I have been a vegetarian for one year. For six months I have been a poor college student who does not have a kitchen. Everything I eat must be prepared in either a toaster oven or a microwave. And, on top of everything else, I am extremely busy all the time.
I want to eat well. I want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But I am really struggling. My daily diet is as follows: yogurt and either a bowl of Special K or a half bagel for breakfast; carrots, protein bars, veggie sandwiches, or Easy Mac for lunch; either Thai or a TV dinner for supper; and snacks such as cookies, Chocolate Delight Special K, and Ice Cream. Oh yeah, and A LOT of coffee.
The problem is that I have zero energy. I am always tired. And, I am always hungry... or at least, I feel like eating all the time. I frequently work through dinner time then go home and proceed to eat easy mac and four bowls of cereal... which usually makes my stomach feel awful... yet, I still feel like eating. Not surprisingly, I have been gaining weight as well.
I am interested in suggestions for maintaining a healthy, yet practical (easy to prepare) vegetarian diet that won't leave me feeling hungry and exhausted all the time. - T. H.
Dear T. H., you're doing well being vegetarian at all, under the circumstances! But, you're right, you do need to upgrade your nutrition. You're hungry and exhausted because you're not giving your body what it needs to be happy and work well for you.
Your diet needs more variety - beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, seitan, whole grains, vegetables, fresh fruit, unsweetened fruit juice instead of pop. Lots of water, which comes out of the tap, free! (Maybe a cheap filter pitcher to improve the taste).
All of this is available in supermarkets, along with everything you're already eating. If you think these improvements will cost too much, skip the junk food, processed food, coffee, ice cream and cookies - you'll have plenty of money for salad and other healthy food.
Before you start screaming, consider this: Every time you eat those things, you get a temporary energy boost. But then you crash and burn. They are mostly empty calories and food additives, which are making you fat. And killing your digestion, adrenal system, nervous system - your whole body. I know you're busy, but try to avoid processed food as much as possible.
A crock pot would be an inexpensive and useful addition to your 'kitchen' - if you're allowed to have that where you live. And-or a hot plate. A good vegetarian crock pot cook book is Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, by Robin Robinson. Another of her books that might come in handy is Quick Fix Vegetarian - see the SV Review You can probably get both of them used on ebay or amazon.
When you're buying the rest of your food, also buy salad fixings - a bag of salad mix (organic if you can get it - NOT iceberg lettuce), spinach, cucumber, tomato, avocado, sprouts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, grated cheese, feta, canned garbanzo beans - whatever you might enjoy in a salad. See the SV Power Salad recipe
Buy fresh or frozen veggies that you can prepare in the microwave - like broccoli, cauliflower, potato, peas, corn - french fries once in a while for a treat. Get refried beans, hummus etc, and whole grain bread or tortillas to have with them, as wraps.
You can cook whole grains in the microwave - quinoa or brown rice, for example. Add a few beans, a bit of olive oil, some veggies, a little curry powder or herbs - and you've got a quick, nutritious lunch or dinner that'll keep your energy up for a long time - without making you fat.
Eat whole grain cereal for breakfast, with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, ground flax seeds, etc. It's easy to do in the microwave, or on low overnight in the crockpot. Sweeten with honey, or don't sweeten at all. Much better, and cheaper, than packaged, sugary cereals that have almost no nutritional value, mainly lots of calories.
Don't eat too much cheese - it's expensive, not the best source of vegetarian protein, full of saturated fat, and very high in calories. Not a good deal, nutritionally. Beans, nuts, tofu are a better bet.
Get yourself a good food based multivitamin, and take it. Make sure it has B12, B6, folic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, as well as trace minerals. Rainbow Light makes a well balanced one-a-day for women. Vitacost has a good deal.
Remember, you can afford to eat much better if you ditch the sugar and junk food. And your health and energy will benefit just from doing that. Do everything I've recommended, and you'll be one of the healthiest people on campus. Add more sleep, fresh air and exercise, and you'll be one of the healthiest people in history!
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian