Fresh produce: looking soooo good

Even if you’ve never considered becoming a vegetarian or vegan before, all of the beautiful fresh produce popping up in our local farmers markets and roadside farm stands may have you thinking about it now. While there’s nothing wrong with eating a balanced diet that contains meat and dairy products, there’s also nothing wrong with choosing to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Many people mistakenly believe that by not eating meat, vegetarians can’t possibly eat enough other foods to get all the nutrients they need. They can. All they need to do is eat a wide variety of foods and eat enough of those foods to meet their calorie needs.

Just like meat eaters, vegetarians need to follow the food group recommendations for their age, sex, and activity level. Those recommendations can be found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, to be certain they meet their nutrient needs, vegetarians should pay close attention to what they’re choosing to eat to be sure they’re eating enough of the right foods so they do meet their protein, calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamin B12 needs.

Protein has many important functions and is essential for growth and body maintenance.

Vegetarians can easily meet their protein requirements by eating a variety of plant-based foods. You may have heard there are strict rules for combining different protein sources in the same meal. That is simply not true.

Beans, peas, nuts and nut butters, are all great protein sources. Lots of vegetarians also enjoy soy products like tofu, which is a curd made from mashed soybeans, or tempeh, made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans, but with a taste different from tofu. Some enjoy substituting wheat gluten, also called seitan, for meat or they may like to eat pita halves with falafel, which are spicy ground chick pea patties. You’ll also find veggie burgers everywhere these days; in restaurants, in grocery stores, and there are lots of easy recipes, if you’d like to try making your own.

Milk products and eggs can also be good protein sources for lacto-ovo vegetarians, those vegetarians who will not eat animal flesh of any kind, but who do eat dairy and egg products.

Just like the rest of us, vegetarians should plan meals using naturally low fat protein sources, like beans, lentils, or brown rice. When trying to eat the same amount of protein found in meat, it can be tempting to eat too much high-fat cheese. Don’t do it. However, if you can find a low fat soy cheese, you can use that as a substitute for regular cheese.

Calcium is important because it builds bones and teeth. Calcium also helps to maintain bone strength. Many vegetarians and vegans eat calcium-fortified foods, like fortified varieties of orange juice, soymilk, and breakfast cereals. In fact, calcium-fortified soymilk and cow’s milk contain similar amounts of calcium, but calcium-fortified soymilk is usually low fat and doesn’t contain cholesterol.

Some dark-green leafy vegetables, like bok choy, collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens, as well as tofu made with calcium sulfate, contain calcium, but the amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies. That’s why some vegetarians and vegans find it especially challenging to ingest enough calcium rich foods. Eating enough plant foods to meet their calcium needs can end up being an unrealistic goal for a lot of people. That’s why some chose to be lacto vegetarians: milk products are simply excellent calcium sources. If their diet is still lacking, some vegetarians may want to consider calcium supplements.

We need to consume zinc to help our immune system function properly and for many biochemical reactions. Many types of beans, including kidney beans, white beans and chickpeas are good sources of zinc, as are pumpkin seeds and wheat germ. There are also zinc-fortified breakfast cereals. Lacto vegetarians find milk products can be another good source.

We need to get enough iron because it carries oxygen in our blood. Vegetarians and vegans can get enough iron by eating spinach, turnip greens, peas, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, and some dried fruits, like prunes, raisins or dried apricots. Molasses, whole wheat breads, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals can also be good sources of iron.

Vitamin B12 is required for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. Animal products and some fortified foods can be good sources. Consequently, milk products and eggs are good sources of vitamin B12 for lacto vegetarians. Other vegetarians need to seek out foods fortified with vitamin B12, like nutritional yeast, soymilk, veggie burgers, and some breakfast cereals. They should be reading the product’s Nutrition Facts labels and looking for vitamin B12 .

It’s really not all that hard to become a vegetarian these days. Many dishes that are traditionally made with meat will be just as tasty or, some may argue, even tastier, when meatless. Meatless dishes can also cut saturated fat and cholesterol intake, sometimes pretty dramatically.

