How to Vegetarian: Healthy Quick Meals

By Alexandra Caspero on July 7, 2016
Well, it’s been an incredible five months diving deep into all things vegetarian related. This How to Vegetarian series has covered protein, omega-3’s, sports nutrition, being a flexitarian, and now- vegetarian meal planning. As I mentioned in the very first post, I want this discussion to be for everyone, vegetarian, vegan, meat minimalist and omnivore. As I believe that we can all benefit from eating more plants, I want to dispel any myths surrounding vegetarianism, inspire those who are considering the diet, and reaffirm nutrition for those who already follow it. It’s only fitting then that we end with food. Below you’ll find what inexpensive and healthy meals I rely on most, the vegetarian pantry and ideas for maximizing nutrition on a vegetarian diet. Let’s eat!

The Vegetarian Pantry

Here’s a list of ingredients that I use the most. Of course, this post is by no means exhaustive (or do you need to have all of these items in your pantry), but they are the ingredients that I rely on almost daily. I haven’t included any vegetables or fruit as those change on the seasons.


  • Whole grain pasta: Pasta may be my most-relied upon pantry item, and I eat it at least 3-4 times a week. I discuss all of my favorite shapes in my upcoming cookbook, but I prefer varieties like Dreamfields, whole-grain and legume based. 
  • Couscous
  • Rolled, Old-Fashioned Oats: Perfect for overnight oats, homemade granola and muesli bowls
  • Wild & Brown rice: I’ve completely changed my tune on brown rice after making it in my rice cooker. Perfectly steamed rice, overtime. This, sautéed vegetables, baked tofu and sauce is my dinner at least weekly. 
  • Farro: I’ve really come to love faro over the past year. If you’re looking for a yummy grain alternative, especially in salads, try farro. 
  • Whole-wheat flour and white wheat flour: For baked goods. 
  • Quinoa (technically a pseudo grain, but since we eat it as a grain, I’m including it here).


I purchase these beans/legumes both dried and canned. If I have time, I’ll cook a big batch of dried beans in my pressure cooker to freeze in individual portions. I throw them into salads, grain salads, soups or pureed into hummus.

  • Green Lentils: my favorite, especially in cold salads
  • Chickpeas
  • Red Lentils: since they break down so easily, they are great in sauces and soups
  • Black Beans: for a minimal dinner, try cooked brown rice, black beans, salsa and some roasted vegetables. 
  • Organic tofu (firm or extra firm)
  • Tempeh. Once you learn how to prepare it, tempeh is one of my favorite protein sources. I love it most as bacon, sausage crumbles or baked in sauce

Nuts & Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Pistachios: great for snacking, I will often buy the individual packs of flavored pistachios to keep in my purse. 
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews: great for snacking, even better pureed into cashew cream.
  • Chia seeds: I love these in puddings, jam and yogurt bowls
  • Hemp seeds

Canned & Dry Goods

  • KURA protein powder: BL and I drink this almost daily (the vanilla is my favorite). I love it since it’s not only a great source of protein (14g), but also contains antioxidants, probiotics and omega-3s. I love that I get a bit hit of nutrition first thing in the morning. 
  • Tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes: Chopped tomatoes are my base for quick salsa, sauces and soups. I doctor up prepared tomato sauce with herbs and spices for a fast marinara to cover pasta. 
  • Dates: one of my favorite natural sweetener options, especially in my vegan milkshakes and raw energy balls.
  • Maple syrup: I stock 100% maple syrup for most of my sweeter needs. 
  • Peanut Butter, Tahini & Almond Butter
  • Almond Milk
  • Canned coconut milk & full-fat coconut milk for baking
  • Low-sodium vegetable broth
  • Nutritional yeast: For cheesy flavor, without the cheese!
  • Sprouted grain bread

Favorite Inexpensive & Healthy Meals


  • Smoothies and Smoothie Bowls using KURA protein: this kiwi smoothie bowl is hands down my favorite thing to eat after a workout. Smoothie bowls are not only satiating (thanks to all that protein and fiber), you tend to eat it slower than a smoothie, which can increase satisfaction. Leftover smoothie or smoothie bowl? Pour it into a popsicle mold for a sweet, frozen treat!
  • Avocado Toast: plain, with sliced tomatoes, smashed white beans or drizzled with maple syrup
  • Muesli bowl: make a big batch overnight to eat throughout the week
  • Tofu Scramble with in-season vegetables
  • Egg sandwich with avocado, sliced tomatoes, and whole-grain toast

