Vegetarian and Vegan Diets in Aged Care – so much more than a plate full of vegetables!

There is a slow but steady rise in Australia with 1 in 10 Australians choosing to follow a vegetarian diet1. This is likely to follow-on within our aged care community. A typical vegetarian diet consists of plant-based foods and excludes the consumption of animal products such as meat, poultry and seafood. A vegan diet also excludes eggs and dairy. It is important to respect an individual’s religious, cultural, personal, health-related, environmental or ethical reasons to abstain from eating specific animal products.

Defining a vegetarian diet

There are many variations of a vegetarian diet, for example, a resident may describe themselves as vegetarian when they only avoid red meat. For this reason it is crucial that aged care staff are clarifying with residents and/or families what is meant by ‘vegetarian’ to avoid unnecessarily restricting foods and therefore improving the nutritional quality of the diet and food enjoyment for the resident. Start by documenting and communicating residents’ food preferences to all relevant staff (including kitchen staff) on admission. The common variations of a vegetarian diet are as follows:

Diet Pollotarian Pescetarian Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian Ovo Vegetarian Lacto Vegetarian Vegan
Resident does not eat: Red meat or fish Red meat or poultry Red meat, poultry or fish Red meat, poultry, fish or dairy Red meat, poultry, fish or eggs Any animal products
Resident can be offered: Poultry, dairy and eggs Fish, seafood, dairy and eggs Dairy & eggs Eggs Dairy Plant based foods

Getting enough energy and protein

Not eating enough food, especially high protein foods, can contribute to further functional decline and deterioration of health in the aging population. While vegetarian diets are varied, they tend to have lower energy and protein contents than meat-containing diets. Larger serves of vegetarian ingredients are needed to provide the same protein content of meat. This can be challenging when balancing meal flavours and textures. Good sources of protein suitable for an ovo-lacto vegetarian include:

  • eggs
  • legumes
  • dairy foods
  • nuts and seeds
  • wholegrains and cereals
  • soy-based products (tofu tempeh, soy milk)

It is recommended that vegetarian residents are consuming protein in other meals and snacks throughout the day to maximise their intake. Examples include protein-containing entrées, desserts and snacks such as lentil soup, yoghurt, cheesecake, baked custard, cheese and biscuits, milkshakes and egg sandwiches.


Vegetarian residents still losing weight?

Vegetarian meals can also be fortified to provide additional energy and protein. For example, adding cheese to omelettes and frittatas, skim milk powder to mashed potato, desserts and breakfast cereals, natural yoghurt to creamy dishes and curries, and protein powders such as Proform, Advital or Sustagen Neutral to milkshakes, soups and porridge. For vegan diets add calcium-fortified soy milk, legumes, peanut butter, quinoa or pea protein powder where possible.

Please note a vegan diet is likely to be inadequate in Calcium and Vitamin B12; please refer to the dietitian for advice on supplementation


  • Ask vegetarian/vegan residents what specific foods they do and do not eat.
  • Ensure your facility’s vegetarian diet contains good sources of protein – eggs, cheese, legumes, milk, yoghurt, tofu, soy milk, wholegrains, nuts and seeds


1The slow and steady rise of vegetarianism in Australia. Roy Morgan Research. August 2016


For more information or assistance with providing the best nutrition for your vegetarian or vegan residents, please contact us below or on 1300 712 722.