WASHINGTON – Five percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarian, and according to a Gallup study, single people are more likely to be vegetarian than those who are married.
Following a strict diet — whether gluten-free, nut-free or meat-free — can be difficult when sharing a kitchen, a grocery list and meal times with a partner. And one of the biggest struggles between couples or roommates who maintain different diets is finding new and healthy recipes that both parties enjoy.
But there’s good news for the 15 million vegetarian Americans: You can stay dedicated to your diet and keep others in your home happy with creative vegetarian recipes and a little planning.
A plant-based diet, when done correctly, can help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, certain cancers and diabetes, according to Brown University.
But like everyone else, vegetarians need to make sure they’re not missing out on key nutrients.
Common deficiencies in a vegetarian diet include iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12, according to the National Institutes of Health. Here is how you can achieve a proper nutrient balance for you and your family when serving vegetarian meals:
Iron: Some vegetarian sources of iron include iron-fortified breads and cereals, dark green vegetables, pumpkin and sesame seeds, to name a few. It also helps to consume sources of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, which help with iron absorption. Tip: Serve a spinach salad with dinner and use orange juice as part of a homemade dressing.
Zinc: Common sources of zinc can be found in chickpeas and kidney beans, as well as wheat germ. Tip: Try adding wheat germ to your breakfast smoothies or oatmeal. You won’t even notice it!
Calcium: Aside from dairy, calcium can be found in dark leafy greens and fortified cereals or juices. Tip: Have one serving of low-fat dairy each day.
Vitamin B12: If you eat dairy and eggs, you will have no problem getting enough B12 in your diet. Tip: Use eggs as your main source of protein for dinner. Try quiches or frittatas.
You don’t have to go all-veg to benefit from a vegetarian lifestyle. Incorporating a few plant-based recipes in your weekly routine is enough to give your diet a healthy boost.
Here are some vegetarian recipe ideas even the biggest meat-eaters will love.
Mushroom, Spinach and Pecan Quiche
Not only is this egg-based recipe so easy to make, the mix-ins are endless. I love the addition of pecans, which add great texture and healthy fats.
Quinoa is a complete source of protein and it provides an excellent carbohydrate base for salads or stir-fry. Make a batch on the weekend and stir in different ingredients throughout the week. This Mediterranean quinoa salad from Fannetastic Food is a favorite of mine.
Chickpea Coconut Curry
I absolutely love the unique flavor of this dish, which uses coconut milk, curry powder and garlic. And while it’s filling on its own, thanks to the chickpeas, you can also add in some chicken for your meat-eating family members — like I did in this blog post. Tofu would also make a great addition. Meals like this make a nice base for the whole family, and you can customize it as you wish.
Spaghetti squash is a great alternative to pasta — only it’s better. It’s full of vitamins and lower in carbohydrates, and when topped with sauce, it’s hard to tell the difference between traditional spaghetti and spaghetti squash. To bulk up this dish with protein, toss in some veggie protein crumbles or black beans.
Homemade Veggie Burgers
Veggie burgers are fun to make and are customizable for all family members. Making them at home avoids added preservatives and artificial flavors. I love this tutorial on how to make these burgers ahead of time and freeze them for future use.
Vegetarians and meat-eaters can agree that pizza night is a family favorite! Forgo the sausage and pepperoni and try these veggie favorites: broccoli, mushrooms, pesto and arugula.
I tried this recipe — substituting cauliflower for rice — last week and loved the flavor. I used it as a base in my homemade burrito bowls, and topped it with beans, avocados and salsa. Serve the bowl with a side of tortilla chips.
Eggplant is a great way to get to enjoy an Italian vegetarian meal. Eggplant lasagna, Parmesan, or in this case, rollatini, still incorporate all the Italian flavors without meat.
Remember: Going vegetarian can be unhealthy if done incorrectly. Cutting out meat, alone, is not the answer to losing weight or reducing your risk of disease. It helps to meet with a nutrition expert to help achieve balance for you and your family.
Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates and serves on the board for the DC Metro Area Dietetic Association. Kait focuses on individualizing her recommendations to have each client see results and live a healthier, more productive life, and she works to help people enjoy food and eat the foods they love. Kait lives in the D.C. area and loves trying new restaurants and activities around the city. Visit Kait’s blog, Rebel Dietitian, and tweet her @Rebel_Dietitian for recipes, nutrition tips and activities in the Washington area.