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28 Day Eat Green Challenge: Veg Boot Camp

Teetering on the edge of veg or looking to fine-tune your daily eating habits? Our 28-day plan will have you eating your greens—and your reds, yellows, and oranges—for life.
28 Day Eat Green Challenge: Veg Boot Camp

We’ve all been there: It’s six months into the New Year and that gym membership still hasn’t been activated. And that resolution to kick the meat habit for good? It, too, fell by the wayside, thanks to the neighbor’s pepperoni-pizza-fueled Super Bowl party. You know you want to get healthy and clean up your diet, so which excuse is keeping you from going full-fledge veg? We know, we know. There are so many to choose from!

Dismantling the myths that stand between you and optimal health is no easy feat; after all, well-meaning friends and family have been hurling their unfounded fears at you since you first announced your intention to give meat the heave-ho. Hear them out, but also listen to what the experts have to say: vegetarianism is healthful, delicious, affordable, and time-efficient too.

It’s never too late to turn good intentions into action, and our 28-day plan supports you every step of the way. You’ll find tasty recipes to get you started and menus to tie it all together. First off, doctors and dietitians bust those diehard myths—yes, you’ll get plenty of protein.

THE PROTEIN MYTH: You’ll Wither Away Without Meat

Sometimes, it seems our families exist for the sole purpose of worrying about us, especially when we say nay to the turkey at Thanksgiving, pass on the pot roast at Christmas, or skip the brisket at Passover. “But you used to love my meatloaf,” comes the kitchen chorus. “You’re going to starve. Eat!”

The next time Grandma gives you grief for skipping the skirt steak and heading straight for the baked potato, salad, and grilled vegetables, tell her not to worry—the doctor says it’s OK. “As long as you are eating a variety of plant foods, you’ll easily get all the protein you need,” says Neal D. Barnard, MD, VT‘s Ask the Doc columnist and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The exact amount of protein you need depends largely on your body weight, but it’s roughly 1 gram for every 2.2 pounds. “Protein should hit no less than 50 grams per day, so aim for meals that have at least 12 grams, and snacks with 5 to 7 grams.” advises Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, who designed our 28-day Veg Boot Camp meal plan to deliver a generous 16 grams of protein per meal. With simple planning, vegetarians can easily access all the protein their bodies require to thrive, says Blatner, but remember to incorporate beans, nuts, and seeds into each of your main meals and most of your snacks: “Beans and lentils are the best sources of protein, and there are so many options.” And don’t forget the humble soybean in its myriad forms: edamame, tofu, and tempeh are satisfying sources of plant-based protein.

THE HUNGER MYTH: You Won’t Feel Satisfied

Someone, somewhere in time, launched a rumor that has stuck like superglue: vegetarians eat only rabbit food. To the contrary, one of the best things vegetarianism has going for it is its sheer variety. Take meat out of the equation and a new world of possibilities opens up: exotic greens, earthy grains, savory mushrooms. The key to feeling satisfied is to think not just quantity, but taste and texture too.

“The pleasure of food has as much to do with mouthfeel as it does with flavor,” says Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, author of Color Me Vegan and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge. “For instance, if you’re looking to satisfy your craving for something chewy and meaty, try mushrooms, tempeh, seitan, or whole grains.” Explore new recipes that will allow you to experiment with less familiar foods, and make the process fun by sharing the experience with a friend.

As you ease into vegetarianism and begin to navigate the vast and varied world of vegetarian foods, you might find that some of the things you used to eat are now making you feel too full. Don’t be surprised if your cravings for oily chips and candy bars morph into a hunger for crisp apples and whole-grain crackers; it’s simply another benefit of adopting healthier eating habits.

THE MONEY MYTH: You Can’t Afford It

It’s hard to compete with those cheap, greasy value meals touted at fast-food chains, but creating satisfying, wholesome, and delicious meals from plant foods looks a lot more affordable when you consider the long-term health benefits. Americans spend more than $147 billion per year to combat obesity-related illness—nearly 10 percent of our total health care spending—and that doesn’t include the cost of fighting cancer and other lifestyle-related diseases.

