Fruits and vegetables in a square on a white background

Eating a vegetarian diet may seem like a growing trend, but it’s already been a viable nutritious option for thousands of years. While many worldwide cultures follow a vegetarian diet, only about 7 million Americans do, with an additional 23 million including vegetarian options in their diet.

What is a vegetarian?

A vegetarian is officially someone who does not eat any meat, poultry or fish. Their diet includes mainly fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts. Some add eggs and dairy foods to their diet, while they avoid beef or chicken stock, lard and gelatin.

While being a vegetarian is a broad category, the American Dietetic Association classifies vegetarians in the following 3 ways:

  • Vegans or total vegetarians exclude all animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and all dairy. They also do not eat honey.
  • Lacto-vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, fish and eggs, but include dairy products.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, and fish, but include dairy and eggs. Most vegetarians in the United States are in this category.

Health Benefits

While there are many reasons people are vegetarian – animal rights, spiritual reasons or even allergies – the health benefits are the most common reasons people chose vegetarian meals. According to the ADA, vegetarians are at a lower risk for developing:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • High Blood Pressure

Food Options

With the variety of nutrients in plant-based foods, vegetarians can still get their daily requirements of protein, vitamins and nutrients. There are countless food options – besides raw fruits and vegetables – that are not only nutritious, but include a wide variety of choices, such as:

  • Ready-to-eat, whole-grain breakfast cereals, and quick-cooking whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal
  • Whole-grain breads and crackers, such as rye, whole wheat, and mixed grain
  • Other grains such as barley and bulgur wheat
  • Canned beans, such as pinto, black beans and garbanzo beans
  • Plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh and seitan
  • Milk, yogurt and fortified soy substitutes
  • Rice (including brown, wild, etc.)
  • Pasta (now available in whole wheat, spinach and other flavors) with tomato sauce and canned beans or chopped veggies
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Vegetarian soups like lentil or minestrone
  • Plain frozen vegetables
  • Frozen fruit juice concentrate
  • Nut spreads (peanut or almond butter)
  • Canned and frozen fruit

To enjoy the nutritional benefits of vegetarian food throughout the day, here’s one recipe for each meal – plus a dessert:


Sweet Potato Oatmeal Breakfast Casserole – This savory vegan breakfast is fast and delicious.

Rainbow Raw Pad Thai – Try this colorful and crunchy lunch option.

Vegetarian Portabella Mushroom Enchiladas – This Mexican favorite is still delicious without meat.

Strawberry Oat Squares with Homemade Jam – Crunchy oats make the perfect base for a tasty fruit topping.


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