The food guide below is adapted from a guide that I developed with vegetarian dietitians Reed Mangels, PhD, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD when we were working on the American Dietetic Association's position paper on vegetarian diets. It's not the final word on creating a healthful vegetarian diet. No one food guide represents the only or best way to meet nutrient needs. And you don't need to follow these guidelines with meticulous attention every single day. You won't keel over and die if one day you have only four servings of grains!

This is meant to point you towards a diet that is based on a good variety of whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. The guide doesn't include things like chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, and wine. That doesn't mean you can't have these things. They just don't fit into the food groups that should be at the center of your diet. Likewise, you can have the occasional serving of refined grains. I prefer white pasta to whole wheat for example. It's fine, as long as most of the grains in your diet are whole.

Right off the bat, you'll notice something about this guide that differs from most other food guides: It doesn't have a milk group. Even food guides aimed at vegetarians usually have a dairy group–with soymilk included as an alternative. But this simply doesn't make sense. Most vegans don't consume three servings of soymilk per day. And except for fats, all of the food groups contain calcium-rich foods–so why not take advantage of this?

The guide below encourages you to choose a variety of foods to meet calcium needs. Be sure that your choices from the food groups include at least 8 servings of calcium-rich foods per day. (Or, make up the difference with a calcium supplement.)

You may see some challenges in this guide. Wow–five servings of beans, nuts or soyfoods!!? If you are new to beans, keep an open mind about them. They are central to some of the world's best cuisine and can add great interest to your diet. I've included some tips on this site for easy preparation–and gas-free enjoyment of beans!

Soyfoods are a special category of legumes that includes any food made from soybeans, such as tofu, soymilk, tempeh, soy cheese, and mock meats–which are meat-like products made from soy protein. These foods are extremely valuable in vegetarian diets. Not only are they nutritious–providing protein, vitamins, and minerals–but they are just perfect for replacing meat and dairy products in meals. They make it super-easy to plan vegetarian diets that are healthful, varied and delicious.

Finally, nuts and seeds, in moderation, play an important role in healthful diets. Some research shows that people who eat these foods moderately but regularly enjoy particular health benefits. These foods are concentrated in calories so a serving is small–just 2 tablespoons.

Vegetarian Food Groups
Include at Least 8 servings per day of the calcium-rich foods in this column when you make you choices from the Vegetarian Food Groups
6 or more servings per day

A serving is 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta, rice or other grain, 1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal, 1 slice bread.
Calcium-fortified cereal
5 or more servings per day.

A serving is 1/2 cup cooked beans, tofu, tempeh, 1/4 cup nuts, 1 ounce mock meat, 2 tbsp nut or seed butter, 1/2 cup fortified soymilk.
Fortified soymilk, tempeh, calcium-set tofu, almonds or almond butter, tahini, soybeans, soynuts.
4 or more servings per day.

A serving is 1/2 cup cooked vegetable, 1 cup raw vegetable, 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
Bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, okra, calcium-fortified tomato juice.
2 or more servings per day.

A serving is 1 medium fresh fruit, 1/2 cup cooked or cut-up fruit, 1/2 cup fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit.
Calcium fortified fruit juice, dried figs.
2 servings per day.

A serving is 1 tsp vegetable oil or soft margarine
Include one serving of one food from the following list each day to meet needs for essential fats:
1 tsp flax seed oil
1 tbsp ground flax seed
4 tsp canola oil

The food guide does not ensure that you will get enough vitamin B12, iodine, and vitamin D. So..

  • Make sure that your food choices include:
    • 2-3 servings per day or foods fortified with vitamin B12 OR
    • A daily chewable B12 supplement providing at least 10 micrograms OR
    • A weekly chewable supplement providing 2,000 micrograms.
  • Be sure you are also getting 5 micrograms per day of vitamin D through supplements or fortified foods.
  • Use iodized salt on your food (moderately, of course).

The above recommendations can be adapted for children and teens. The food groups are the same, but the numbers of servings are different as you'll see here. (Guidelines for toddlers and babies.)

Children, 4-13 years

Food Group Number of Servings per Day
  4-8 year olds 9-13 year olds
Grains 8 10
Legumes, nuts, and other protein-rich foods 5 6
Vegetables 4 4
Fruits 2 2
Fats 2 3
Calcium-rich foods 6 10


Food Group Number of Servings per Day
Grains, 10
Legumes, nuts, and other protein-rich foods 6
Vegetables 4
Fruit 3
Fats 3
Calcium-rich foods 10

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