“We are spending less than half as much of our incomes on food today than we did 40 years ago, but we spend three times as much on medical care,” says family physician Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of the bestselling book Eat to Live. “Instead of buying good-quality, healthful food, we eat ourselves into chronic diseases that cost a fortune to control with drugs, and the drugs don’t work very well and have side effects too.”

Budget-conscious shoppers needn’t feel compelled to shop at high-end natural-food chains; farmers’ markets are an affordable source for fresh produce, and buying beans, rice, and other staples in bulk lets you bypass the added expense inherent in packaging.

 

THE TIME MYTH: You’re Too Busy

 

If you’ve got a can opener and a knife, you can get a healthful veg meal on the table in the time it takes to check your e-mail. “Dinner can be as simple as heating a can of lentil soup with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables to increase its nutrient power,” says Jennifer Reilly, RD, a Washington-based nutritionist. “Have that with some whole-grain crackers and you’ve got dinner in less than 6 minutes!” Stock your fridge and pantry with go-to staples, such as black beans, pasta sauce, tortillas, avocado, and hummus. With a little practice, you’ll be mixing, matching, and eating better meals and snacks in no time flat.

THE NUTRITION MYTH: You Won’t Get All the Vitamins and Minerals You Need

If your version of vegetarianism is built on a base of French fries, potato chips, and fried mozzarella sticks, well, maybe there’s something to this myth. The junk food trap is an easy one to fall into; everywhere we go—the supermarket, the mall, the movies—we’re seduced by the call of high-fat, nutrient-deficient convenience foods and fast-food meals.

“Everyone should be careful to meet their nutritional needs, no matter what diet they are on,” asserts Fuhrman. “Vegetarians and omnivores alike often eat lots of junk food, white flour, and too much sugar and salt. We only get one body, and don’t get a new one after we screw it up. Consuming whole, natural plant foods and avoiding processed foods are the answer to achieving a long, healthy life.”

TOP 3 REASONS TO EAT VEG

1. For the Animals With every piece of chicken, cow, pig, turkey, duck, lamb, or veal calf you don’t eat, you are opting out of a system that slaughters roughly 10 billion land animals for food each year in America, according to estimates from the Humane Society of the United States. (That’s not even counting fish.) Vegan diets take the notion one step further by eschewing all animal products, including eggs and dairy.

2. For the Environment “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” an oft-referenced 2006 report issued by the United Nations, had some environmentalists choking on their cheeseburgers: The livestock sector generates more than 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Factory farms are also major contributors to land erosion and water pollution.

3. For Your Health Vegetarians have a lower risk of colon and bowel cancers, and some studies suggest a link between plant-based diets and reduced instances of Alzheimer’s disease. Going veg also offers significant improvements to quality of life. “In our research studies, we see changes almost instantly,” says Neal D. Barnard, MD. “Within the first day or two, digestion improves. After a few weeks, blood pressure and cholesterol are noticeably improved, and if a person has diabetes, it is usually dramatically better too.”


Mix ‘n’ Match Meals: Week 1
We enlisted nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, author of The Flexitarian Diet, to create a vegetarian meal plan that proves how easy it is to make delicious, nutrient-packed meals without overdoing it on calories. Each breakfast, lunch, and dinner contains about 400 calories and averages 16 grams of protein; each 200-calorie snack averages 6.5 protein grams. Mix and match to your heart’s content: by choosing three meals and two snacks a day, you’ll get flavor, satisfaction, and a balance of essential nutrients in just 1,600 calories.

Breakfasts

1. Green Energy Smoothie
Blend 1 cup soymilk, 1 banana, 2 cups loosely packed chopped kale, and 1/4 cup ice cubes until smooth. Serve with 1/4 cup raw almonds.

2. Apple-Cheddar Melt
Layer thin apple slices and 1 slice 2% low-fat or vegan Cheddar cheese between 2 slices sprouted whole-grain bread. Broil or toast 6 minutes.

3. Fast Waffles with Fresh Blueberry Syrup
Purée 3/4 cup fresh blueberries with 1 Tbs. maple syrup in blender; pour over 2 toasted whole-grain freezer waffles, and top with 3 Tbs. almond slivers.

4. Melon & Cottage Cheese
Serve 1 cup chopped melon with 3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese. Top with 2 Tbs. each chopped fresh mint and chopped walnuts. Serve with 2 rye crisp crackers.

