Vegetarian Meal Plan
Roundabout Meal Prep Vegetarian Plan
By Courtney Rayppy, RD
A 2018 survey found that 5% of the American population identifies as vegetarian, vegan or “plant-based.” While that number may seem small at first glance, that percentage totals out to a very large 16, 498, 431 people! (2) Recent trends suggest that more and more American’s are turning to a vegetarian-based diet for a wide variety of reasons including environmental protection, animal rights beliefs, perceived nutritional benefits and more. Personally, I think it’s safe to say that almost everyone could surely benefit from adding in more fruits, veggies, legumes and grains to their diet but as a Dietitian, it’s important to bring forth the pros and cons that come with any dietary practices that someone wishes to participate in. Recently, Roundabout Meal Prep has received tremendous support over our new (and growing) vegetarian meal plan selections because not only do they taste amazing, they offer a variety of plant-based protein sources and are rich in fiber, antioxidants, energy-boosting carbohydrates and healthy fat sources. What makes our meal plan superior to a standard vegetarian diet? Below, I’d like to discuss a few key factors that make up a balanced vegetarian diet as well as debunk a few nutrition myths about plant-based eating that are common topics of discussion.
When it comes to adopting a vegetarian, or more specifically, vegan (meaning that no animal products or byproducts are consumed) diet, the first nutrient that is always brought up is “protein.” As we may know, protein is made up of smaller components called “amino acids” which are strung together like beads on a necklace and folded and changed to essentially make things like tissues, enzymes, hormones, skin, blood and even plays a role in our teeth and bones! It used to be thought that people could only obtain protein from the muscle tissue of other animals. Because amino acids exist in all living things, plants too contain a variety of amino acids that our body needs to function. Today, we know of 20 amino acids that play important roles in our health. 9 of these 20 are referred to as “essential” which simply means that our body cannot create them, thus making it imperative that we obtain them from dietary sources such as animal products or plants. Unlike animal products, plant proteins are often lacking 1-2 of the essential amino acids we need. What can be great about a diverse vegetarian meal plan is that as long as you are consuming a variety of plant-based protein sources throughout your day and week, it is very unlikely that you will be unable to get all of those 9 essential amino acids. Our vegetarian plan specifically has 20 recipes (with 10 more on the way) that offer the diversity of plant-based protein vegetarians need.
Recent advances in food science over the years have developed the largest range of vegetarian/vegan products to date! With foods like burgers made from black beans, nuggets made from soy beans, “pulled pork” tacos made from jackfruit and so much more, vegetarians can enjoy the same foods and recipes non-vegetarians love. That being said, while these new advances provide great options for non-meat eaters, they seldom often offer nutrient-dense value and are usually very high in sodium and fat. Take the new Beyond Beef plant-based meat alternative that has had heads turning this past year. The new burger is a vegan, pea protein based meat-like consistency that tastes pretty darn close to the real deal! While the patty itself is lower in cholesterol and 3 grams of dietary fiber, the patty itself has about 270 calories, has 20 grams of total fat. (1) While the plant-based movement has shown a positive light on making healthier choices by encouraging consumers to eat more veggies, fast-food and convenience food companies are using the new craze as a marketing strategy by offering plant-based products that are still highly processed and lacking in quality micronutrients and fiber. I am all for enjoying the foods you love and treating yourself the occasional burger and pizza, but it is important for me to stress that just because a food item is made from plants, it does not make it automatically “healthy.” In fact, in 2018, a shocking 58% of Americans consume their daily calories from “ultra processed” foods like pre-made frozen and fast food options.(3) It’s our goal and mission as a nutrition company that is overseen by Registered Dietitian, Shanti Wolfe, to provide the most nutrient-dense and balanced meals that take only minutes to prepare. When it comes down to it, choosing foods that are as minimally processed as possible will reap the most nutritional benefits for you.
While I wish I could say that you can get absolutely everything you need from a vegetarian diet 100% of the time, research suggests that adding in a few supplemental sources of nutrition to a vegetarian/vegan diet is the most beneficial. Now, I am a huge advocate for getting nutrition from real, whole food sources but in the real-world setting, there are specific situations where some people can and will benefit from nutritional supplementation. It’s not uncommon for new vegetarians to develop nutrient deficiencies without the proper information. Common nutrient deficiencies for vegetarians include zinc, iron and vitamin B12. B12, also called “cyanocobalamin,” assists with metabolism and without it, deficiency can lead to anemia, nervous system complications, memory loss and extreme fatigue. B12 is often found in animal products like milk, eggs, dairy, meat, poultry and some fortified grain products. Because vegetarians or vegans do not consume many of the food sources where B12 is found, a supplemental vitamin can provide an extra boost to reduce the risk of deficiency. Taking a quality multi-vitamin daily can ensure that you are “filling in the gaps” in your nutrition that might be missing on a strict plant-based diet. A simple, effective and tasty way that you can add in additional B vitamins is to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet! This product is made from dried yeast and has a nutty, almost “cheesy” flavor and can be added to salads, sauces, Mexican food and more. In fact, Roundabout Meal Prep is currently in process of perfecting a vegan queso “cheese sauce!” Many of our new vegetarian recipes are developed in such a way to provide the micronutrients that are often lacking in many vegetarian diets.
Gravitating towards a more plant-rich diet can bring forth wonderful benefits towards your overall health by reducing risk for heart disease, lowering blood pressure, improving bowel function, assisting with weight loss and reducing your risk for cancer by offering antioxidant rich foods that protect your cells. If you are vegetarian or vegan or thinking about adopting the new diet, it’s important to remember these few tidbits of information: eat a variety of plant-based protein, take the right supplements if your vegan and limit the amount of processed foods you consume by focusing on eating whole foods as much as possible.