Simple vegetarian weight loss recipes
August 20, 2014 5:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm a vegetarian who is trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, I never bothered to gain cooking skills so I don't really know what normal dieters do to feed themselves during the week. Recipe suggestions, por favor?

I'm 25 years old, but I've never managed to get the whole "cooking" thing down. I think this is mainly due to lack of trying. Almost every meal I have is either eaten out, frozen, or otherwise very simple (involves no more preparation than putting together a sandwich, for instance). I am a vegetarian, and fortunately I live in a vegetarian-friendly city so eating this way has not been difficult. However, I am interested in doing more cooking and learning more about how normal people live (in particular, people who are trying to lose weight like I am).

I'm pretty set on breakfast plans already, so I'd like to hear your suggestions for healthy recipes that I can eat for dinner or take with me to work for lunch (a refrigerator and microwave are available). They need to meet the following criteria:

- Vegetarian. I am not a huge fan of eggs or mushrooms, but just about anything else is fair game.
- Diet-friendly. I don't have any special dietary restrictions (e.g. gluten-free), but I want to keep calories low while still incorporating healthy fats, proteins, and plenty of vegetables. The easier it is for me to keep track of calories, the better.
- Simple to prepare. I have very little cooking experience, so I need to start small. Also I don't care if it actually involves "cooking," it can just be "preparing."
- Not very expensive. I plan to go grocery-shopping once a week but I don't feel comfortable spending more than like, $50-$60 for the week (bearing in mind that I don't really shop for Saturdays since that's my day off dieting/everything).
- Serves one person. I don't mind repeating meals throughout the week though, so maybe this part isn't as important.

I expect someone will mention slow cookers, so I will take this opportunity to say that I have one. I haven't used it yet though! But please don't limit your answers to slow-cooker recipes. Also I'm not really looking for book recommendations...I bought that Mark Bittman book but I was overwhelmed by all the equipment he was telling me to buy so I ended up selling it. I'd prefer ideas that come directly from your noggin.

General, non-recipe advice related to everything I've said here is also welcome.
posted by cosmicbeast to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a weight-loss dieter, but Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction is apparently very good for vegan (and thus also vegetarian with no eggs) recipes to help lose weight. I've used her other cookbooks fairly heavily and liked them, and I think her approach is friendly to people who are learning.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:54 PM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We have very similar food interests.

This recipe is great: . Ignore the Creme Fraiche, use chipotle powder instead of chipotle peppers, and add half of a small can of tomato paste (and maybe some sliced bell peppers if you like the texture). Maybe half an hour of work, and will supply 3 or 4 meals. I like to sprinkle a mexican shredded cheese blend on it.

Actually, there's lots of smitten kitchen recipes that are vegetarian and filling on a per calorie basis. is another good choice (I like to add sundried tomatoes and significantly increase the quantity of olives).

Curries are a great chocie. Get a brand of Maesri curry that you like, fry the paste for a few minutes, add garlic and ginger to taste, then some vegetables (frozen are fine and easy), and ~2 cans of coconut milk (I use 1 can regular, 1 can light). Separately, cube tofu into small bits and put them in the over for about 2 hours at around 200 degrees. Mix everything together at the end.

Manjula's kitchen ( ) has lots of good recipes. It takes some experimenting to figure out what you can and can't substitute for. My experience has been that cumin seeds, amchoor powder, and asafoetida are the only unusual spices that are mandatory, and that everything else can be substituted for. I particularly like the bengain bharta and chana masala (though both could use a little bit of sugar added).
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. at 6:09 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know nothing about being a vegetarian, but I lost 60 pounds over a 30 month period, so here are some non-meat things that are a regular part of my diet:
- oatmeal (plain, instant, add Splenda & hot water, microwave for 20 seconds), yum & filling
- lima beans, broccoli
- caramel corn flavored rice cakes
- soups (if you don't mind the sodium)
- chilis (non-meat)
- yogurt
- Jello rice pudding
- old fashioned thin pretzel rings for a treat (as opposed to chips, chocolate or other junk)
- 24 ounce go mug of decaf coffee (I am not someone who believes that pure water is healthier than flavored water, and I find that a large amount of fluid at certain parts of my day fills and satisfied me, distracting me from cravings).
- I almost forgot cherry tomatoes

As for keeping track, the phone app. MyFitnessPal is free, massively famous and popular, and for good reason. That and an at-home elliptical with a TV in front of it are the two thing I credit most for my success.