5. Santa Fe Breakfast Burrito
Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add 4 oz. mashed tofu, 1/4 cup canned black beans, 2 Tbs. chopped canned green chiles, and 1/8 tsp. turmeric; sauté 3 minutes, or until hot. Wrap mixture and 4 avocado slices in 8-inch whole-grain tortilla.

6. Oatmeal Deluxe
Top 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1/2 cup raspberries, 2 Tbs. raw almond slivers, 2 Tbs. toasted unsweetened shredded coconut, and 2 tsp. maple syrup.

7. Plum Parfait
Layer 3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup chopped plums, and 1/4 cup chopped pistachios. Top with 2 Tbs. low-fat granola.

Lunches

1. Mediterranean Plate
Serve 6 Tbs. hummus, 6 kalamata olives, 1 toasted whole-grain pita (cut into triangles), 1/2 cup cucumber slices, and 1/2 cup baby carrots.

2. Edamame & Broccoli Rice Bowl
Whisk together 1 Tbs. chunky natural peanut butter, 2 Tbs. 100% pineapple juice, 1 Tbs. water, and 1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce. Toss with 2 cups broccoli florets and 1/2 cup shelled edamame; sauté 8 minutes. Serve over 1/2 cup cooked brown rice.

3. Greek Lentil Salad with 1 whole-grain pita, cut into triangles.

4. 2 slices Zucchini-Goat Cheese Pizza

5. Guac & Greens Burrito
Wrap whole-grain tortilla around 1/2 cup vegetarian refried beans, 1/4 cup steamed spinach, and one-third avocado mashed with 2 Tbs. green salsa.

6. Pesto & White Bean Quinoa
Combine 1 Tbs. prepared pesto, 1/2 cup canned white beans, 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup baby spinach, and 2 Tbs. almond slivers. Serve with 1/2 cup cooked quinoa.

7. Fast Noodle Soup
Bring 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth and 2 oz. dry whole-grain fettuccine to a boil; boil 6 minutes. Add 1 cup broccoli slaw and 2 oz. cubed extra-firm tofu; simmer 5 minutes. Top with 1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce and 2 Tbs. each chopped green onion, chopped cilantro, and dark sesame oil.

Dinners

1. Sugar Snap and Snow Pea Stir-Fry served over 1/2 cup brown rice.

2. One Pot Pasta Primavera

3. Tofu Dengaku with Celery Root Pureé served with 1 cup steamed broccoli tossed with 2 tsp. sesame oil.

4. Charro Beans with Chipotle Sausage

5. Vegetable Pot Pies served with 1 cup romaine salad topped with 2 Tbs. walnuts and 1 Tbs. crumbled blue cheese.

6. Vegetable Rosti with Tomato-Corn Relish served with 1/2 cup prepared lentil soup.

7. Black Bean Taco Salad
Toss 3 cups shredded romaine, 1/2 cup canned black beans, one-third chopped avocado, and 2 Tbs. each chopped green onion and salsa; top with 12 crumbled tortilla chips.

Snacks

1. Sweet & Salty Seed Mix
Combine 11/2 Tbs. pumpkin seeds, 11/2 Tbs. sunflower seeds, 1 tsp. sesame seeds, 1 tsp. chia seeds, 2 tsp. agave nectar, and a light sprinkling of sea salt. Toast in skillet, and spread on parchment paper to cool.

2. Dark Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Melt 3 Tbs. dark chocolate chips in microwave 10 to 20 seconds (be careful not to burn them). Dip 6 strawberries into chocolate, and set on parchment paper in fridge for 10 minutes.

3. Dill Hummus & Cucumber Mix
1/4 tsp. dried dill into 6 Tbs. prepared hummus; serve with 1 cup cucumber slices.

4. Easy Peach-Granola Cobbler
Combine 1 pitted, chopped peach; 1 tsp. agave nectar; and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. Microwave 3 to 4 minutes, or until tender. Top with 4 Tbs. granola.

5. Cheezy Popcorn
Lightly mist 4 cups air-popped popcorn with olive oil cooking spray; sprinkle with 2 Tbs. nutritional yeast.

