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optimisticpessimist's avatar

How do you make semi-vegetarian meals?

Asked by optimisticpessimist (3909points) May 10th, 2011

My oldest son (17) has decided to be a vegetarian. In looking at the types of vegetarians, he is probably a semi-vegetarian. The rest of the family is not. I have no problem with his choice. However, how do I make meals which are both vegetarian and omnivore friendly?

Tonight we had quesadillas and vegetables. His were just cheese and the rest were steak and cheese. He is not real strict in his rules as this was introduced by a girl (surprise!) and is more about animal cruelty in mass meat production than due to health/diet concerns.

I have a few ideas on how to accomplish this, but suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

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28 Answers

KateTheGreat's avatar

Oh shit, Kardamom is going to be in this thread in any minute.

Ahh, I am a vegetarian as well, so whenever my family and I get together, we eat burritos with rice, zucchini, tons of beans, and some spinach. It’s really delicious. You can also buy vegetarian pizzas. Those are not hard to come by.

6rant6's avatar

He’s eating cheese. And he’s concerned about cruelty to animals. I’d get him some help.

Lay in some tofu burgers. They’re tolerable (excellent if you add cheese).

6rant6's avatar

Pizza, of course. Half dead quadraped, half pineapple and green olives.

marinelife's avatar

Does he eat fish and seafood? That opens lost of options.

optimisticpessimist's avatar

@KatetheGreat Those are all good ideas, but he still lives here so this is a daily concern.
@6rant6 I did say that this was on the advice of a girl, not a militant stand.
@marinelife Yes, he will eat fish, but my husband is picky in this area.

jaytkay's avatar

And eggs?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Why not involve your son with meal-planning and the shopping? If he is the one with the expertise and concerns, let him educate you on this topic. He’s old enough to be involved with staying within a food budget. If you all have the space, how about having the family start a garden (if there isn’t already one)?

KateTheGreat's avatar

@optimisticpessimist Another favorite is salad and baked potatoes. You can always serve that, with maybe a little meat on the side for the rest of the family. I have always loved the salad and potatoes thing.

optimisticpessimist's avatar

@jaytkay Yes, and eggs.
@Pied_Pfeffer That is a really good idea. He will be a senior next year and have been discussing how he needs to be prepared to live on his own soon. We have not yet started a garden, but we have the space and the intention. The time is somewhat limited right now.
@KatetheGreat I forgot to mention he does not like potatoes. He would eat mashed potatoes with gravy (no gravy anymore.)

This decision was made on Friday.

nikipedia's avatar

Grains are great: lentils or beans with rice; quinoa; white beans with sauteed vegetables.

Lots of Italian standards will work well: pasta, pizza, eggplant parmesan.

I eat a lot of salads. Like, a lot. Greens, nuts, and whatever else is in season covered in olive oil and either lemon juice or balsamic. Sometimes a little grated parmesan on top.

KateTheGreat's avatar

There are also very fun Mexican food ideas for vegetarians. Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, rice, guacamole, and peppers are delicious when you put them in a tortilla.

You can also make lots of soups, such as 3 bean soup.

Or you could go the easy way and buy Morningstar vegetarian food brands. I find them delicious. They taste like regular meat to me.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

My parents just kinda kept on making whatever it was they were going to make, and it was up to me to eat around the chicken in the pasta, or not add any chicken to my fajitas, etc, when I was going through my vegetarian phase. If the meal was meat-heavy – like having steak – they’d add an extra side-dish, which were usually vegetarian (caramelized carrots, baked potatoes, creamed spinach, baked squash and now I’m hungry maybe make the salad a bit bigger) and that way I could get enough to eat.

missafantastico's avatar

I agree that you should really have your son be involved in the menu planning process. Kudos to him for at least trying vegetarianism on for size. Here is a link to the American Dietetic Association’s material for teens curious about being a vegetarian:

But if your short on time, here are some typical meals that are naturally meatless (or meat can be easily substituted with my standard of mushrooms, onions, and peppers or beans):

Three Bean Chili (great with chips or over potatoes)
Any Indian or Ethiopian Lentil dish
Raviolis, Tortalini, Mannacotti, or any other pasta with veggies and sauce of your choice
Tomato Soup with grilled cheese (I add hummus to my grilled cheese for protein)
Sweet n’ Sour Tofu Stir Fry
Egg Rolls, California Rolls (vegetable sushi)

Check out any cookbook by Mark Bitman and you will have a wealth of options to choose from.

crisw's avatar

It’s healthy for the whole family to eat less meat. Maybe get him involved in the cooking?