There are fabulous recipes out there for meatless vegetable lasagna, pizza, stir fry, lo mein, pasta primavera, grilled veggie kabobs, bean burritos, tacos or, for lacto vegetarians, quiche. Pesto or marinara sauce can also be the basis of a great pasta dish. A three bean salad, cup of split pea or squash soup, or a hummus sandwich are other tasty options.

You also might want to start snacking more often on unsalted nuts or using them in salads or main dishes. For instance, almonds, walnuts, and pecans all make great tasting substitutes for cheese or meat in salads.

If you eat out often, you know you can now find many more vegetarian dishes on restaurant menus, making eating out much easier for most vegetarians. If you ask, you’ll find many restaurants have other vegetarian options that may not be listed on their menus. Some will substitute meatless sauces. Others will use beans or tofu, or add vegetables, rice or pasta, to replace meat in some of their dishes. You can also choose to make a meal of several vegetables side dishes rather than order a main dish.

If you’re seriously considering making this lifestyle change, you can find the right vegetarian pattern for you by checking appendices 8 and 9 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 at There you’ll find vegetarian adaptations of the USDA food patterns at 12 calorie levels.

Even if you don’t become a vegetarian, eating some meatless meals can help you cut your overall saturated fat and cholesterol intake.

You can find lots of delicious vegetarian recipes and nutrition information at If you’d like even more ideas to improve your family’s health, call to learn more about the Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Eat Smart New York program. Learn ways to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, and get at least the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity each and every day, all while also saving money. The Eat Smart New York Program is one of many programs offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County, a community based educational organization affiliated with Cornell University, Chautauqua County Government, the NYS SUNY system, and the federal government through the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. CCE-Chautauqua is part of a network of extension associations, programs and services located across the state and nation. For more information, call 664-9502 ext. 217 or visit the website at

It’s also important to remember that if you, or people you know, are struggling to make ends meet, you may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. SNAP helps low-income people buy nutritious food and beverages. To find out more about SNAP benefit eligibility call 1-800-342-3009, apply online for SNAP benefits at, or contact your local social services office.

If you’re looking for a quick, easy and healthy recipes that also provide a good way to use up some of the abundant zucchini or summer squash from your garden, or that you find at one of our county’s many farmer’s markets, you could try the Sweet and Spicy Summer Squash or Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce recipes.

Sweet and Spicy Summer Squash


1 tablespoon olive oil

4 cups chopped zucchini or summer squash

1 onion chopped

2 green bell peppers, chopped

1/16 teaspoon cayenne pepper or a splash of hot sauce

2 tablespoons honey

Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add squash, onion, and green peppers and saute 10 minutes or until tender.

2. Stir in honey and cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Remove from heat.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Cover and let stand for 3 minutes before serving.

Yields about 4 servings

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size of recipe (9.1 ounces) 110 Calories, 35 Calories from Fat, 4g Total Fat, 31.8% Calories from Fat, 0.5g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 15mg Sodium, 20g Total Carbohydrate, 3g Dietary Fiber, 14g Sugars, 3g Protein, 10% Vitamin A, 4% Calcium, 150% Vitamin C, 4% Iron

Source: Cayuga County Cooperative Extension

Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup zucchini, sliced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 can tomato sauce (8 oz)

1 can tomato paste (6 oz)

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 cup water


1. In a medium skillet, heat oil. Saute onions, garlic and zucchini in oil for 5 minutes on medium heat.

2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer covered for 45 minutes. Serve over spaghetti.

Yield 6 servings

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 1/3 cup (203 g) 100 Calories, 45 Calories from Fat, 5g Total Fat, 8% Calories from Fat, 0.5g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 430mg Sodium, 13g Total Carbohydrate, 3g Dietary Fiber, 8g Sugars, 3g Protein, 20% Vitamin A, 6% Calcium, 35% Vitamin C, 15% Iron

Cost: per recipe: $5.09 / per serving: $0.85

Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Dash Eating Plan: Lower Your Blood Pressure

Patty Hammond leads family and consumer science programs at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. She writes monthly for the OBSERVER. Direct comments to