I am a 16 year old girl, and I have just started being a vegetarian about a week ago.
I can already tell that my body is not getting enough vegetarian protein.
I've tried tofu but can't stand it! What else can I eat that will give me the protein that I need? - A. P.
Dear A. P.,
If you aren't lacto ovo vegetarian, meaning eating egg and dairy, then leave those out, or substitute, and make sure you have a source of Vitamin B12, e.g. as a supplement added to foods like rice or soy milk or cereal.
I don't recommend you go vegan right away. Wait until you've learned more about vegetarian nutrition. I've attached the SV Nutrition Report for you, and also the 10 Tips for Beginning Vegetarians report.
Eggs: Eggs are a good protein source, and cholesterol in eggs isn't really considered a big deal anymore. Some consider eggs non-vegetarian, but figure out how to replace them before you stop eating them.
Cheese: Go easy, it's high in saturated fat and cholesterol. What I mean is, don't try to live on pizza.
Nuts and Seeds, And Nut Butters: High calorie, but very good nutrition and good fats - just don't overeat. Peanut butter, in my opinion, is indigestible and causes zits. Good nuts and seeds are almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds (ground, or flax oil), sesame seeds (ground - as tahini). Add those to anything you eat, like salads, cooked cereal, or grains like rice, or make a trail mix with dried fruit. Tahini is good as a spread, or in hummus!
Get addicted to hummus, made with garbanzo beans and tahini - buy it or use the Savvy Veg hummus recipe - it's easy to make if you have a hand blender stick or food processor.
Beans and Lentils: Excellent source of low fat protein with whole grains. The variety and the possible things you can make with beans and lentils is just about endless. Some Savvy Veg bean recipes you might like:Black Bean Veggie Burgers Vegetarian Chili Refried Beans
Whole Grains: Believe it or not, there's quite a bit of protein in whole grains. Quinoa and oats are the highest, but brown rice and whole wheat are quite high too. Wheat gluten, sold as Seitan right next to the tofu in the natural food section is a good source of protein, buckwheat noodles are good, millet and corn too.
Tofu isn't necessary to eat, but try it in various recipes from time to time. Tofu is tasty, if cooked right, and it's an easy source of high quality vegetarian protein. It might grow on you. There are some nice tofu recipes on Savvy Veg, like Tofu Burgers, and Pasta, Tofu & Veggies.
Try the meat substitutes in the stores. They are expensive and have bad things in them sometimes, or taste like cardboard, but you might get lucky and find some you like.
All Fresh Whole Food Has Protein in varying amounts - e.g. fruit and veggies. Added up over the course of the day, it's a significant portion of your daily protein requirement, if you eat the recommended 5 - 9 servings of fruit and veggies. A serving is 1 piece of fruit, a couple slices of melon, a handful of raisins, half a cup of any cooked veggie, a cup or two of salad, etc.
Most people starting out as vegetarians still have the American Protein Mindset: protein is the most important part of the diet, we need very large quantities of it to survive, and meat is the only good source. Not so. Read How to get enough protein in your vegetarian diet.
There's plenty of good nutrition available in a vegetarian diet - including protein. Please get a cookbook or two, and start exploring - a couple of easy ones you might like are: 30 Minute Vegan and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Veganomicon by Isa Chandra and Terry Romero is great!
It will take time to get used to cooking and eating vegetarian, and it's normal to go back and forth between vegetarian and non-veg for a while. If it happens to you, don't think it means that you can't ever be vegetarian.
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian