I have a guest blog post coming out on the Feed Our Family blog this week, and as a tie-in, I thought I'd talk a bit about being vegetarian, give some tips to those who might be considering a meatless or meat-less (less meat, even) lifestyle.
The question I most often get when people find out that our whole family is vegetarian is something along the lines of "where do you get your protein from?" (followed closely by "What do you eat?" and "You mean no bacon ever?")
So here are some ideas from my pantry, foods we keep around at all times and that can be combined in many ways to make healthy and yummy meals. Oh, and a quick hint - protein comes in all kinds of foods. Did you know that even fruits and vegetables have protein? Not nearly as much as a chicken breast, but little bits here and there can add up.
First up - the rices. Lower right is brown rice. This must be part of your vegetarian diet, as brown rice is much better for you than plain white rice. However, if your children are anything like mine, they may not prefer the brown rice flavor (there's a nutty/smokiness to it that is stronger than plain white rice.) I prefer this brand of "calrose" rice for our white rice, as it tends to stick together pretty well. I use a rice cooker exclusively for cooking these kinds of rice and I find I can do half brown rice and half white rice.
Near the back is a bag of arborio rice, which is what you use to make risotto, one of the easiest impressive itallian dishes you can make, and a great "these vegetables are going to rot in a few days, gotta use them up" dish.
Protein you say? Black beans and lentils are *excellent* sources of protein. I find that I can cook with black beans at least 2-3 times a week. Lentils even more often, as they're a favorite of my ours, though to be fair my kids don't much care for lentils. But the youngest (age 7) will take a cheesy bean burrito to lunch. It's just black beans + a shredded mexican 4 cheese blend rolled in a tortilla and wrapped in paper towel. She microwaves it for 20 seconds at school. If you haven't cooked with lentils yet, you definitely need to try. One of our favorite recipes of all time comes from The Six O'Clock Scramble - the cheesy lentil casserole. You need to consider subscribing to Aviva's newsletter for that recipe alone. (If you do, tell her I sent you or contact me and I can get you a trial coupon!)
I could and probably should make my own veg broth (and I have done so before, it's the same concept as meat-based broth but you just put all the vegetable clippings and extras - broccoli stems, the leafy parts of celery - into a pot, cover with water, and cook til you feel like it's done) but most of the time I don't so I rely on two sizes of vegetable broth - the 32oz package or the smaller can. While we do eat dairy and eggs in our house, and even the occasional fish, I draw the line at chicken broth. Some vegetarians don't, we do.
Canned sweet potatoes (and pumpkin) can be a good way to add some color and nutrients to a soup, witha a lot less involvement. I also have a killer pumpkin cookie recipe from a friend! I also use a *lot* of tomatoes in recipes (easily 4-5x/week) so I rely on canned tomatoes. I read a review of canned tomato products recently and it put my preferred brand down the list quite a ways. The Trader Joe's brand of tomatoes in the blister pack (or whatever it's called - like the tall veg broth from the last image) supposedly tasted the best. I've heard bad things about cans and tomatoes and it's one of those things that I honestly can't give brain space to - too many things competing for that part of my head. I'm going to use canned tomatoes because of the convenience (and truthfully fresh tomatoes are only good for the 6 weeks they're in season!) and try not to pay too close attention otherwise. ;) Sometimes I get Enviro-green-crunchy fatigue and just want to buy a disposable water bottle filled with processed water from some treatment plant somewhere and then cavalierly throw it in the garbage can! But most days I don't....
Freeze-dried fruits, dried fruits, and nuts are good to have on hand for any pantry, not only a vegetarian one. I really like this brand/style nuts - so crunchy and salty, but I also buy a lot of bulk nuts from the grocery store (not from the baking aisle, where they are very expensive, but up front by the produce) and use them in a variety of ways. Chopped walnuts on salads, slivered almonds with pasta/garlic/oil, pine nuts in pesto. Yum. One of my most favorite lunches is a big salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, lots of veggies, and goat cheese, with a really thorough dousing of balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!
So I've showed you mine - what's in your pantry? You'll note I didn't even touch on the refrigerator...greek yogurt and eighteen kinds of cheese and eggs (hard boiled and not) and tons of vegetables, jams and jellies, salad dressings, yum yum. Another post for another time!