Vegetarian Meal Plan

veggies and bread

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By the end of this lesson you will be able to:

  • Recognize the nutrients that vegetarian diets lack.
  • Recognize what foods can be eaten to ensure deficiency does not occur.
  • Realize how to achieve an adequate daily source of protein.

Activity 1

 1. Are there any foods that you restrict from your diet?

    If yes, what foods do you restrict?


Can a Vegetarian Diet Supply all the Daily Nutrients?

YES! A vegetarian who does careful meal planning can effectively meet all the daily nutrient recommendations. Vegetarian diets can meet all the recommendations for nutrients.

The key is to consume a variety of foods and the right amount of foods to meet your calorie needs. Follow the food group recommendations for age, sex, and activity level to get the right amount of food and the variety of foods needed for nutrient adequacy. Nutrients that vegetarians may need to focus on include protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12.

Milk, cheese and eggs

Most vegetarian diets are healthy because many of the foods eaten are low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. Foods such as fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These substances help to decrease health risks such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and cancer. Fruits & Veggies Matter: Home: Eat a Colorful Variety of Fruits and Vegetables Everyday for Better Health

Because most vegetarian diets lack animal foods, they also lack some important nutrients. The nutrients that are of concern are protein, vitamin B-12, B-6, D, iron, zinc and calcium. Each nutrient is discussed in further detail below.

  • Protein is very important to the human body. Protein builds muscle, repairs tissue, helps to support growth and assist the immune system to fight off infections and diseases.
  • B-12 is the greatest concern for ovo-vegetarians and vegans because both diets lack an adequate amount of animal foods in their diet. It is primarily found in animal foods such as chicken, red meat, turkey, milk, cheese and eggs.
  • Vitamin D is a concern for ovo-vegetarians and vegans because dairy products are excluded in their diets. It can be found in dairy products such as milk and cheese. It is also made in our bodies from exposure to sunlight.
  • nuts
  • Iron stores are usually lower in ovo-vegetarians and vegans because plant iron is not as easily absorbed as iron from animal foods. However, both diets are generally higher in vitamin C, which increases iron absorption, so the recommendations of iron can be met. Iron sources in vegetarian diets can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seaweed, soy products and fortified soymilk.
  • Zinc functions in energy metabolism, protein synthesis and sexual maturity. It is a concern for ovo-vegetarians and vegans. It can be found in fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, hard cheeses, whole grains, soy products, wheat germ, and yeast.
  • Calcium is of concern for ovo-vegetarians and vegans because both diets exclude dairy products. Dairy products provide the best source of calcium. Food sources of calcium include milk, cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, calcium-fortified soy products and calcium fortified orange juice.
  • Vitamin B-6 Important for nerve development and the mucous membrane. Meats, bananas, watermelon, potatoes, and carrots.

The table below lists different types of vegetarian diets:

Vegetarian Table

Type of vegetarian Animal foods included Foods excluded Possible deficient nutrients Ways to increase nutrients
Semi-vegetarian Dairy products, eggs, chicken, fish Red meats (beef, pork) None N/A
Pesco-vegetarian Dairy products, eggs, fish Beef, pork, poultry Iron Animal products, green leafy vegetables, fortified soy milk to increase vitamin B-12
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian Dairy products, eggs Any animal flesh Iron, zinc Complementary proteins, green leafy veggies, fortified soy milk to increase vitamin B-12
Ovo-vegetarian Eggs Dairy products and animal flesh Vitamin B-12, D, protein, calcium Complementary proteins, multivitamin supp, fortified soy milk to increase vitamin B-12
Vegan None All animal products Iron, vitamin B-12, zinc, B-6, D, protein, calcium Complementary proteins, multivitamins supplements, fortified soy milk to increase vitamin B-12

Activity 2

1. Matching Game:

Mark the nutrient box that each food contains! Choose at least one nutrient for each food. Scroll back up if you need to check!

Food Vitamin B- 12 Vitamin B- 6 Protein Vitamin D Iron Zinc Calcium
1. Milk
2. Pork
3. Sirloin Steak
4. Cheese
5. Yogurt
6. Chicken
7. Dark green leafy vegetables

