You can make a vegetarian meal plan by dividing your food choices by nutrient content and combining a variety of foods in each meal. Meal planning for a vegetarian diet often focuses on getting adequate nutrition from non-meat sources. Balanced vegetarian meals generally consist of a protein-rich food, a fiber-rich food, and at least one serving of fresh vegetables. Vegetarianism allows for a variety of meals with specific substitutes for meats as well as for dairy products in cases of vegan meal plans. Creating a vegetarian meal plan can also afford the opportunity to experiment with spices and seasonings from different cuisine traditions.
Nutrition experts usually recommend meals with foods from four main groups for healthy vegetarian meal planning. These groups include vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and legumes. Whole grains make up an additional staple for a vegetarian diet, and these generally consist of fiber-rich breads, rice, and pasta. Some vegetarian cooks prefer foods from this group made from whole wheat rather than from white flour. Each planned meal normally has one to two servings of vegetables and at least one serving of fruit.
Legumes usually replace meat dishes in a vegetarian meal plan. This group can include tofu, nuts, and a variety of prepared soy products in addition to legumes. These foods are generally the main sources of nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, and protein. Vegetarian cooks who include dairy in their meal plans have easy sources of calcium from milk, cheeses, and yogurt. Designing a meal plan for a vegan diet is somewhat more involved due to the need for dairy-free sources of calcium.
Meat substitute dishes are frequently considered a staple of vegetarian lifestyles. Many cooks have their favorite choices of fresh or dehydrated tofu as well as textured soy proteins. The latter products are derived from soybean oil and have a protein density close to that of meat. Soy milk and soy-based cheeses are good additions to a vegan, rather than a vegetarian, meal plan. These foods do not contain the same animal products as dairy-based ones and are common in many vegan diets.
Vegetarian cooks frequently use calendars to record their monthly vegetarian meal plan options. Meals can be written by hand on each day of a monthly or weekly calendar, and this practice can often make grocery shopping more cost effective as well. Some cooks opt for a computer-based meal-planning program that can break down each meal by ingredient and create shopping lists for each week.