I wish you success in your program!
posted by forthright at 6:16 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I posted some lunch suggestions on another ask mefi for someone who needed easy food that doesn't need to be heated. A lot of it is indeed cutting and assembling (other than cooking like quinoa, or beans if you don't used the canned kind). Obviously ignore the meaty things!

Do you eat fish? If so, you can pretty easily bake fish in aluminum foil with different ingredients in it (herbs, lemon, tomatoes, etc) - this is pretty simple and you can serve with white or brown rice. Google "papillote" with whatever fish you've gotten.

One of my favorite vegetarian meals ever:

marinated broiled/grilled tofu with rice and sauteed greens. I marinate my tofu at least one hour, usually more in
- soy sauce (I dunno... maybe 1/2 cup?)
- a couple of teaspoons of rice vinegar
- a couple of teaspoons of sesame seed oil
- a dash of siracha if you want
- grated ginger (keep your fresh ginger in the freezer - keeps forever and makes it easy to grate), maybe a teaspoon
- a teaspoon of garlic
- a dash of brown sugar

cut the tofu in cubes like 2 by 2 inches. Make sure your tofu, extra firm, has been adequately dried off with a paper towel so that it absorbs the marinade. When ready, put on baking sheet that has been lightly oiled so your tofu doesn't stick and broil on each side for 5 min - or grill on a pannini grill or something. Keep careful watch on the broiling - don't want it to burn!

Sauteed vegetables can be anything. I personally like spinach, watercress, bok choy, pea shoots (Trader Joe's sells them)... make sure your veggies are washed and as dry as you can get them. High heat, olive oil, a bit of garlic if you want, some salt - and saute quickly. Spinach and pea shoots should only be cooked until wilted (1-3 minutes stirring constantly), watercress and bokchoy stems need more time. Experiment! Serve with white or brown rice. Reserve the tofu marinade to put over the rice.

Another one of my favorite veggie recipes: stir fry veggies with peanut sauce.

Stir fry veggies (start with onion and garlic in oil and add veggies in order that they need to cook - so, broccoli first, maybe tofu if you like it, bell peppers and snap peas towards the end so they don't get soggy).

Sauce: in a small pan, slowly heat water, soy sauce, peanut butter, lime juice, and pepper flakes if you like spicy. The proportions are... up to you. Essentially, enough liquid for the peanut butter to dissolved. If you have too much, no big deal, just let it reduce. Enough lime juice for some tang. Taste it often! When all is ready, pour sauce in veggies, mix, tada! Can be served alone, over rice, or over quinoa or couscous.

Once you start cooking, you'll find that it gets easier to experiment. I'm not a great cook but just from having to cook for myself every day, I have tons of little go-to's in my repertoire that I'm happy to share.
posted by microcarpetus at 6:23 PM on August 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: There are a few approaches you could try here. I read a great book called The 400-Calore Fix which advocated 3-4 meals a day of about 400 calories, and it was brilliant in its simplicity. I did find after awhile that all the counting made me nutty (I tried to pre-calculate meals I ate often, and it worked when I ate at home but I struggled to eat with other people). I like the point she makes in that book though about how sometimes afternoon munchies come from starving yourself earlier in the day. I do try and hot about 400 calories, give or take, per meal now and I know enough about guesstimating now that I come pretty close.

Right now, I am trying to focus more on quality over quantity, and not sweat an extra bite or two if it's something healthy. For lunches, I use portion-controlled containers. You might like these ones or these ones. That second one even labels the compartments for you so you know what to put in!