Here’s one book on part-time vegetarianism. And there are lots of good cookbooks out there- maybe have him select one?

crisw's avatar

oops- actually meant this book although the other one is probably good as well!

optimisticpessimist's avatar

@crisw I understand your point; however, you really do not know how much meat we eat. Unless you mean that it is healthier for the whole family to become vegetarian. Thank you for the link.

blueiiznh's avatar

Sounds like you will have to make two menus selections.
That may be the only way to make all happy and nutritionally balanced.

JLeslie's avatar

Add some beans or roasted veggies to his quesadillas. Maybe offer the whole family the choice, maybe others will eat some more veggies, could be good for everyone.

Is he going vegetarian for health reasons or humane reasons? If it is for health, still eating dairy is not going to help most likely.

Other vegetarian and seafood dishes maybe the whole family will like:
Baked pasta
Veggie stir fry
Veggie soups like minestrone, lentil, split pea
Salmon cakes, crab cakes
Stuffed mushrooms with a side of spaghetti with red sauce
Portabello burger
Baked potato with vegetables (you can add cheese)

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@JLeslie Humane reasons, largely to impress a girl.

JLeslie's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Well, whatever the reason it is not a bad idea to eat less meat. I never understand how people can still eat seafood when it is for humane reasons? Unless they are so Catholic it does not compute that fish is meat? That is not a slam at the Catholics, but no meat Friday traditionally is fish, so I think it is said so much maybe younger people don’t think it through.

I think the family should join in a little. Obviously you are willing to go along with his desire to try this new way of eating, which Is very nice, maybe read up on it a little bit yourself. Any chance you or your husband have high cholesterol, which would make this all that more appealing in a practical sense?

Supacase's avatar

We have friends with a 14 y/o daughter who has been vegan for 2 years and she is fully responsible for making sure her food is appropriate for her diet. She gives her mom a list of things to get from the store or goes with her, but she prepares her own meals and then sits with the family to eat. I have a lot of respect for her and her decision to be vegan because of this. It shows she is serious enough about her convictions to accept the discipline and responsibility that come along with them.

I hope your efforts are because you want to do this for him, which is commendable and very nice, and that he is considerate of the fact that accommodating his sudden decision will mean more work for you. I think he should take a major role in finding appropriate meals. If he is serious, it will be worth the extra effort for both of you to get him off on the right foot with meal ideas for when he is out on his own. I also hope you are not going through all of this trouble over a whim decision to impress a girl.

nikipedia's avatar

I had to come back to this thread and brag about my amazing vegetarian dinner: roasted sweet potatoes, olive and navel orange salad (based off this), and prosecco. Oh my gosh. I’m so pleased with myself right now.

Kardamom's avatar

That’s so funny that a girl is involved. One of my young male cousins was a junk food junkie until he went to his Freshman year of college when he met a young lady. I almost crapped my pants when he told me that he was becoming a vegetarian (now I didn’t have to be the only black sheep of the family). Our whole family secretly placed bets on when he would revert back to meat. It took 2 years. Now he’s a big meat eater. I’m disappointed, but I really don’t think his heart was in it.

I came to vegetarianism in a very different way. It was all about avoiding animal cruelty and suffering for me, then it evolved into me becoming a more healthy person, and then it evolved into creating a more healthy environment for our planet. So I am a vegetarian for many different reasons. But if he wants to give it a go, then I have some ideas, techniques and recipes.

First of all, your son should start doing research (and he should decide if he wants to be a vegetarian, which does not include eating fish, or a vegan, which does not include eating any kind of animal products at all including eggs or dairy, and maybe also sugar and honey). He should read all he can about why it’s good to be a vegetarian and how to go about it, so that he stays healthy and strong. He should check out Vegetarian Times especially their “starter kit.”

He should know all about the vegetarian food pyramid so that he can make good choices about what he eats.

