Since becoming a vegetarian in August, I’ve had many people ask me just what, exactly, I eat. And, honestly, I have a hard time answering this question. How do you answer that? Usually I go with, “Food!” or “Everything else!” and then sort of laugh it off. But what I’ve started to realize is that even after several months of no meat, I still have a hard time thinking of a meal without it being centered around a meat dish.
As a case study, here is what I bought this week at the store. Keep in mind that my fridge was basically empty after being gone for almost an entire week for the holidays. On hand I already had oatmeal, quinoa, canned pumpkin, frozen fruit, black and red beans, and some frozen veggies.
So, what did I buy?
I started in the produce section because that is now the center of my shopping. I grabbed a bunch (literally one bunch—not “a lot”) of kale, oranges and bananas for green smoothies. I’m trying my hand at humus, so I also got garlic, tahini, garbanzo beans and white wine vinegar. Additionally, I picked up some sweet potatoes (both to bake and for sweet potato fries), baby carrots, grapes and zucchini. The carrots and grapes I’ll just munch on for snacks, and the zucchini will be sautéed in some butter with a tad of salt on them for a nice warm dish.
On my way through the aisles I got some tortilla wraps, which I’ll use to make burritos with some quinoa, black beans, frozen veggies and avocado. Yum! I also picked up some Melba Snacks for the humus. I’ve never tried them before, but I wanted an option other than carrots to dip in the dip. Har har.
I also added to my cart Larabars (On sale, woohoo! If they hadn’t been, I probably would have either skipped or picked a less expensive option.), dried cranberries to add to my oatmeal for breakfasts and Ranch dressing to dip sweet potato fries. Where everyone else uses ketchup, I use Ranch.
Then on to the chilly section: soy milk for coffee and oatmeal, orange juice for breakfast, cottage cheese just for fun and Greek yogurt. Oh my god, I use Greek yogurt on everything! This week they will go on burritos and in smoothies with the canned pumpkin. It sounds weird, but add a large dash of milk and half a scoop of protein powder and they are a delicious way to recharge after a workout.
So that’s it. That’s what I’ll eat.
Before you get all excited about proteins and *gasp* complete proteins, I’d like to add that I eat several eggs each week, bought from a coworker with her own chickens. Even without the eggs, that’s not quite true—the yogurt and cottage cheese each have 10+ grams of protein per serving. Quinoa has more than 8 grams of complete protein per cup of cooked (one of the few plant products that isn’t missing one of the essential amino acids). Once you add in the beans, soy milk and proteins that come from all those amazing fruits and veggies, I’m brimming with healthy proteins that give me all the energy I need to be a moderately active adult.
And finally, what does a “normal” day look like?
For breakfast, I usually have oatmeal with some dried fruit, a splash of milk or soy milk, a spoonful of brown sugar and dash of cinnamon. If I have orange juice on hand, I have a glass. If not, just water. Then coffee at the office with cream and sugar.
I pack a lunch of a green smoothie, then one more fruit or veggie on the side (grapes, carrots or an apple are common), and either a granola bar or some type of nuts. When I get home, I eat whatever I didn’t finish from my lunch before working out, then have a hot meal for dinner. Tonight it was a burrito. Tomorrow it might be sweet potato fries or the zucchini. Depending on how hungry I am, I might have an apple with peanut butter after that or another snack like some crackers or a granola bar. I have quite a sweet tooth, but if I indulge in a cup of hot chocolate in the winter or bowl of ice cream in the summer, I’m less likely to over-indulge on something else.
One thing that works well for me about being vegetarian is that I’m a grazer . If I try to eat three large meals each day, I get hungry and crabby between them. I’m much more likely to eat five or six small meals or eat something slowly, like a smoothie, over the course of an hour while I work.
I’d also like to note that no, this isn’t perfect. I’m not eating all local or all organic, and I will most certainly drink a soda or two from the office vending machine each week. I still end up with processed foods in the house, and I happily partake in lunches out or drinks after work. But I don’t want to be perfect. I just want to keep learning more about my body and what makes it work best. I hope I never stop changing and adjusting what I eat. As I grow older, different foods appeal to me more and less, and I like to wonder why and then figure out how to make those changes work in my favor.