In this new year you might be making some changes to improve your family finances and health. One change that will fit the bill for both is to think about having family vegetarian meals at least occasionally, and prepped from home to save money and improve nutrition.

Try vegetarian menus - one meal at a time

Image Vegetarian Meal Table Image Vegetarian Meal Table Image Vegetarian Meal Table

In this new year you might be making some changes to improve your family finances and health. One change that will fit the bill for both is to think about having family vegetarian meals at least occasionally, and prepped from home to save money and improve nutrition.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also notes that it is much cheaper in use of fuel, water and land to raise kidney beans and other vegetable sources of protein than beef. And studies show that vegetarians have lower rates of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

There are different levels of being a vegetarian. You might omit or avoid dairy and/or eggs, or avoid animal products completely.

Where can you obtain protein to meet your daily protein needs without reverting back to animal sources? Here are a few good protein options:

  • Nuts and nut butters – peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc.
  • Dried beans and peas: great northern, kidney, black, white, chick peas and hummus, lentils, etc.
  • Quinoa
  • Soy products - tofu, edamame, tempeh, soy milk and soy milk cheeses

Round out meals with a variety of foods to ensure nutritional balance. Add:

  • Fruits and vegetables for vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber
  • Whole-grainsbrown and wild rice, whole-grain pasta, faro, barley, etc. for complex energy source and fiber
  • Oils – olive, grapeseed, canola, sunflower, etc. for essential fatty acids

Eating a vegetarian diet does not automatically mean it is healthy. You can still make unhealthy choices- sugary cereals, white flour bakery items, snack crackers and chips, candy, desserts with loads of sugar, etc. These are vegetarian foods but not necessarily good for you. If you bypass animal protein, be sure the remainder of your diet includes good wholesome choices.

Even kids can benefit! Research shows that vegetarian kids eat more fruits and vegetables, with fewer sweet and salty foods. That is good news.

For starters, begin with meatless Monday family dinners. That’s just one day a week that is without animal protein. Alternate breakfast to include hot cereal topped with chopped nuts and soy milk for protein. Or a hearty homemade bean soup for lunch. Then at dinner time, a stir fry with assorted vegetables and tofu chunks for protein.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.