Next, he should learn how to cook. Either by you teaching him, a friend teaching him, taking classes or by learning himself with videos and cookbooks. If you don’t know how to cook, being a vegetarian can be really difficult and will likely lead you into being what I call a “Cheetos vegetarian.” Cheetos are in fact, a vegetarian item, but it’s one of the most un-healthy things that you can eat. It’s best to try to avoid most junk food, and highly processed foods (which contain high levels of fat and sodium and sugar and preservatives) and to try to eat mostly fruits, vegetables and whole grains. He should aim to eat foods that are extremely nutrient dense. And he needs to know how to get all of the nutrients that he will need. If he is a regular vegetarian (not a vegan) this will be pretty easy. One of the things that vegetarians need to get is Vitamin B-12 which is mostly found in animal products (including eggs and dairy) and a few other places such as bacterial souces. There are many vegetarian sources of Vitamin B-12 in the form of supplements. Vegans will have a harder time, but The Vegetarian Resource Guide is a good source of information about Vitamin B-12 and where to get it.

Another essential nutritent that is harder to get, when you are a vegetarian, is Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (usually found in fish). One of the best vegetarian sources for O3 EFA is ground flax seeds and/or flax oil. Un-ground flax seeds are good sources of fiber, but the seeds need to be ground to release the EFA, other wise they just go through your body, undigested. I take 2 Tablespoons of Bob’s Red Mill Ground Flax Meal. After you open this container, it needs to be kept refrigerated so that it won’t go rancid, but will keep for about 6 months in the fridge (but if you take it daily, it won’t be in there for more than a month or 2) Other sources of O3EFA are walnuts and other nuts, but Flaxseed is the best, and has highest concentration of the nutrient. You’d need to eat a boatload of other nuts or seeds to get enough.

Contrary to popular belief, most vegetarians get plenty of protein. As long as they are eating a balanced diet and eat the right kinds of food they will get plenty of protein. Tofu and quinoa are the only vegan sources of complete proteins. Eggs and dairy also offer complete proteins. With a typical vegetarian diet, a person will need to eat a variety of protein filled foods to get complete protein. Those foods do not have to be eaten at the same meal, they can be eaten in the same day, at different times. Good sources of vegetarian protein (which can be adapted into lots of recipes that omnivores will eat) are whole grains (wheat, wheat berries, bulgur wheat, quinoa, brown rice, popcorn, whole grain pasta and whole grain bread, oatmeal and barley etc.) Here’s a longer list of whole grains. Other vegetarian sources of protein are beans, nuts, seeds and soy products (and milk and eggs) plus fortified cereals. There are also vegetarian and vegan protein supplements (mostly powders) that can be added to smoothies and shakes, but your best bet is to get protein and all other nutrients from whole foods.

Your son should become his own advocate and become a major part of the meal planning process. If he is going to share the table with omnivores, you guys need to decide if he is going to make his own separate meals, if you guys will sometimes share in a vegetarian meal with him or if you will have a regular meat filled meal, with a separate, but similar vegetarian dish for him, or if he will have to survive on vegetarian side dishes. Try not to let him succumb to the “Cheetos Diet” just because it’s easier, than having to plan this all out in advance. Learn to shop and make lists and plans for the week. Try to create several meals out of one type of food. For instance if you’re going to use mushrooms, make a lasagna, make pizza, make quiche, make stirfry. Try to plan out what you will serve during the week, so that you and your son aren’t left frustrated and hungry at the last minute. Make sure you always have some frozen vegetarian items in your fridge, just in case you forget to shop, or don’t have time to plan. Amy’s frozen meals are really great, as are Morningstar Farms products and Quorn products. If he decides to go vegan, make sure he learns how to read labels, some vegetarian products are not vegan products and may contain dairy and eggs.

Make sure he learns to read labels. There’s lots of animal products lurking everywhere. This guide from the Vegetarian Resource Group might be very useful to your son.

Learn to try (and try again and again and again) new vegetables with different preparations such as baking, stir frying, braising, roasting, sauteeing, steaming, boiling, broiling and grilling. Here are some of the big guns of veggie nutrition: mushrooms, most leafy greens such as lettuces (except iceberg, which is negligable) kale, Swiss chard, spinach, mustard and turnip greens, micro greens and sprouts (except alfalfa which is known to harbor bacteria even after washing) root veggies such as beets, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, radishes. Cruciferous veggies such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. Squash and sweet potatoes.

