Where do they get their protein?
It never fails when someone sees what my children are eating or I volunteer that we are vegetarian getting that age-old question, "where do they get their protein?" pops up. I've heard it enough to not get offended by it. Some people take the time to explain to me what protein is and where it can be found. Maybe after writing this, I'll no longer have to politely explain to several people how protein can be found in a number of natural items. So here it goes.
First, we are vegetarian, not vegan. Although I do cook a lot of vegan dishes. Being vegetarian means we still eat dairy items such as eggs, milk, and cheese. These items have a good amount of protein in them. Vegans do not consume these products or any products that are from and/or by an animal. There is some controversy about honey, but that's another post. I was raised vegetarian, it was a personal belief that stemmed from a religious background. I started eating meat, mainly chicken, around 11th grade. I stopped during my senior year in college in order to live a healthier lifestyle. After I got married I started eating fish. Which is MEAT, this is also controversial because fish is not seen as meat even though it is. But I digress. I used fish as a source of protein when I was focusing on losing weight. I convinced I couldn't get enough as a vegetarian. This, of course, was back before I knew what I know now about natural sources of protein. During that journey, I learned more about what I was eating and how it affected my body. That, ultimately, was the key to really losing weight.
I was never a hot cereal person (oatmeal, cream of wheat, porridge), but these are excellent sources of protein. Thankfully my children haven't developed my dislike of hot cereals, so this is a fan favorite. They are also partial to cold cereals, which I keep on hand as a special treat. The trick is it's usually granola, filled with nuts and chia seeds, my trick is their treat. I do not nor have I have ever been a fan of beans. But the older and wiser I get, I learn to stomach them more. I eat them mostly because they are good sources of protein. I do have a few favorites that I use consistently, lentils and chickpeas. Lentils are a dinner go-to when I'm at a lost for ideas. I add garlic, ginger, spices and a dash of coconut milk and let them simmer. Serve over rice. Chickpeas are a nice hearty bean that go well in soups. They can also be turned into dips like hummus or chickpea salad. Dry chickpeas, soaked overnight, can be made into falafel, need I say more?
My son and I are the only veggie meat eaters in the house. So I use it sparingly. But my favorites are Morningstar Farms patties and veggie bacon (fan favorite), Lightlife hot dogs and smart sausages, Westsoy Seitan. Worthington products are good but contain a lot of sodium. A lot of meat alternatives are nice for transitioning or for a treat. But they aren't always as healthy as they claim, buyer beware. Always read the label. But never fear there are lots of grains that can help you here. Quinoa and couscous are nice by themselves but, they can be made into an awesome burger. And best of all they pack a punch with the protein.
We have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle for our children because we understand the health benefits behind it. My son eats whatever my husband and I eat usually, but my daughter is a bit pickier than that. So sometimes getting all the nutrients she needs is difficult, but still not that hard. First, as I mentioned we eat eggs, milk products, and cheese which are huge sources of protein. This includes Greek yogurt which I put in smoothies. We don't drink cow's milk, but I will use it for certain recipes. I prefer soy or almond milk which doesn't have a ton of protein in them unless you buy ones with added protein. We also eat a lot of nuts, nut butter, and seeds around here. Most of these are chalked full of healthy fats and protein. Chia seeds are an excellent source of protein and also work well in smoothies. Smoothies are a great way for me to sneak all sorts of things into my daughter's diet with minimal complaint. A quick smoothie is the best way to get things in my kid's diet that they don't normally eat and add more protein to their diet.
Tofu, in my personal opinion, is the most versatile option for vegetarians and vegan. But it has to be seasoned properly if you're going to use it as your main protein. Tofu takes on whatever is the strongest flavor around it. It can be grilled, fried or baked. It also works great in desserts and smoothies (seeing the trend...I'll throw anything into a smoothie). Not everything I use is completely natural. After I workout most post workout meals include a protein shake. I use a regular protein powder. I'm trying out some non-dairy ones, I'll update once I've found one I really like. Suggestions are welomed!
At the end of the day, I try to do what I think is best for my family. Both children are healthy and growing and to me, that's what ultimately matters. I've considered adding a multivitamin to their diets, but haven't settled on whether this si important or not. It seems like a placebo of sorts, more on that later. But they've been to the doctor and nothing is missing, so if it ain't broken I don't need to fix it.