Lunch & Dinner

  • Quick Indian chickpeas: ready in just 15 minutes
  • Whole-grain pasta with white beans, spinach and tomato sauce
  • Lentil Tacos
  • Red Lentil Soup: I always double (or triple) the batch to freeze for later
  • Burrito Bowl: Brown rice, black beans, roasted in-season vegetables and avocado sauce
  • Stir-Fry: brown rice, baked tofu, frozen stir-fry vegetables and teriyaki sauce
  • Buddha Bowl: brown rice, sautéed tempeh, steamed spinach, tahini drizzle
  • Hummus quesadillas
  • Leftover bowl: any leftover grain, vegetables, canned beans and dressing of choice


  • Trail Mix: mix of dried fruit and nuts/seeds that I get from the bulk bin
  • Popcorn: I cook dried kernels in a bit of coconut oil and seasoned with nutritional yeast, salt and pepper or cinnamon
  • KURA smoothies: Favorite snack smoothie; KURA vanilla powder, 1/2 frozen banana, nutmeg/cinnamon, vanilla almond milk and a splash of vanilla extract. It tastes like a snickerdoodle cookie, without the added sugar.
  • Yogurt with granola and fruit
  • Sliced fruit
  • Apple and almond butter
  • Brown rice cake with peanut butter, pear and drizzle of honey
  • Sliced vegetables and hummus

Maximizing Nutrition on a Vegetarian Diet

I’m not going to go into detail on the importance of protein and omega-3 fatty acids as I dedicated entire posts & how-to’s and those topic earlier. For vegetarians and vegans, I also recommend B12 supplementation, along with a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids. I know that some food are fortified with B12, but honestly, I don’t think they are enough and it’s difficult to make sure you are eating those foods every single day. A supplement is simple and easy.
It’s not always easy, but I try to get at least 1-2 servings of fruits/vegetables at both lunch and dinner. Not only does it go along with my nutrient-dense way of eating, but it ensures that I am getting as many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as possible since those are some of the best sources.
I am a huge fan of KURA protein powders for so many reasons, but I love that the grass-fed dairy powder is fortified with other goodies that are essential on a vegetarian (or any diet): omega-3s, probiotics and antioxidants. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s so, so yummy! Have you tried it?
Lastly, my goal is at least one serving of lentils/beans per day. Aside from protein, complex carbs and fiber, beans contain a powerhouse of nutrients including antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals, such as copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

What’s in your vegetarian pantry? What are your favorite quick and healthy vegetarian meals? What other vegetarian nutrition topics would you like see addressed? 


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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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    1. Brenda Long
      January 7, 2021 AT 12:39 pm

      Hi Alex. I received an e-mail from dr. Bulsiewicz which stated that you offered a weekly meal plan. For some reason I’m unable to retrieve it. I would like to sign up. Can you send me a link to do so? Also I’m resuming that the meal plans are just WFPB only not just vegan correct? Thanks for your help!

    2. Nikki
      September 24, 2017 AT 9:11 pm

      How much is one serving of beans? I’m trying to get enough calcium every day from natural sources (so not almond milk, full of stabilizers and fortified) and I’d like to know what you think since you’re a dietitian! Thanks

      1. Alex
        September 25, 2017 AT 6:43 pm

        Hi Nikki, one serving of beans is considered to be 1/2 cup cooked. While beans, nuts and seeds provide moderate amounts of calcium, it’s absorbed at relatively low rates. But, I still advocate for beans/pulses everyday and soy beans tend to be better absorbed than other beans. I’m a fan of fortified foods if that helps get more calcium into the diet. Best sources with highest bioavailability include calcium-set tofu, Kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, broccoli and fortified juices/milks. Calcium doesn’t have to be an issue on a vegan/vegetarian diet, but you do want to ensure you are including a few servings a day or calcium-rich foods.