How to plan a vegetarian dinner

This by far is the most common question I get about being a vegetarian, of course after they ask why I gave up meat. Well, moral, health and sustainability are the answers to why I gave up meat. So, here goes an answer to the other question.

What to make for dinner.

Most meat-eaters I talk to say they begin plans for supper thinking about what meat will take the stage. Chicken, beef, pork, fish, etc. Then they think about what seasoning they’ll add. Finally, they’ll think of a side or two to accompany the meat.

And yes, if that’s your every day planning a meal without meat sounds crazy insane. But it just isn’t so.

Some veggies could indeed still plan around a protein source. I begin my planning with either a dish type or a key ingredient.

Planning by ingredient

This is also called the so-broke-I-can’t-go-to-the-store dinner planning. Or, I just so happen to have on hand the most delicious-looking beets. It could be potatoes, avocados, oranges, bananas, zucchini, basil or any other yummy ingredient. This is a good option when you harvest something out of your garden and you suddenly need to use up three dozen carrots or strawberries in a few days.

Planning around a key ingredient keeps things fun. If you find yourself with a mass of blueberries, that’s a fun way to start thinking about a salad (way better than starting with a lettuce pack). A pasta dish centered around zucchini or peppers is just so much more pretty than noodles and red sauce.

Plan by dish type

This works especially well when you ask your family what they want for dinner and they call out a generic thing like pizza or macaroni and cheese. When that happens I then think about what other fun thing I can add — leeks and white cheddar to noodles or Brussels sprouts to pizza (that recipe’s coming here soon).

But what about the protein?

About now meat eaters are thinking that veggie dishes may be delicious, but they just can’t offer the level of protein necessary for a healthy diet.

If that’s your primary concern, you can still plan a veggie dish around protein. A great way to get started is to think about the best non-animal sources of protein.

You could also buy a meat substitute. This lets a meal planner use sometimes the same exact recipe while staying veggie. Gardein is by far my favorite as far as texture, taste and versatility. Why eat a meat substitute over meat? Here’s just one place where you can find out why.

OK, seriously what’s for dinner?

Sometimes all that thinking just makes you, well, more hungry. In that case I’d suggest finding a recipe online (most sites let you search by ingredient, cuisine or dish type, you can search here on this blog also).

In all, planning a vegetarian meal sounds difficult but it really isn’t. And it can be a whole lot of fun, too!

Sonya Quick

Full-time mom, freelance journalist and dancer. Loves cooking, listening to good music and drinking craft beer.

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