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Feeding a Family of Vegetarians

Many assume that the vegetarian diet is limited to pasta and salads. To the contrary, vegetarian diets are rich and varied, utilizing a wide range of grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. In addition, there are many meat-substitute products available in grocery stores that allow vegetarians to eat many of the same dishes that non-vegetarians eat. This makes feeding a family of vegetarians surprisingly easy. Whether your own family is vegetarian, or you’re trying to decide what to feed a family of vegetarian guests, you have a multitude of options for your next meal.

What Vegetarians Eat

Vegetarians eat all fruits, vegetables and dairy products, including (but not limited to) milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt and butter. Vegetarians don’t eat meat. By its most strict definition, vegetarianism excludes consumption of fish and chicken. A person who eats no meat except fish is called a “pescetarian”, a person who eats no meat except chicken is known as a “pollotarian”, and a person who limits their meat consumption to fish and chicken is called a “pollo-pescetarian”. However, there are many people who limit their meat consumption to either fish or chicken and still refer to themselves vegetarians. If you are hosting a family of vegetarians, find out if they eat either of these meats before planning your meal.Purely vegetarian dishes should not include foods made from animal parts or products, even small bits of meat and animal broths. Many vegetarians refuse to eat non-meat foods that have touched meat, or that have been prepared side-by-side on a grill with meat. Other food products that are restricted from the vegetarian diet include anything made with gelatin (marshmallows, some candies), cesar salad dressing (made with anchovies) and foods that have been prepared in lard or animal fats.

Inviting Vegetarians To Dinner

Many vegetarians who eat no meat at all are content to eat in the presence of meat dishes, as long as they are not required to eat those dishes themselves. Meaning, as long as the meat dishes on the table are separate from the vegetarian dishes, and the dishes have been prepared in separate containers, most vegetarians will be happy to eat their designated vegetarian entrées. However, breaking bread with your dinner companions involves sharing, not segregating foods. In addition, many vegetarian dishes are hearty, healthy and delicious for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. If you’re inviting a vegetarian family to dinner, think of ways that you can make a fully vegetarian meal that everyone will love.When preparing your vegetarian meal, be the most careful in the planning stages. Replace animal broths with vegetable broths. Read the ingredients on the back of boxes and cans. Avoid anything that uses gelatin as an ingredient (especially when choosing a dessert). Remember that many canned soups–even those called “vegetable soup”–may be made with animal broths. Bacon bits must not be made from real bacon.

Vegetarian Meal Ideas

For those of you who cook vegetarian meals for your family or frequently have vegetarian visitors, keep a list of meals in your arsenal. Pizza. Tacos. Stir fry. Grilled sandwiches. Lasagna. Chowder. All these dishes–and more–can be made into vegetarian fare. These dishes are kid friendly, popular and can be served to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.Vegetarian pizzas may involve heaping piles of vegetables, or may be spare in their toppings. Popular toppings include onions, mushrooms, peppers, olives, tomatoes and basil. Pizzas with an ethnic spin–such as Greek or Mexican pizzas–present the opportunity to use creative topping combinations.Tacos are easy to make vegetarian by simply replacing meats for beans. Black beans or refried beans make a perfect meat substitute that is both tasty and authentically Mexican. Other taco fillings that go well with beans include lettuce, cheese and diced tomatoes and onions. Keep in mind that many other Mexican dishes are easily made vegetarian by using the same trick. Beans are a protein-rich meat substitute appropriate for quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas and more.For an Asian stir fry, sauté foods like squash, bok choy, tofu, garlic, crushed peanuts and mushrooms in soy sauce, and serve over rice. This is an easy and fast meal that tastes great.Grilled cheese sandwiches are beloved by kids and fast, easy fare for adults. This basic food can be dressed up for a slightly more sophisticated meal by adding slices of tomato, spinach, mushroom and other vegetables. Paired with a warm tomato soup or hearty vegetarian chowder, this feel-good food is a favorite of all ages.For a special occasion like a holiday or birthday, a hearty vegetarian lasagna is appropriate. Like meat-based lasagnas, vegetarian lasagnas are made from noodles, sauce and cheese. Ground beef substitute, available at many supermarkets, may be used instead of real ground beef. For a more complex flavor, beef can also be replaced with spinach, eggplant, mushrooms and onions.Bear in mind that these ideas don’t even skim the surface of tried and true vegetarian dishes. There are hundreds, and probably thousands of different recipes that vegetarians enjoy making every day. To help you find new recipes, vegetarian cook books are available in most book stores. In addition, there are many sources online for vegetarian recipes. Vegetarian foodies often blog their recipes and pictures of the results, with commentary.

The Well-Rounded Vegetarian Diet

Just like everyone else, vegetarians must be sure that they consume enough protein and a wide range of vitamins and minerals in order to remain healthy. Many modern processed foods are so fortified with additives that this is not difficult. Vegetarians should also consume a lot of protein-rich foods like whole grains, tofu, meat substitutes, beans and nuts.It’s relatively easy to devise a vegetarian menu for the occasional vegetarian visitor. Obviously it’s more difficult to feed a family of vegetarians on a regular basis. In society where most people eat meat at every meal, it can be a challenge to come up new and interesting recipes.If you are planning a regular diet for your vegetarian family, build up your list of favorite recipes by making an effort to try new and different foods. Cook one new recipe a week. Keep notes as you alter recipes for your own tastes.

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