Some easy lunches:

- Japanese Bento Style: some quick-cooking rice to fill about half the container. Microwave some frozen veggies and toss in a handful of beans, mix in a spoonful or two of sauce and pour on top. Serve with some fruit and anything else you have on hand on the side. Tip: rinse a can of beans, drain very well, pour into a ziploc bag and smooth it VERY flat on a cookie sheet. Freeze for a couple hours, then take out the cookie sheet, shake the bag and you'll have flash-frozen beans. You can keep them in the freezer, pull out a handful at a time and use at will.

- Soup and Sides: I pack a glass container with canned or jarred bean-based soups (lentil or split pea are my favourites) and then a side container with a fruit, a veg and some high-quality crackers. This is where the multi-compartment container can be your friend :) Multiple side dishes, but only one container to wash. Tip: many restaurants sell take-out containers of their soups for about what you would pay for those fancy glass jars at the grocery store. I get a very nice potato soup from a local bagel shop sometimes.

- Protein Bistro Box: This is a Starbucks product that is easy to make yourself. Use a three or four compartment container. Pack a protein (trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, cheese cubes, edamame etc), a fat (dip container of peanut butter, hummus, trail mix or salad dressing), some apple slices with a few grapes thrown in, and some high-quality crackers.

- DIY Wraps: Stor-fry some bell pepper strips, add in a few of your frozen beans and heat through. Pack these in your multi-compartment container: the beans, the peppers, some shredded lettuce or greens, a dip container of salsa. Pack a few whole-wheat wraps on the side. At lunchtime, wrap and roll!
posted by JoannaC at 6:25 PM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I know you didn't ask for books, but since Isa Chanda Moskowitz already got mentioned… I'd also recommend her Isa Does It, because it focuses on pretty straightforward, weeknight-friendly recipes (no fancy equipment required). Her website is also full of good recipes (example 1, 2).

Here is a list of no-cook vegetarian recipes, i.e. more prep than actual cooking.

Personally, I'm in full-on summer vegetable mode, and I love making "noodles" from zucchini or other vegetables. Here's an example; here's another.
posted by bassjump at 6:34 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Bean soup, easiest version:

Over medium heat in the bottom of a large pot, saute 1 medium onion (chopped) and 4 cloves of garlic (minced) in 1 Tbsp of olive oil. While the onion and garlic cook, chop 2 stalks of celery 2 carrots throw them in, continuing to saute until the onions are translucent. Add 4 c of broth (Pacific Foods mushroom or vegetable is excellent), one can of beans (type of your choice: black, cannelini, navy, chickpeas, lentils, whatever) rinsed. Simmer about 20 mins. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To make fancier:
- With the broth, add 1/4 to 1/2 c of your favorite whole grain (brown rice, hulled barley, millet, quinoa, wheat berries, wild rice, etc.). Simmer until the grains are cooked (30-60 mins, depending on the grain).
- At the end, add a couple handfuls of baby spinach or 1/2 bag of frozen vegetables (your choice). Continue cooking about 5 minutes.
- Add a can of diced tomatoes with the broth, or use tomatoes + 4-ish cups of water instead of broth.
- Add a bay leaf at the beginning. (Remove before serving.)
- Add thyme, oregano, and/or basil (1-2 tsp at the beginning if dry, 1-2 Tbsp at the end, if fresh)

Most fanciest: do all of the above.

Crock pot: Choose your desired variation above. Saute the onions, garlic, carrots and celery in a frying pan, and transfer to the crockpot, adding other ingredients without grains, vegetables, fresh herbs, or tomatoes*, and, if desired, for the canned beans, substitute 1/2 c of dried beans (they don't even need to be soaked) and 2 c extra water. Cook on low 6-8 hours or all day or whatever. If using, grains and/or tomatoes about 1 hour before serving, and frozen vegetables about 10 minutes before serving, fresh herbs right at the end.

