University Health Service

Girl with grocery bag full of fruits and vegetables

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What do vegetarians eat?

Being a vegetarian means different things to different people. A lacto-ovo vegetarian does not eat meat but does eat dairy (lacto) and eggs (ovo).  A vegan refrains from eating all animal-derived food, including honey and gelatin. In this guide, vegetarian simply describes someone who abstains from eating meat.

But a vegetarian diet involves more than just not eating meat! In order to feel and look your best, you need to include meat alternatives like beans, eggs, nuts and tofu, which provide similar nutrients.

Any healthy eating pattern (vegetarian or otherwise) needs to include a variety of foods and some healthy fats and oils. You can check with a dietitian if you’re not sure that you’re getting everything you need.

What’s a serving size? 

Grains: 1 slice bread, 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal, 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta

Fruits:  1 cup fresh fruit, 1 cup fruit juice or 1/2 cup dried fruit

Vegetables: 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked

Protein: 1 egg or 2 egg whites, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans or tofu, 1 tablespoon nut butter, 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds

Dairy (calcium-fortified foods and beverages e.g. soy milk can be substituted): 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces cheese (choose low-fat or fat-free products)

Fat: 1 teaspoon oil, 2 tablespoons light salad dressing, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayo, 1 teaspoon soft margarine

Try it!

Record your servings for one day and compare it with recommended number of servings for a 2000-calorie diet here. Write the # of servings you eat in one day in a format like this:

  Breakfast Lunch Dinner Snacks My total servings Recommended for
2000 cals/day
Grains           11
Veggies           4
Fruits           4
Dairy or equivalent           3
Protein           3
Fats           5

Tip: To track your food intake, try free online tools such as,  or

Some nutrients of special concern for vegetarians:

Protein: A main concern for vegetarians is getting enough quality protein. Of the 20 amino acids available from dietary protein, nine essential amino acids (EAAs) cannot be manufactured by the body and must be obtained from food.

Many grains, vegetables and legumes are surprisingly good sources of protein. If you eat enough wholesome foods to meet your caloric needs and get a variety of vegetables, grains and legumes over the course of the day, you should have no problem getting enough protein in your diet.

Vitamin B12: A vitamin B12-fortified food, such as fortified soy beverage or breakfast cereal is absolutely essential if you consume little or no milk products and don’t eat eggs.

Calcium: If you don’t include dairy products in your diet, you may not be getting enough calcium. Fortified soy and rice beverages are a good source of calcium. Other calcium-rich foods include broccoli, soybeans, almonds, tofu, figs, bok choy and kale.

Iron: The iron in plant foods is not as readily available to our bodies as the iron in meat. Iron is found in eggs, dried beans and lentils, whole grains, iron-enriched cereals and pasta, dark green leafy veggies, dried fruit and some nuts and seeds. To help absorb iron better, include a vitamin C-rich food at each meal such as citrus fruit or juice, tomatoes or tomato juice, broccoli, cauliflower, red and green peppers, melons, berries or kiwi fruit.

See WebMD  for more food sources of vitamins and minerals.

For your grocery cart:

Vegetarian eating can be as easy as substituting tangy marinara for meat sauce, opting for black bean burritos instead of beef tacos, or enjoying creamy soy or rice milk in place of cow’s milk. Today, we no longer need to make a special trip to a health food store to fill our shopping carts with a wide array of vegetarian choices. Nearly all supermarkets carry vegetarian selections.

Tip: Most vegetarian products are found in the refrigerated or produce sections of grocery stores.

Our top five meat substitutes:

  1. Veggie Burgers: Black bean and portobello mushroom veggies burgers by Morning Star and Boca.
  2. Morning Star Vegetarian Sausage: Made from textured soy protein (TVP), tastes and smells of sausage.
  3. Boca Chick’n Patties: Eat them alone for a high-protein snack, combine with cheese, lettuce and pita bread, or slice the patty to put on a salad.
  4. Morningstar Farms Veggie Crumbles: Another TVP product, you can use these anywhere you’d use ground beef. 
  5. Quorn imitation “poultry” products: These include nuggets, cutlets, a roast and more.

Tip: Wondering how to use these products and others? Check out recipes in the Web Resources section.

Vegetarian resources:

All U-M dining halls offer one or two vegetarian options at each meal, and East Quad received the PETA award for its veggie-friendly menu. Use MyNutrition, an online tool, to  help you make smart, healthy choices in Michigan's residential dining halls.

Ann Arbor Restaurants (734 area code):


  • Veganomicon
  • Vegan with a Vengeance
  • Quick-Fix Vegetarian
  • Vegan Freak

Web resources:

Tip: Ann Arbor has a Vegetarian Meet-up Group.

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