Tips for Vegetarians

  • Build meals around protein sources that are naturally low in fat, such as beans, lentils, and rice. Don’t overload meals with high-fat cheeses to replace the meat.
  • Calcium-fortified soy-based beverages can provide calcium in amounts similar to milk. They are usually low in fat and do not contain cholesterol.
  • Many foods that typically contain meat or poultry can be made vegetarian. This can increase vegetable intake and cut saturated fat and cholesterol intake. Consider:
  • pizza
    • pasta primavera or pasta with marinara or pesto sauce
    • veggie pizza
    • vegetable lasagna
    • tofu-vegetable stir fry
    • vegetable lo mein
    • vegetable kabobs
    • bean burritos or tacos
  • A variety of vegetarian products look (and may taste) like their non-vegetarian counterparts, but are usually lower in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol.
    • For breakfast, try soy-based sausage patties or links. Rather than hamburgers, try veggie burgers.
    • Products made from soy vegetables and rice are available.
    • Add vegetarian meat substitutes to soups and stews to boost protein without adding saturated fat or cholesterol. These include tempeh (cultured soybeans with a chewy texture), tofu, or wheat gluten (seitan).
    • For barbecues, try veggie or garden burgers, soy hot dogs, marinated tofu or tempeh, and veggie kabobs.
    • Make bean burgers, lentil burgers, or pita halves with falafel (spicy ground chick pea patties).
    • Some restaurants offer soy options (texturized vegetable protein) as a substitute for meat, and soy cheese as a substitute for regular cheese.
  • Most restaurants can accommodate vegetarian modifications to menu items by substituting meatless sauces, omitting meat from stir-fries, and adding vegetables or pasta in place of meat. These substitutions are more likely to be available at restaurants that make food to order.
  • Many Asian and Indian restaurants offer a varied selection of vegetarian dishes.

Below are some examples of food portion sizes for the different food groups:

Milk, Yogurt and Cheese group

Dry Beans, Nuts, Seeds, Eggs, and Meat substitute group

Vegetable group

Fruit group

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta group

Milk -1 cup*
Yogurt - 1 cup*
Natural cheese - 1.5 oz*
Frozen Yogurt - 1 cup*

Cooked dry beans or peas - ½ cup
Tofu - ½ cup
Nuts - ½ cup
Peanut Butter - 2 tablespoons

Cooked or raw vegetables - ½ cup
Raw leafy vegetables - 1 cup

Juice - ¾ cup
Chopped, raw fruits - ½ cup
Canned fruit - ½ cup
Medium size fruit - 1 each

Bread - 1 slice
Cooked cereal - ½ cup
Cooked rice, pasta or other grains - ½ cup
Bagel - ½

Why Do I Need to Eat Protein?

Protein is very important for the human body. Protein

  • builds muscle,
  • repairs tissue,
  • helps to support growth and
  • assists the immune system to fight off infections and diseases.

Adolescents, pregnant women, and ill patients need an increased amount of protein to support growth and repair. During infancy, protein needs are higher than any other time in our life.

How much protein do you need?

16-28 grams

50-63 grams

Pregnant Women
60 grams

Lactating Women
65 grams

Nutrition FactsSample Food Label

1) How much is the serving size?
2) How many servings are you eating?
3) How much protein is there per serving size?

Example, using the food label provided:
John ate 1 cup. There are 3 grams of protein per ½ cup servings. He ate 6 g of protein (# of servings x grams of protein = total amount of protein eaten)

What is the difference in proteins?

Some are complete: These are proteins that provide all the essential amino acids needed for the human body so protein can be made. Examples: all animal foods and soy protein

Some are incomplete: These proteins are food sources that do not provide all of the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are only found in foods and are not made in our bodies. Examples: all non-animal foods vegetables, beans, starches and lentils, except soy.

Vegetarians need to ensure that they eat a sufficient amount of protein daily. Because most vegetarians consume little, if any animal products, they need to compliment their sources of protein to ensure an adequate intake of all amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Eating complementary proteins means eating two or more incomplete food proteins. Incomplete proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs. Combining incomplete proteins will provide a sufficient amount of all the essential amino acids. Some food combinations that compliment each other are:

Beans and Rice
Beans and Corn or Wheat Tortillas
Rice and Lentils
Pea soup with Bread or Crackers
Garbanzo Beans (chick peas) with Sesame Paste
Pasta with Beans
Peanut Butter on Bread

How can I increase protein in my diet?

Adding protein sources to foods or meals is a great way to increase protein in your diet. Some examples are:
Add crushed nuts to ice cream or salads.
Add sliced cheeses to salads.
Eat proteins that compliment each other.
Eat lentil, legumes, and beans.

Recommendations for Vegetarians:

  • Choose a variety of foods.
  • Non-vegans should limit high-fat dairy foods and eggs because of their saturated fat content.
  • Vegans should include a regular source of vitamin B-12 in their diet along with a source of vitamin D, such as a vitamin supplement.
  • Solely breast fed infants of vegetarian mothers should have supplements of iron after age 4-6 months and, if sun exposure is limited, a source of vitamin D.
  • Do not restrict dietary fat in children younger than 2 years.
  • For older children include some foods higher in fat.

Activity 3

* 1. Which pair(s) is(are) considered complimentary proteins?

2. Vegetarians cannot meet the daily protein recommendations.

3. Pregnant women need less protein than non-pregnant women.


Activity 4

 1. What will you do to ensure getting enough protein and iron in your diet?

Thank you for completing the Vegetarian Meal Plan Education Component.

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You have completed the lesson on “Vegetarian Meal Plan”.  If you have any questions or comments, please contact your LWP nutritionist who will be glad to answer any of your questions. 

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