These days, at least in the western world, people eat a lot of meat. In a lot of cases, it's also much more than I would recommend. That's because with high meat consumption comes high saturated fats, and (depending on where you get your meat) lots of hormones and antibiotics.
At the same time, the vegan/vegetarian movement has probably never had so much interest. With documentaries like Game Changers on Netflix and recent trends like Veganuary, people seem to be looking for meat-free meals more frequently now even if they aren't vegetarian.
Meanwhile, throughout the years that I have been working as a nutritionist, a lot of people have told me that trying to eat a filling and balanced vegetarian diet can be very expensive. But that doesn't have to be the case.
Balanced, Tasty, and Filling Vegetarian Meals
One of my university professors once said that "for people who eat meat, a vegetarian diet is just what is left on their plates when we take away the meat". For that reason, a lot of people think vegetarian dishes are boring or are missing the main part of the meal. But any vegetarian knows that their meals are so much more than that.
If you plan for a meal to be vegetarian, you aren't just prepping larger quantities of side dishes. So we've compiled a list of our favorite vegetarian lunches where each one is delicious, nutritious, filling, easy to prepare, and works on a budget!
1. Vegetable Frittata
Taking little time to prepare and easy to make with whatever ingredients you have in the fridge, it's one of our favorite veggie lunches. Especially when I don't have time to make myself anything to eat other than what I'm feeding my son.
(Affiliate link to the WMF pan in the photo which is legitimately my favorite pan ever.)
2. Cauliflower Mac'n'Cheese
Our cauliflower mac and cheese is a great winter dish. Cauliflower is in season, so you should be able to find some good locally sourced produce making it cheaper and better for you.
Cauliflower has a ton of benefits and in a dish of pasta and cheese, you might find that it goes down easier than if you serve it to a toddler separately. This dish also has loads of calcium to help those growing bones get bigger and stronger.
The macaroni pasta that we use is from white flour (it's all about balance in the end and we really wanted to keep the authenticity of the mac'n'cheese) so it's often cheaper than wholegrain options. That being said, you can certainly substitute in some wholegrain pasta instead if you prefer.
With lots of carbs it's also great for that pre-nap meal to help your toddler sleep well.
3. Quinoa Tomato Risotto
Quinoa is high in protein and we often use it in our recipes for that reason. It's also high in zinc, copper, and phosphorus and has significant amounts of fiber to help keep the digestive system moving.
All that makes it a fantastic base for any vegetarian meal. We combined it here with peas and tomatoes but there are loads of vegetables that go really well with it. Using fresh vegetables that are in season is a great way to experiment with different options and make it your own.
Frozen vegetables are a great option if you want to choose vegetables that are not currently in season, and you want to keep it on a budget. Some research also shows that they might even have more micronutrients than fresh vegetables due to them being flash frozen immediately after being harvested.
4. Salmon Beans Pasta
For many vegetarians, their diet also includes fish (also called being pescatarian). And salmon is definitely one of the nutritionally best you can find. With its unsaturated fats and omega 3s, it's great to support healthy growth and brain development. And a plate of salmon beans and pasta provides a balanced and filling meal.
While not always the cheapest ingredient, combined with beans and pasta, this should still fit within even the tightest budgets. And given its health benefits, it's really worth including now and then.
Frozen salmon may be cheaper but is just as good. Meanwhile, goat's cheese can easily be substituted for cow's if you prefer.
If using canned beans, just be sure to wash them as they can be a little too high in salt for your toddler and especially for any under-1s.
5. Broccoli Pea Gnocchi
Last on our list of vegetarian meals is another great one for winter as broccoli is in season all through the colder months. This broccoli pea gnocchi dish is also high in vitamin C to help stave off any winter colds.
Peas only come into season in the spring, but frozen ones are just as good. They are also just as easy to prepare without even having to defrost them first. As with the beans, just be aware that the canned alternative can have quite a bit of salt.
Packed with complex carbs, it will keep your toddler full for ages and deliver a good dose of antioxidants from both the broccoli and the peas. Meanwhile, goat's cheese is high in protein, has lots of healthy fats and provides some calcium too.