and some of your favorite vegetables. If you get bored with regular sandwich bread, it’s also fun to vary the types you use. You might consider whole wheat pita pockets, tortilla wraps, bagels, or English muffins. Another popular trend is using lettuce, cabbage, or even kale or collard greens in place of tortilla wraps. You could even try making some spring rolls with rice paper wrappers.
Speaking of spring rolls, consider other ethnic options like kappa maki (cucumber sushi), onigiri (rice balls), a bean burrito, or a quesadilla – simply melt some cheese between two tortillas and toss in some mushrooms or roasted peppers. If you or the person you’re serving is vegan, just replace the cheese with guacamole or use hummus and fresh vegetables.
Most vegetarians enjoy a good burger just like anyone else. They also have just as many—if not more—burger options to choose from: chickpea, black bean, walnut, flax, soy-based, and more. You can serve them on a bun or in a wrap (or make a “burger salad” and skip the bun altogether) with sweet potato fries, grilled asparagus, crudités (carrot sticks, bell peppers, snap peas, etc.) or roasted vegetables on the side.
Another kid-friendly and healthy meal idea I taught my sister is to make English muffin pizzas. All you do is split an English muffin, spread a couple tablespoons of tomato sauce (or replace the sauce with fresh tomato slices) on each half (I also like to add some herbs, like oregano or an Italian mixture), add a couple tablespoons of cheese and some diced vegetables (mushroom, bell pepper, onion, etc.) or even a little pineapple. Then, bake the pizzas at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.
Other family favorites that are or can easily be made vegetarian are a variety of pastas, soups, stuffed peppers, and even “meat”loaf (which is often made with nuts, lentils, or soy protein). Of course, if you’re tired and don’t feel like cooking, it’s easy to throw together a big, leafy salad with all your favorite vegetables and some chickpeas, beans, or tofu for added protein. Next time you visit the grocery store, take some of these ideas into mind and don’t fret if you forget meat on your shopping list.