October: besides the seasonal menu shift from summer produce to autumn crops, it’s Vegetarian Awareness Month – and perhaps a chance to enjoy some Meatless Mondays or add spark to your menus with new vegetarian recipes.
Why Eat Vegetarian-Style?
There’s no single reason – and no single benefit – for those who choose a plant-based diet. For some, vegetarian food is just a personal preference, often for the unique and delicious flavors and ingredients in many ethnic vegetarian dishes. Others cite health, perhaps as a fitness strategy. Some have concerns about animal welfare, world hunger or the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. The lower cost of a plant-based diet motivates, especially as meat and fish prices go up. And some people (Seventh-Day Adventists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jainists, others) follow a vegetarian eating and lifestyle for religious or spiritual reasons.
What’s the Health Connection?
Whatever the reasons, a vegetarian eating style can have health benefits – if the foods are chosen and prepared with good nutrition in mind. Research shows a positive link between plant-based diets and lowered risks of obesity and some chronic diseases: heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Why? Vegetarian food patterns tend to have less saturated fat and cholesterol and more complex carbs, fiber, potassium, folate, carotenoids and other phytonutrients. Many fit-focused vegetarians also watch their calorie intake and make other healthful lifestyle choices: regular physical activity, no smoking and moderate or no alcoholic drinks.
That said, “vegetarian” doesn’t necessarily equate to “healthier.” Vegetarian meals can be high in calories, fat and sodium and low in fiber, calcium and other important nutrients if poorly planned. Remember that sodas, desserts and fries may be vegetarian, but still deliver a lot of added sugars, fat and calories. Healthy vegetarian eating focuses on nutrient-dense foods: vegetables, fruit, lean proteins such as beans, fiber-rich grains and low-fat and fat-free dairy foods.
What nutrients may come up short? Iron, zinc, vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D, which come from animal products such as meat and milk; read food labels to choose foods, including fortified foods, with these nutrients. Protein usually isn’t an issue since eating a variety of plant-based foods -- grains, beans, nuts and vegetables, and dairy foods and eggs for many vegetarians-- can provide all the essential amino acids that the body needs.
The Menu: What Vegetarian Style?
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy milk, cheese and other dairy foods, and eggs, as well as beans, nuts and seeds, grains, vegetables, and fruit, but no meat, poultry, or fish. Dairy and eggs are complete proteins, with all nine essential amino acids.
Menu idea: Roasted Vegetable Macaroni & Cheese, a healthier way to prepare a traditional family favorite. It’s made by roasting sweet red bell peppers, yellow squash, white onion, sweet potato, fresh garlic, mushrooms and broccoli florets, before combining them with Dreamfields elbows and a white cheddar and parmesan cheese cream sauce. The sauce has eggs for a thickener (and a protein source).
Lacto-vegetarians follow a similar eating pattern but stay away from eggs and egg derivatives such as egg whites and albumin. Many traditional pasta recipes such as Vegetable Lasagna and Healthier Mac & Cheese are made with cheese as a protein and calcium source. For some new culinary ideas, try these pasta dishes which deliver dairy as well as a hefty amount of veggies and fruit!
Menu idea: Pasta Toss with Zucchini, Beans, Tomatoes, and Feta, combines protein-rich cannellini beans with roasted tomatoes, zucchini, Dreamfields rotini and feta cheese. Tip: Add beans of all types – black, cannellini, kidney and more – to pasta dishes to boost the protein.
Menu idea: Spaghetti with Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Greek Yogurt Cream Sauce, a combo of trendy roasted Brussels sprouts and Dreamfields spaghetti, combined with several calcium- and protein-rich dairy foods: Greek yogurt, goat cheese, mozzarella, and blue cheese.
Menu idea: Roasted Vegetable Pasta Primavera from A to Z: a colorful rainbow of roasted veggies -- asparagus, bell pepper, broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, peas, shallots, yellow squash and zucchinis – tossed with Dreamfields spaghetti, fresh parmesan, pine nuts and seasonings. Variety on the plate!
Menu idea: Fruit & Yogurt Elbow Salad, perfect as a main dish, breakfast food or dessert, combines yogurt, fruit, almonds and cinnamon (and perhaps mint and honey) with Dreamfields elbows.
Vegans, or strict vegetarians, avoid animal-based foods altogether -- so no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy, and no products made from them such as gelatin, lard, whey, casein, and perhaps honey (made by bees). Protein comes from legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds, along with grain products such as Dreamfields pasta; calcium, from broccoli, calcium-processed tofu, as well as fortified soymilk, other dairy alternatives and juice. (Note: Dreamfields pasta does not contain egg or egg derivatives; besides being higher in fiber (5 grams per label serving) than traditional pasta, it also delivers 7 grams of plant protein per serving.
Menu idea: Spaghetti Oriental, an Asian “noodle” dish that combines Dreamfields spaghetti with peanuts stir-fried with chiles, soy sauce and lemon juice, which is then tossed with hearts of palm, cucumber, fresh mint and cilantro and lemon zest. Peanuts deliver protein to vegan meals.
Menu idea: Sesame-Soy Edamame and Pasta Salad, a savory combination of protein-rich edamame (soybeans), Dreamfields rotini, radishes, cilantro, and green onions, dressed with pickled ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar dressing. Edamame is an excellent source of complete protein. Garnish with sesame seeds if you’d like!
Menu idea: Sherri’s Pesto Pasta, a quick and easy dish, with a homemade pesto sauce of basil, pine nuts, olive oil and garlic, tossed with Dreamfields spaghetti. (Tip: substitute angel hair, linguini or rotini pasta, if you prefer.)
Menu idea: Healthy Green Curry Pineapple Rotini, the tropical flavors of pineapple, coconut milk, curry and lemon grass, tossed with Dreamfields rotini, carrots and broccoli. Choose coconut milk that’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D!
For more meatless pasta recipes, check these menu ideas from Dreamfields! And in many of the flavorful pasta recipes that call for meat or poultry, try substituting cooked or canned beans, firm tofu, tempeh or soy burgers.