My Vegetarian Rookie Mistake

I never thought I would be a vegetarian. To be honest, the thought never crossed my mind-until about 5 months ago. I began to notice that my plate rarely ever included meat, poultry, or fish. And I thought to myself-"I might as well be a vegetarian." So I decided to go for it.

Since I was pretty much already practicing vegetarianism, I didn't think anything needed to change in my diet. This should be super simple! I should just keep doing what I'm doing, right? WRONG. The first month of being a vegetarian, I felt fine. I didn't notice any big changes in my energy. But towards the end of the second month, I noticed a decrease in the amount of energy I had towards the end of each day. I felt so lethargic, and all I wanted to do was take a nap. I took a step back, and realized I was not getting enough protein in my diet. I also wasn't taking the time to plan my meals. I was just throwing things together and eating the same things I always had before. My meals consisted of vegetables, vegetables, and vegetables. No wonder I was so tired all the time! This was my vegetarian rookie mistake.

Since I wasn't doing a great job at getting in the right amount of protein, I decided I needed to take a look at plant-based protein sources and incorporate them into my diet. I started to look up recipes and modify them to fit my personal preferences. Yes, planning and preparation takes a whole lot of time. Pinterest has become my best friend, and I don't leave my kitchen on Sunday afternoons. BUT if I can give any advice to fellow vegetarian rookies, it's this: plan your meals, and make sure you consume vegetarian protein source at every meal.

I call myself a lacto-ovo vegetarian-my eating pattern is based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains, eggs, and occasionally dairy products. Since my diet is not strictly plant-based, I definitely have it a little easier when it comes to what recipes I can use. However, I still want most of my protein sources to be plant-based. Why? I'll tell you...

Although some vegetarians get a bad rep for having lower intakes of vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, vegetarian diets are associated with many health advantages. Vegetarians tend to consume higher amounts of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and folate. Vegetarian diets are also lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarians are at a lower risk for developing heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. The vegetarian diet also seems to be protective against various types of cancer, such as colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancers. All these health benefits are the result of consuming plant-based protein sources, such as nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, quinoa, seitan, tofu, protein powder supplements, and more.

By following a vegetarian diet, I feel like I'm doing the right thing for my body. I am not disregarding nutritional considerations because I do recognize that just like with any other diet, nutritional deficiencies can occur. However, I believe a well-planned vegetarian diet is nutritionally adequate. Following a vegetarian diet may take more effort but in my opinion, the health benefits far outweigh the extra time and thought.

So, whether you are considering becoming a vegetarian, or you just want to try out something new, take my advice and plan your meals! Get your plant-based protein sources in at every meal, and you won't make the same rookie mistakes that I did. To get you started, here are a few of my favorite vegetarian recipes that I discovered during my first recipe search! Enjoy!

Broccoli Raab Frittata
Makes 4 servings

• 1 T olive oil
• 1 large red onion, chopped (2 cups)
• 1 small orange bell pepper, chopped, optional
• 1 T chopped oil-cured sun-dried tomatoes
• 1 T minced fresh rosemary
• 2 cups chopped broccoli raab
• 4 cloves garlic, minced (4 tsp.)
• 5 large egg whites
• 3 large whole eggs
• ¾ cup shredded Swiss or Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat broiler. Coat 10-inch ovenproof skillet with cooking spray.
2. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper (if using), sun-dried tomatoes, and rosemary; sauté 10 minutes. Add broccoli raab and garlic, and cook 10 minutes more.
3. Whisk together egg whites, eggs, and 1/3 cup water in bowl. Stir in cheese.
4. Pour egg mixture over vegetables in skillet, and cook 2 minutes, using a rubber spatula to gently pull edges of frittata in toward center of skillet so uncooked egg can flow onto pan surface. When egg mixture has nearly set, place skillet under broiler 2 minutes, or until top is set and has puffed and browned slightly. Let stand 5 minutes, then run spatula around edges, and slice into wedges.

Spicy Roasted Vegetable Mac & Cheese
Makes 6 servings

• 1 cup broccoli florets, chopped into small chunks
• 1/2 red pepper, diced
• 1 yellow squash, quartered and diced
• 10 baby carrots, sliced thinly
• 2 cups whole wheat pasta (elbow macaroni, rotini, penne, etc.)
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 3 T all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 cups milk
• 2 cups (8 oz.) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
• 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
• 1/2 t cayenne pepper
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 2 T panko breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Set a medium pot of salted water to boil. Prepare a large baking sheet by lining with aluminum foil and coating with a little olive oil or nonstick cooking spray.
2. Toss broccoli, red pepper, squash and carrots onto the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until vegetables have softened. Remove from oven and set aside.
3. Once water is boiling, lower heat slightly and add pasta, cooking according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk, stirring constantly until mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in cheddar cheese until well distributed and melted. Add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Add macaroni and vegetables.
5. Place mixture in a large casserole dish and sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs. Place under the broiler in your oven (500°F) for 3-4 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Roasted Veggie and Hummus Wraps
Makes 4 wraps

• 1 batch of red pepper hummus (regular hummus will also work just fine!)
• One onion, peeled and cut into eighths
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes
• 1 cup baby carrots
• 1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
• 2 T olive oil
• 1/2 t salt
• 1/4 t pepper
• 4 tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 425°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
2. Toss the veggies with the olive oil, and then with the salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until tender and a little charred in places, about 45 minutes.
3. Warm the tortillas, either in the microwave for about 20 seconds, or by wrapping them in foil and putting them in the oven that the veggies just came out of for 5-10 minutes.
4. Spread the tortillas with a generous layer of hummus. Scatter the roasted veggies on top. Roll up, cut in half and serve immediately.

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