7 Healthy-Eating Lessons to Steal from Vegetarians

Pick up vegetarian tips for healthy eatingNot ready to give up meat? No worries: You can still reap the perks of a produce-rich diet. Having more flexible rules, like Mark Bittman, author of Vegan Before 6:00, means you can feed your inner carnivore while getting many of the health benefits that full-fledged vegetarians do. These seven tips will lead you down the right, part-time vegetarian path.

1. Don't become a pasta junkie
Adding meatless marinara to noodles and calling it dinner every night is an easy trap to fall into. Processed grains, such as white pasta, crackers, and bread are not the most nutritious meat substitute. Besides, carb-loading on a plate of pasta isn't going to do your waistline any favors. Bust out of your pasta rut with our Vegetarian Tacos.

2. Channel your inner chef
When veggies take center stage on your dinner plate, they warrant more attention than when they're shoved to the side like an afterthought. Seek out seasonings and spices to play up your produce. Our savory Spinach and Raisin Sauté is a 10-minute meal that proves how simple it is to whip up truly tasty vegetarian fare. Or, try our delectable Grilled Eggplant Parmesan.

3. Broaden your protein horizons
With meat out of the picture, many vegetarians struggle to hit their daily protein requirements. Think outside the box and experiment with high-protein grains, like quinoa, as well as other protein-packed foods like beans, nuts, and seeds. Even if you're not kicking all animal products to the curb, substituting plant-based protein for meat even a few days a week is good habit. Lowering the amount of unhealthy animal fats in your diet can improve your health, save you money, and help the environment. One way to do it: Add ½ cup of edamame to our Warm Quinoa Salad with Toasted Almonds for a satiating meal.

4. Jump on the whole grain bandwagon
Because pasta gets old (and it's not a healthy option for nightly dinners anyway) add whole grains to your grocery list. Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, and rolled oats, are a flavorful way to sneak nutrients into your meals. Trade your spaghetti for our veggie-loaded Brown Rice Salad.

5. Shop the perimeter
You'll find the least processed, freshest - and healthiest - foods in your grocer's outer aisles. The inner aisles are reserved for processed, packaged foods, so shop these sparingly. Next time you're at the market, roam freely through the produce department. Grab your usual staples and throw in a few colorful veggies and fruits you've never tried. Leave yourself a bit of time to hit the aisles stocked with whole grains, canned beans, nuts, and other healthful packaged goodies. Don't forget to make a list (and stick to it) for your non-produce items - this will make it easier to ignore those chocolate chip cookies (which are, admittedly, vegetarian!) calling your name.

6. Plan ahead
A smart vegetarian tries her best not to plow through a bowl of potato chips because it's the only non-meat choice at the party. Instead, she'll always have a bag of nuts, piece of fruit, or chopped veggies readily available to snack on until she can get her hands on a real meal. In a moment of hunger, even meat eaters might be tempted to gorge on junk food if it's handy. Arm yourself against unhealthy binges by stashing nutritious goodies in your purse or car. This way, you'll be less tempted to stop for fast food on your way home from work. These high-fiber, protein-packed Spiced Munchies will get you through any snack emergencies.

7. Be a (proud) picky eater
It may seem annoying when your friend asks for countless substitutions at restaurants, but who's more satisfied with her meal? Not all menu items are set in stone. Next time you're eating out and you'd rather have a whole grain wrap instead of a bun or hummus instead of mayo, put in the request. You may be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

-By Samantha B. Cassetty, M.S., R.D. and Ann Lokuta

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