Do you want to eat more vegetarian meals, but don’t know where to start? The choice of protein in a meal, will determine whether your meals are indeed vegetarian. A plant-based protein, like beans, lentils, chickpeas, other pulses, nuts and seeds or a combination of these, are well-known options to choose from. Vegetarian meals usually also consist of a wide range of grains, vegetables and fruit, making them even more interesting. Plant-based proteins provide us with a lot of important nutrients and are often easier to digest than meat.

What does it mean to be vegetarian?
People choose to eat vegetarian meals for various reasons, and this determines what they are comfortable including in their meals. ‘Strict’ vegetarians will not eat any animal proteins – so no red meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, game or any animal protein products like dairy. There are however vegetarians who choose to include some animal protein sources. A pescatarian will eat fish, but no other animal protein; ovo-vegetarians will include eggs while ovo-lacto vegetarians will include eggs and dairy. Others refer to themselves as flexitarians and will mostly enjoy vegetarian meals, but don’t mind having animal-protein from time to time. Vegans on the other hand, will only eat plant-based food and products, so nothing which is animal-based – some won’t even eat honey.

Keeping vegetarian meals healthy
Don’t make the common assumption that vegetarian meals are automatically healthy. Whether you eat a vegetarian meal once a week on ‘meat-free’ Mondays or on a daily basis, keeping it healthy is always important. Eating a variety of protein sources is recommended for all of us, so just excluding red or other meats, is no guarantee for healthier meals. Vegetarian meals should not contain too much salt, sugar, refined starches and even unhealthy fats and should be well-prepared. Using fresh or dried herbs, spices and other natural seasonings like lemon, garlic and ginger is perfect for plant-based proteins. The right choice of cooking methods will ensure that a vegetarian meal is as flavourful as any other healthy meal.

Not just the salad
Vegetarian meals must be well-balanced with enough protein without relying too much on starch-based foods. The Cooking from the heart plate model (see the image below) is a wonderful guide to use, whether enjoying or serving a vegetarian meal. Just having the salad on the table is not a balanced meal, unless there is a full portion of healthy protein included.

The Cooking from the heart principle of ‘homemade is best’ is equally true for vegetarian meals. Cooking plant-based proteins is not difficult, so there is no real reason to revert to shop-bought versions to feel that you are enjoying a good meal. The range of recipes in the four Cooking from the heart recipe books offers a lot to choose from.

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