Meal-planning tips and tricks
Traditional meal-planning strategies may need some tweaking for those who are vegetarian. Euler recommends thinking outside the box. “Many people struggle with how to put together meals as they are focused on the protein-starch-vegetable meal-planning model, which can be limited on a vegetarian or vegan diet,” she notes. “Consider more one-pot meals, like soups, stews, pasta and curry dishes.” Euler recommends experimenting with other cuisines, especially East Indian and Asian foods. “Many meals traditionally have little to no meat and can easily be made gluten free with minor substitutions.”
Beans, tofu, soy and tempeh are essential to a nutritionally adequate vegetarian or vegan diet, notes Euler, but she recommends finding the right recipe as key to making these items appetizing. Euler shares some of her favorite recipes utilizing tofu and tempeh (see recipes, page 35).
Many processed vegetarian items, such as veggie burgers or “chicken” nuggets, contain gluten, but there are other options, notes Euler. “There are quite a few choices for gluten-free veggie burgers these days, which wasn’t the case a few years ago. Still, it may be necessary to shop at a larger, specialty grocery store to find brands that work.” Euler cautions careful label reading, even on brands that offer gluten-free options, as not all flavors or varieties in a product line may be included.
When shopping for tofu, plain is best, advises Euler, as some are pre-marinated. “Also be sure to read labels for tempeh, as some have added barley or gluten-containing flavorings,” she says. Euler recommends steering clear of seitan, a popular vegan meat substitute, which is made of wheat gluten. For those who want to bake without dairy, Euler notes the availability of options for vegan shortening and spreads. “There are also a variety of egg substitutes these days as well, from aquafaba [made from soaking legumes such as chickpeas] to chia or flax seeds,” she says.
Restaurants can be a challenge, and gluten-free vegetarian or vegan offerings can be limited. “The choices for vegetarian dinner at most traditional restaurants are already limited to a salad, pasta dish or veggie burger, which are often low in protein and typically not gluten free,” says Euler. “Many ethnic cuisines are more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free friendly, including our personal favorites, Thai and East Indian.” She notes that staff and cooks in these restaurants are often more informed about the ingredients in their dishes and can customize items more easily.
If ethnic cuisines don’t appeal to you, Euler recommends mom-and-pop or higher-end restaurants, as they may be more likely to customize the meal. “However, if you don’t have much of a choice and end up at a more traditional American restaurant, look for ways to piece together a meal,” she advises. “Perhaps a protein-filled hummus appetizer with a side of roasted vegetables and a salad without meat, cheese, croutons or other gluten-filled toppings.”
Finding balance in basics
Going gluten free can sometimes lead to eating more processed foods, which are often high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. A vegetarian or vegan diet can help steer those with celiac to healthier overall choices, but balance is key. “Heavy reliance on processed or packaged vegetarian items, even if they are gluten free, can lead to a less-than-optimal diet,” advises Euler. “The more you can focus on a whole foods diet, the more beneficial the decision to be vegetarian or vegan will be.”
Amy Keller, MS, RDN, LD, is a dietitian and celiac support group leader from Bellefontaine, Ohio.