6. Almond Butter, Fig Jam & Crackers
Spread 2 tsp. almond butter and 2 tsp. jam on 5 whole-grain crackers.

7. Banana-Cocoa Smoothie
Blend half a frozen banana, 1/2 cup soymilk, 2 ice cubes, 1/4 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1/8 tsp. cinnamon until smooth. Serve with 6 walnut halves.

To get the complete 4-week meal plan and sign up for 28 days of inspirational Veg Boot Camp Newsletters, visit vegetariantimes.com/vegbootcamp.

get the recipes

Greek Lentil Salad

Greek Lentil Salad

Try this salad as a take-along lunch or a light dinner. Unlike most dried beans, lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking, but they still offer all the same protein and fiber benefits.

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Zucchini-Goat Cheese Pizza

Zucchini-Goat Cheese Pizza

Cheese pizza is a perennial veg favorite, but it often comes with a hefty calorie count. Here, goat cheese and thinly sliced veggies offer lighter alternatives to shredded mozzarella.

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Sugar Snap and Snow Pea Stir-Fry

Sugar Snap and Snow Pea Stir-Fry

Cashews add crunch and protein to this colorful stir-fry. You also can make the dish with frozen sugar snap and snow peas. Just add to the mix, and stir-fry a little longer than you would fresh peas.

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One-Pot Pasta Primavera

One-Pot Pasta Primavera

This easy recipe lends itself to endless variations. In place of fresh basil, try 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 Tbs. finely minced fresh rosemary or oregano.

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Tofu Dengaku with Celery Root Puree

Tofu Dengaku with Celery Root Puree

Not Yet Rated

In Japanese cooking, dengaku refers to anything grilled with a miso glaze. As an introduction to tofu, it can’t be beat. We’ve paired it with a celery root purée for a veg variation on steak and potatoes.

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Charro Beans with Chipotle Sausage

Charro Beans with Chipotle Sausage

Take the pork out of a Texas classic and what do you get? A flavorful, protein-rich dish that’s great with vegetarian sausage. Chipotle-flavored sausage is in keeping with the recipe’s Tex-Mex roots, but it can be quite spicy. If you like less heat, try the recipe with a milder-flavored veg

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Vegetable Pot Pies

Vegetable Pot Pies

Sometimes you just want pot pie. This one is wholesome, delicious, and freezer-friendly. Make a batch, and freeze some for heat-and-eat weeknight meals. Poultry seasoning (yep, it’s veg) is the secret flavor booster in this recipe.

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Vegetable Rosti with Tomato-Corn Relish

Vegetable Rosti with Tomato-Corn Relish

A little flour and egg bind together grated vegetables to make satisfying patties. We’ve topped them with a summery relish, but you could easily substitute salsa or sautéed mushrooms.

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comments

Excited to get healthy

Jennie - 2014-03-30 21:16:57

Great plan and I can't wait to get started. :-)

Denelle - 2014-03-27 00:47:20

Gives me faith that my commitment to a vegetarian diet plus exercise will get rid of my fat and support the body shape I strive for in my personal goal. No need to go to the other side like the hard core meat eaters preach eat fresh and exercise . . . Happy days! X

Wendy - 2014-03-23 08:32:22

thx

davina - 2014-03-17 16:34:59

Please I need help I become ill due to not keeping track of what I eat . Now I'm in depression I need to loose all these weight please.

Alma medina - 2014-02-21 16:21:58

Love Dr. Fuhrman. Can you please advise what issue of Vegetarian Times this article was printed in? Would like to get a copy as soon as possible. Thank you!

Lynn - 2013-06-12 20:09:22

Mybe 2013 will be my cross over year. I have been trying to go vegetarian for awhile now and just can not seem to completely cross over. I have given up red meat, only eating seafood and poultry. I also eat very little processed foods. Having trouble letting go of my valveeta shells and cheese. Wish me luck!

Nancy-Lyn - 2013-03-08 13:13:08

I,m allergic to apples,peaches,peanuts,nuts,raisins. As I got older I am a 53 yrs women.Any ideas on some of your recipes,starting to become a veg.thank

patricia payan - 2012-09-15 18:55:17

Ready to start eating a plant based diet

rose steinberg - 2012-04-18 05:13:54