Vegetarian Meal Planning

July 14, 2016

Performance Nutrition Specialist Lee Hyrkas offers some delicious ideas for summer’s best produce

Summer is here! And with it comes warm weather, garden-fresh produce and an array of local farmer’s markets. With the abundance of fresh produce around, I think this is the perfect time to discuss vegetarian-style meal planning.

There are several types of vegetarian meal plans (see Table 1). No matter what the type, three core components make up a vegetarian meal plan: 1) eat primarily plant-based foods; 2) include whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds frequently; and 3) choose plentiful amounts of fruits and vegetables daily.

Vegetarian meal plans are often associated with decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. Additionally, individuals following a vegetarian meal plan tend to have an easier time losing and/or maintaining a healthy weight. You may be wondering if vegetarian style meal plan is appropriate for active individuals. I would say “absolutely”. Typically, active individuals following a vegetarian meal plan can perform and recover just as well as their meat-eating competitors. The key is to ensure that you are following a balanced vegetarian meal plan.

Below is a list of important nutrients that vegetarian eaters should be mindful to incorporate daily (see Table 2). If you are looking for more guidance on vegetarian eating, or if you would like to create an individualized meal plan, please contact me at or (920) 430-4728.

Table 1
Types of Vegetarian Meal Plans

Strict vegetarian (AKA vegan): No animal products are consumed.
Ovo-vegetarian: Include eggs, but no other animal products are consumed.
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Include eggs and dairy products.
Macrobiotic: Eat primarily plant-based and whole foods. Include fish.
Pesco-vegetarian: Include fish, but no other animal products are consumed.
Semi-vegetarian (AKA flexitarian): Eat primarily plant based foods, but include animal products on occasion.

Table 2
Key Nutrients & Vegetarian Sources

Omega-3 Fats: Ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cauliflower, soybeans, tofu, Brussels sprouts, fortified foods (margarines, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, juice, cereal)
Iron: Legumes, raisins, blackstrap molasses, spinach, greens, fortified breads, cereals or crackers
Zinc: Nuts, seeds, legumes, fortified cereal, quinoa, peas,
wheat germ
Calcium: Collard greens, tofu, fortified cereal, soybeans, calcium fortified soymilk, fortified orange juice
Vitamin D*: Fortified soymilk, fortified orange juice, mushrooms
Vitamin B12*: Fortified cereal, nutritional yeast, fortified soymilk or other fortified foods
*Consider a supplement if your meal plan is low in these food.

Building a Balanced Vegetarian Plate 
•    Aim for half of your plate to be fruits and non-starchy vegetables (salad greens, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, broccoli, etc…). Fruits and vegetables are one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Choose a variety of colorful fruit and vegetables weekly. The varying colors represent the different phytonutrients and antioxidants found in these foods. Phytochemicals can help neutralize free radicals and may reduce inflammation, which can help boost our body’s ability to recover after exercise. It’s easy to see why we want to include more of these antioxidant rich foods daily. Try to eat at least 2-3 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables per day. A medium sized (tennis ball) piece of fruit is one serving or a half cup of canned or frozen fruit. A serving of vegetables is equivalent to a ½ cup cooked, 1 cup raw or 2 cups of leafy greens.

•    Carbohydrate-rich foods (pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, squash, peas, etc…) should fill a quarter of your plate. Strive for half of your carbohydrates to be whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat breads, sprouted grain breads, and oatmeal. Whole grains are higher in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Carbohydrates are one of the best fuel sources for active individuals.

•    Fill another quarter of your plate with plant based proteins. Soy beans (edamame), tempeh (fermented soybeans), nuts, seeds (chia, hemp, pumpkin, etc.) beans, lentils, nut butters (peanut, almond, sunflower, cashew, etc.), and soy milk or soy yogurt, are popular choices. Remember to include these foods around workouts to aid in recovery.

•    Fats and oils (butter, olive oil, etc.) are typically used sparingly in a vegetarian meal plan. A few sources of heart healthy fats include: nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, olives, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, avocados and oil-based salad dressing. A serving of butter or oil is equivalent to 1 tsp.

Vegetarian Meal Ideas

Meal 1
Bean and Rice Breakfast Burrito:

*1/2 cup cooked brown or wild rice
*1/2 cup beans – black, kidney, etc.)
- Mix beans with the rice
*1 whole grain wrap
*1/4 avocado, sliced
*Lime juice, green onion and cilantro to season rice and bean mixture     

Meal 2
*3-4 oz. oven roasted tofu – season with spices or balsamic vinegar
*1 medium sweet potato
*1-2 cups cooked vegetables (green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, etc…)
*1/4 avocado sliced    

Meal 3
*1.5 cups chili – made with beans & crumbled tofu
*1/4 shredded dairy-free cheese
*5-10 whole grain crackers
*1 large salad (lettuce, tomato, carrots, peppers, etc.)
*2 Tbsp. light salad dressing

Vegetarian Snacking

Snack 1
*8 oz. soy milk or almond milk
*1 whole grain mini bagel
*1 Tbsp. almond butter

Snack 2
*3/4 cup shelled edamame
*2 clementine (Cuties®)

  Snack 3
*1 homemade energy bite.
(see recipe below)

Snack 4
*Whole wheat tortilla or warp
*1 Tbsp. sunflower seed butter
*1/2 banana, sliced

  Snack 5
*1 cup grapes or cherries 
*1 string cheese
*10-15 almonds

  Snack 6
*6 oz. soy yogurt
*1 cup berries
*1/4 cup low-fat granola

Homemade Energy Bites

*1 cup almonds (120 g)
*1 & 1/3 cup (220 g) pitted dates
*1 Tbsp. water
*3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
*1 tsp. vanilla extract
*Pinch of salt

*Place almonds, dates, water, cocoa, vanilla and salt into a food processor or blender.
*Blend ingredients together.
*Two packed tablespoons is equivalent to one serving (~54 g). Roll mixture into a ball.
*Store energy bites in the refrigerator or freezer.

*7 energy bites

Nutritional Information:
*1 energy bite: ~210 calories, 8 g fat, 29 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber and 5 g protein.

Recipe Tips:
*Add dark chocolate chips for a treat.
*Try different types of nuts (walnuts, cashews, pecans, etc.).

Adapted From:

Lee Hyrkas, RD, CD, is a Performance Nutrition Specialist at Bellin Health

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