Saturday, September 22, 2012

Confessions of a Flexitarian

I live with a vegetarian, and these days I do most of the cooking. It's not that he can't cook--he's a very accomplished retired bread baker--it's just I'm a little better at it right now. He mows the lawn, makes the coffee, opens the tough jars, and carries the laundry downstairs, and I prepare the meals.
I'm not a vegetarian by trade, though, and it was a bit of an adjustment at first planning nutritious and tasty meals without relying a nice filet mignon or some grilled salmon once in awhile, but we've made out pretty well all in all. We get a lot of questions when people find out that we're a mixed-diet household. Here are some of the most popular ones:

So do you guys eat fish? Or cheese?
I buy LOTS of cheese. One of us eats way more than the other. (I'm not telling who, but I'll say this--apparently beards need cheddar for follicle health.)
That's $1800 worth of parmesan
I eat all the fish. Josh doesn't eat anything with a face, or a central nervous system, or a respectable CD collection. No pigs, no chickens, no fish, no mussels, no hipsters riding fixies, but there will be cheese. Thank heavens, because if he were vegan (no meat, no dairy, no honey!) he'd be on his own. For dinner at least.

Do you guys eat a lot of tofu or meat substitutes?
No, we hardly eat any. Honestly, it's a lot of work to manipulate tofu into something enjoyable. Marinating, dredging, frying…who am I--Paula "May-oh-nay-uzh" Dean? We'll occasionally use seitan, a wheat protein, in tacos or chili, if we're feeling a little short on protein intake. Its texture is similar to thin steak strips, like in beef fajitas.
Sometimes you just need a little snack o' butter
Are you getting enough protein?
I may or may not be training for an all-women arm-wrestling competition at our corner bar. Either way, yes, if we're diligent about eating healthily, we get plenty of protein--Greek yogurt, dairy, beans, legumes, whole grains are all great sources of protein. Of course, sometimes I go out for a burger.

Nomming on some Kopp's near Milwaukee
Does Josh get upset if you eat meat?
He cries sometimes. Just kidding.  He's the least militant vegetarian I've ever known. In fact, he cooks almost all the meat I eat. I don't love preparing or cooking meat, so he's sweet about doing it for me. It's a weird inversion: I (the omnivore) cook all the vegetarian dishes, and he (the vegetarian) cooks all the meat. If we go out to eat, I often order seafood, but I often choose a meatless meal too. I don't want to make him weep in public.
He made me this shrimp scampi!
Do you miss eating meat?
This way of eating suits me fine. It's usually cheaper to go without meat, and I believe we're pretty well nourished. Plus, it leaves more room for cake.

What's the hardest part about being a flexitarian, which is what all the cool kids are calling it nowadays?
The most challenging thing about not relying on meat to plan your meals around is the creativity and attention to balance that it forces--things that are good to do no matter what your diet. Maybe you'd like to try it out for a week? Whatever your motivation--to save money, to eat more vegetables, or just to try some new recipes--I've listed a week's worth of recipes and food ideas so you can give it a whirl. I tried to balance macronutrients within the same day, so you shouldn't be too full one day and starving the next.

This is a very, very ambitious meal plan for us. We don't cook every day. We eat leftovers a lot, and sometimes we eat popcorn and gelato for dinner. (What, you don't?) I'm just assuming everyone is more motivated and disciplined that I am, so cook your heart out with this plan! (Or stretch it out to two weeks, supplementing with cereal for dinner and whatever suits your fancy. We're adults. We're allowed.)

Speaking of ambitious, this meal plan (assuming one serving of each recipe) is very low-calorie (I shot for 1200 calories per day), low-sodium (get away, heart disease!), and high-fiber (a happy colon is a happy camper). I've linked the recipes to my analysis database at Calorie Count. I take a multi-vitamin too, just to make sure I'm getting 100% of all the recommended amounts of the good stuff. I realize 1200 calories is too few for most of you who are not full-time couch potatoes. This meal plan is just the bare minimum calories--there's room for you to choose larger portions, add some healthy snacks in, or eat some cake.

A Week's Worth of Vegetarian Recipes


Start the week off with banana bread!

Monday
Breakfast: 1 slice chocolate chip banana bread, 1 tall nonfat latte 
Snack: 1 large apple, 1 tbsp almond butter
Nutritional information: 1234 calories, 42g protein, 39g fat, 1553mg sodium, 33g fiber
Potato leek soup (with roasted beets)

Tuesday
Snack: 17 baby carrots and 2 tbsp hummus
Dinner: Red pepper, onion, mushroom, and cheddar fajitas
Nutritional information: 1202 calories, 58g protein, 34g fat, 950g sodium, 33g fiber
Smoothie time!
Wednesday
Snack: 1 tbsp peanut butter and 1 banana
Dinner: Green papaya salad (Thai restaurants will deliver this!)
Nutritional information:  1198 calories, 47g protein, 38g fat, 1109g sodium, 42g fiber
Yogurt, berries, and granola

Thursday
Breakfast: 6 oz nonfat Greek yogurt, 1 c. blueberries
Snack: 4 cups popcorn popped with 1 tsp oil
Lunch: Pasta ( c.) with marinara sauce (½ c.), spinach, hazelnut, and cranberry salad
Nutritional information:  1148 calories, 54g protein, 46g fat, 1757g sodium, 25g fiber
Asparagus & goat cheese frittata

Friday
Breakfast: Steel-cut oats with cinnamon apple, tall nonfat latte
Snack: Tortilla chips and salsa
Dinner: Summer rolls
Nutritional information:  1271 calories, 44g protein, 25g fat, 1075g sodium, 25g fiber

Saturday
Breakfast: Sourdough English muffin with 1 tbsp peanut butter and 1 tbsp honey
Snack: Yogurt
Dinner: Cream of tomato soup and spinach artichoke grilled cheese
Nutritional information:  1255 calories, 62g protein, 38g fat, 1750g sodium, 30g fiber
Stacked enchilada pie
Sunday
Breakfast: Blueberry muffin and 8 oz. 1% milk
Snack: 10 sea salt almonds, 1 medium sweet potato
Nutritional information:  1145 calories, 50g protein, 44g fat, 1750g sodium, 30g fiber