* Grains and vegetables will get mushy if added at the beginning and fresh herbs will lose all their flavor. If you're using dry beans, the acid in the tomatoes will make the beans tough. You can put in tomatoes in the beginning if your beans are canned.
posted by BrashTech at 6:41 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a veggie. I cook a lot and am pretty damn good at it. I guess I have some texture issues in that even being sure to keep mushy things separate, a salad I made the night before or that morning is icky to me. I also frequently eat lunch at my desk. You could prep this, but I just bring a week-ish worth of ingredients to my office bc we have a big fridge. Weekday lunch for me is plain fage (I don't like other brands) nonfat or 2% and a red bell pepper, and an entire celery heart (they sell em 2 to a pack at my grocery and they're the yummier part (to me). I slice the veg and dip them in the yogurt. It's tangy so it seems like veggies and dip. Yum, healthy, filling, easy, fresh.
posted by atomicstone at 6:51 PM on August 20, 2014

Best answer: I will also chime in for Appetite for Reduction -- it's an extremely practical book (if you have a few pots, a knife and a blender, you're good!) and it's very super-market friendly. There's also good tips (like ... if you're sauteing onions and your pan gets dry, add water instead of more oil). There are very few things in it that are overwhelming or difficult and I've loved so many of those recipes.

I make a lot of bean salads -- combos of cannellini or great northern, black, pinto, chickpeas, black-eyed peas -- plus whatever veggies seem to be good at the time (red pepper, cucumber, kale, avocado, carrot, shallot/onion, etc.) and then whatever herbs/spices seem good (parsley is always great, but cilantro, too) and then a vinaigrette (which can be more mustard-based than fat-based, but a little olive oil or tahini can go a long way).

I generally make one of these salads up a week (usually three cans of beans, but it depends) and eat it for lunch for the week. They're easy, filling and tasty (You can add some cheese cubes if you want, but it's up to you.) These involve opening cans and cutting up some veggies. If you find a good salad dressing you like that suits your diet, you don't even have to make your own dressing (but it's easy enough to do).

Burrito-ish wraps are also great -- I've done sweet potato, black bean, salsa and maybe a veggie salsa (or you could add in spinach as you'd like). Then just wrap in a whole-wheat tortilla and freeze. It's a super easy lunch.

Soups can also be a good place to start if you're worried about cooking. Just find a veggie broth you like and use it as the base and add in veggies you like. This is a basic minestrone (use veggie broth instead of chicken) and it's easily adaptable to your taste.

I freeze a lot of foods (say, if I make four portions of a soup, I freeze two) but I've also accepted that as a single person, I just end up throwing somethings out. I'm not thrilled with that, but I figure if I eat something for four meals, it's done it's job. I think it's really hard to get around that.

Good luck to you!
posted by darksong at 7:33 PM on August 20, 2014

Best answer: I've been making myself vegetable stew recently, this is a pretty decent meal that's easy to cook and is pretty healthy:

Ingedients:- veggie stock cube
-tin of lentils/lentils prepared over night (I can never be bothered with the latter)
-tin of chopped tomatoes/chopped fresh tomatoes (the latter will be tastier, but will take longer)
-cooking oil (I use sunflower oil, but use whatever you like)
-1 onion
-1/2 garlic cloves.
-Some veggies. I currently use
-1 large potato
-1 sweet potato
-1 courgette
-2 carrots

1)Boil a pint of water with the stock cube in it to make the stock.
2)Chop all the vegetables up. Make the pieces fairly small. Crush the garlic if you have a garlic crusher, otherwise chop it as finely as you can (theoretically you can crush it with a knive, but I find that an absolute pain).
3)Heat a wok up with oil in at high/medium heat.
4)Add the onions and fry for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally
5)add the garlic and fry for another minute
6)Add the reminaing ingredients (including the stock and tomatoes), stir together
7)Turn the heat down to low and leave to simmer for 50-55 minutes. Stir occasionally, and check that there is enough water. You shouldn't manage to boil through the liquid in this time, but you can always add more ater.
8)Add the lentils and cook for another 15 minutes. During this time you can also cook some rice to go with the food.