For the freezer keep frozen cheese pizzas (make sure they’re totally veg though) and then you can pull them out and add all of your favorite toppings. Keep lots of bags of frozen veggies such as spinach, peas, carrots, mixed wild mushrooms, edamame, veggie medleys (with sauce or not). Frozen individual servings of brown rice and vegetarian entrees (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are good sources) and different kinds and textures of fake meat products. Morningstar Farms and Quorn make good stuff (from burgers, to fake chicken nuggets, to fake burger crumbles (for burrito and taco filling, chili and fake sloppy joes) to fake barbcue and fake meatloaf. You can also freeze bread and tortillas and blank pizza shells and blocks of cheese (that you have cut down into smaller sizes and put into freezer ziplock bags). And when you start making home made soup, you can also freeze that flat in freezer bags. I always have frozen strawberries and whole grain waffles in my freezer. I also keep Trader Joe’s pie crusts in there for making dessert pies, and quiche and vegetable pot pies.

Make sure you keep your pantry stocked with canned beans (make sure they’re not flavored with meat, just plain old beans) of every kind such as navy, kidney, garbanzo, pinto, lentils, butter beans and black eyed peas. Make sure you have lots of varieties of dried pasta (spaghetti, macaroni, ziti, lasagna, penne, Asian rice noodles and Asian buckwheat soba noodles etc.) Ronzoni Smart Taste makes pasta in a variety of shapes with added fiber, calcium and protein that tastes just like regular old pasta. Whole grain pastas are good too, but you may need to develop a taste for them. Have lots of tomato based (without any meat products added) such as pasta sauce, enchilada sauce, tomato paste, stewed tomatoes, tomatoes with green chilies added (like Rotel) diced tomatoes and pureed tomatoes. All of these tomatoes can be used for soups and stews and sauces. Have boxes of different kinds of dried grains (quinoa, rice, wheat berries, tabouli mix, oatmeal etc.) Have canned chilies, jars of olives, marinated mushrooms, salsa, pickled vegetables, and artichoke hearts (both marinated in jars and packed in water in cans). Have plenty of low sodium vegetable broth on hand (I like Trader Joe’s own brand) to create home made soups. Make sure that you have a robust collection of dried herbs and spices. And several different kinds of nut butters. You should also keep a big bottle of good olive oil and several different kinds of vinegar (Balsamic, red wine, rice vinegar, malt vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar) and soy sauce and other condiments which will be transferred to the fridge when opened like mayo, soy mayo like Vegenaise, ketchup, different kinds of mustard (whole grain, dijon, regular yellow, sweet hot and horseradish mustard) plus hot sauces, salsas, barbecue sauce and chutneys. Plus pickles, pickle relish, jalapenos and sliced banana peppers. Always think about flavor, flavor and more flavor!

And now to the recipes. The first thing I always tell people who are trying to add more veggies to their diet is embrace the soup! There’s tons of different vegetarian soups for which I will let you do your own searching for tonight, because it’s way past my bedtime. But I’ll give you some search subjects: hot and sour, cream of mushroom, tomato, white bean, black bean, lentil, butternut squash, tom kha, cream of broccoli, potato leek, mushroom/barley, ful madamas, minestrone, mulligatawny, split pea.

Then try searches for vegetarian lasagna, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, pasta primavera, baked ziti, enchiladas, chili, pizza, stir fry, burritos, tacos, roasted vegetables, vegetarian soups, stew, pot pies, vegetable purees, casseroles, pasta salads, potato salads, bean salads, green salads, anything with mushrooms, vegetarian sandwich spreads and wraps, grain salads, cabbage salads and slaws, fruit salads, potato dishes, vegetarian quiche recipes, vegetable stir fries, bean dishes, grain dishes, seitan recipes, tempeh recipes, tofu recipes, veggie burger recipes, grilled veggies, barbecued veggies, vegetarian Asian foods, vegetarian Middle Eastern foods, vegetarian Italian foods and breads. These are foods that I eat every day. So being a vegetarian is not as limited as it may seem at first glance.

