Beginner meals for the vegetarian

By Hannah Auten, Creative director

I became a vegetarian at the start of my freshman year of college. Thanks to the awesome array of vegetarian options in the University Dining Halls, my dietary transition freshman year wasn’t much of a struggle. Unfortunately, learning to cook homemade meatless homemade meals in my apartment was, especially after growing up on a cattle farm in southern Illinois.

Growing up, meat was almost always an integral part of every meal. I assumed this meant that to feed myself on a vegetarian diet, I would need to build a completely new mental repertoire of meals and recipes. Thankfully I assumed wrong.

Take meatless meatballs for an example. They sound pretty disgusting, but these, along with various other forms and flavors of fake meat, have saved my life. I was very surprised to learn that, for the most part, these soy alternatives tasted very similar to their meat counterparts.

Using soy replacements for old-fashioned meat meals is one of my favorite ways to eat as a vegetarian. For example, making a stir fry with teriyaki chik’n strips, or preparing chik’n cutlets with mashed potatoes, corn, and green beans.

If you’ve already loaded up on your protein for the day, which soy meat replacement products are typically loaded with, lighter meals are always a good option. Toasting some bread  that’s spread with Hellman’s mayonnaise, topped with baked tomatoes and mozzarella and sprinkled with a bit of garlic salt makes for a delicious, quick meal.

I’ve learned experimenting with recipes is the best way to find those meals that taste so good you thought they could only be found on your dinner table back home. For example, the tomato and mozzarella sandwich recipe I just described was born from me getting a little crazy with the ingredients when making a grilled cheese one afternoon.

The last, and probably most important, tip I have today is to learn how to cook some mean tofu. Tofu is pretty unappetizing in the package. It’s a white, square blob labeled “firm” or “extra firm”, which seems gross without even looking at the contents in the package.

Thankfully, this white blob of protein can be prepared in a myriad of ways. In my experience, the internet is your best friend when exploring uncharted territory in the kitchen. Tofu can be fried, shredded, braised, baked or sauteed, and the list goes on and on. Learning how to utilize this versatile food will help you meet your daily recommended amount of protein, while still keeping your tastebuds happy and guessing.

Eating vegetarian in your own apartment instead of the dining halls can seem like an intimidating challenge; however, it’s a lot easier than one would think. Once you put your mind to it, there are many meatless meals that you can make. Not only will eating green make you a better chef, but the environment will be thanking you, too. Whether you live as a vegetarian or just try to eat meatless once a week, there are many ways to keep yourself fed in an apartment.

Hannah is a sophomore in LAS. 

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