This will produce a fairly huge amount of food, so make sure you have some tupperware to freeze it in!
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:07 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Besides the detailed recipes given above, make sure you're not a starch-etarian. Too many vegetarians I know subsist largely on bread and rice and potatoes. The calorie density of these foods is amazingly high, so high I didn't realize until I started counting. They are to be eaten in moderation.

Speaking of counting, I use the FatSecret application. Ignore the terrible name. There are no ads, it feeds you recipes (seemingly based on what you eat) and best of all has a bar-code scanner! So anything you eat that has a barcode, bam, you've counted it. The search function, though not great, also includes chain restaurants and common brand names.

My two favorite 10-minute cut-and-cook recipes came from AskMe: Garlic Cashew Broccoli and Spinach with pine nuts and raisins
posted by whatzit at 1:48 AM on August 21, 2014

Response by poster: These are great suggestions! Someone asked if I eat fish, answer is no I don't. Anyway, more people are welcome to chime in but this is definitely enough to get started so I'm marking as resolved.
posted by cosmicbeast at 6:32 AM on August 21, 2014

You lose weight by eating fewer calories than you burn. There are plenty of food tracker apps out there—MyFitnessPal worked for me. (Same username there, if you or anyone else needs a friend.)

Don’t bother with recipes for one. Freeze the leftovers in single-serve containers. Pretty soon you'll have a nice variety of yummy, healthy meals.

As whatzit says, don’t be a starchitarian. Bean soups have plenty of protein & fiber, and they’re easy, filling comfort food that freezes well. Once you get the method down, you can riff endlessly using what you like and what’s on hand. Start with Moosewood lentil soup. Next time, omit the tomatoes & vinegar and sub split peas (green &/or yellow) for the lentils. Use dill instead of the other herbs, add a diced potato with the peas (optional), and finish with a knob of butter (also optional).

Here’s a list of 50 vegetarian slow cooker recipes.
posted by editorgrrl at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've lost around 80 lbs in the last year or so, basically through calorie counting and some exercise. I also like to cook, so here are a couple suggestions:

1) get a kitchen scale. It makes keeping track of how much you're actually eating a bajillion times easier. Vegetable themselves are pretty light in calories, it's the fats that get you. For example, I keep a bottle of olive oil on my counter; I put it on the scale, give it a swirl around the pan, put the bottle back on the scale and I can easily tell how much I've used. An extra tablespoon of oil or butter can use up 5 or 10 percent of your day's calorie budget, and once you measure for a bit you'll be much better at eyeballing.

2) breakfast --- I like a combo of plain Greek yogurt, frozen mixed berries, plus a tablespoon of almond and craiains. Very filling, ~300 calories, good amount of protein.

3) a good way to get started on the cooking front might be to start playing around with some hearty lunch salads. Basically, you'll need a 1) starch, 2) a bunch of vegetables, a 3) dressing, and 4) an herb and/or spice. Keep it light on starches since you're dieting. You'll probably need to boil the starch and you'll need a cutting board and a knife for the veg, but that's it as far as technique. So for example, using this formula you could do

1) canned black beans, 2) tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, jalepeno 3) olive oil and lime juice 4) cumin, cilantro

1) pasta, 2) cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, olives, onion 3) olive oil, lemon juice, 4) basil and oregano

1) cous cous 2) olives, zucchini, peppers, 4) olive oil, lemon juice 5) Harissa, preserved lemons, oregano, parsley

1) soba noodles 2) cucumber, carrot, pepper, snow peas, scallions, 3) tahini, ginger, soy sauce 4) sesame seeds

All of those are things that will keep in the fridge and are easy to bring I to work. Once you've tried a few, branch out and start playing around with the flavours you like.
posted by maggiepolitt at 12:15 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

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