Tomorrow I shall try to add links to some of my very favorite recipes. But for now, I must sleep. It’s 2:15 am!

optimisticpessimist's avatar

@Kardamom I am going to have to re-read that, probably several times, in order to get all the information out of it. I agree with everyone who said he needs to take an active role in this. If it is helpful to know, yes, I know how to cook. He only knows how to cook a few things at this point. We do not even keep chips or soda at home so no fear of being a “Cheeto” vegetarian. We do already eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. I just need to make sure he will get the nutrients he needs as he is still growing. We already eat at least two meals a week which are already easily adaptable to vegetarian by just insuring one or two of the ingredients have no animal products in them (like switching from chicken broth to vegetable or making it.)

A question, because you mentioned canned beans: do beans freeze well? I mean if you cook them (from raw) and want to freeze them instead of buying cans and cans of beans.

KateTheGreat's avatar

I TOTALLY called that @Kardamom would be here.

Kardamom's avatar

@KatetheGreat You sure did, sweetie! : )

@optimisticpessimist You know, I’ve never tried freezing beans from making them from dried, but I have frozen soups that had beans in them that thawed just fine. You should give it a try with one batch and just make sure you freeze them flat in a freezer ziplock bag (not a regular old freezer bag). Then you can report back to us.

Now for the recipes:

Try this Macaroni and Cheese recipe, and then adapt it with these slight changes. For the cheese use half Trader Joe’s 75% reduced fat cheddar and half of the best tasting sharp cheddar you can find. Use low fat or non fat milk. And then for the Wow! flavor factor, sautee about a half of a pint container of sliced button mushrooms with1/4 cup of finely chopped onion and a teaspoon of olive oil. Sautee the schrooms until just starting to brown. Then mix the schrooms into the macaroni and cheese mixture before you put the whole thing into the oven to bake. You can aslo sprinkle about a1/4 of a cup of Panko bread crumbs over the top before baking. This is a relatively low fat mac and cheese that tastes divine. Serve with a mixed gren salad.

Mushroom and Broccoli Quiche Note: make sure to use a vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (regular contains anchovies).

Root Vegetable Lasagna with Mushroom Broth

Sweet Pea and Artichoke Lasagna

Wild Mushroom Pesto Lasagna

Vegetarian Chili with Morningstar Farms Burger Crumbles

Black Bean Chili

White Bean Chili

Vegetable Pot Pie (You can use prepared pie crusts, I like Trader Joe’s own brand of pie crusts)

Savory Sweet Potato Stew

Fresh Spring Rolls Recipe One

Fresh Spring Rolls Recipe Two

Fresh Spring Rolls Recipe Three

Tofu in Spicy Sesame Peanut Sauce

Tofu and Broccoli with Garlic Sauce

Vegan Mock Egg Salad with Tofu (This is one of my every day Go-To Recipes!)

Aloo Gobi Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower

Channa Masala Indian Chickpeas

Palak Paneer Indian Spinach and Cheese

Vegetarian Baked Beans

Vegetarian Taco and Burrito Filling

Mock Sloppy Joes (Note: instead of the Manwich canned mix, you can sautee some onions and tomatoes fresh or canned and then add your favorite barbecue sauce. I also sometimes add some sauteed mushrooms to this dish)

Vegetarian Enchiladas With Portobellos

Enchiladas with Swiss Chard and Tomatillo Salsa

Black Bean and Vegetable Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce

Vegetarian Pad Thai

Mushroom Gravy (for mashed potatoes)

Grilled Portobello Burger with Onion Jam

Hummus Middle Eastern Chickpea Dip

Falafel with Cucumber Sauce

optimisticpessimist's avatar

@Kardamom Thank you. Those will keep us in meals for a very long time. Tonight I am trying eggplant Parmesan for the first time.

killrqueen's avatar

@kardamom awesom recipes.
There are tons of online sites to browse. and are my fave. Fish is always good if he eats seafood, some semi-vegetarians do. Beans, soy protein and veggies are going to your biggest ingedients. Eggplant parm is always good, black bean burgers and falafels are easy to make and so delicous. Also black bean and corn quesadillas instead of steak or just cheese. I have three young ones and they love all of the above. i try to make all my veggie burgers myself and to stay away from Moringstar and other big name brands. They use a chemical process to get their protein using hexane, which is a by-product of gasoline. There is actually a list of brands that use this very harmful chemical on the cornucopia institute website.

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