Eat Less Meat – and enjoy it!

20_piefaceFor the past couple of weeks I’ve been encouraging you to eat less meat, preferably by cutting it out one day a week. You can also cut back on the amount you eat each day. Or you can go another way and not eat meat during the week. Do what is comfortable for you.

Let’s say you’ve decided to cut out meat one day a week. Now what do you do? First, remember that this is enjoyable and fun. You’re not just improving your health or saving money or helping the environment, you also have the chance to experience delicious-tasting foods and to try exciting new recipes.

It’s important to note that meat is a complete protein, meaning that it provides all the essential amino acids. You can find complete meatless proteins with soy or tempeh (fermented soy), rice and beans combined, and nuts. If you’re choosing to only cut out meat and not all animal protein, eggs and dairy are also complete proteins.

What you don’t want is to be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or frozen cheese pizzas as meals on your meatless days. So let’s assume you’re a carnivore and the thought of tofu or tempeh is a little too adventurous. What can you eat?

Some ideas for recipes include:

Beany Red Wine Chili – Recipe by Maria Comboy, Jefferson, LA, courtesy of MeatlessMonday.com. (Serve with rice for a complete protein.)

Crockpot Mexican Chili – Recipe by Sylvia Sivley – Schenectady, NY, courtesy of MeatlessMonday.com. (Serve with rice for a complete protein.)

Edgy Veggie Chili – Recipe by Ilene Courland – Valley Stream, NY, courtesy of MeatlessMonday.com. (Serve with rice for a complete protein.)

Fresh Fettucini with Hedgehog or Shiitake Mushrooms and Ricotta – Recipe by Michael Natkin of Herbivoracious.com, courtesy of Sustainable Table®.

Garbanzo Bean Burgers – Recipe by Healthy Monday, courtesy of Sustainable Table®.

Goat Cheese and Veggie Pizza – Recipe by Denise Hughes, courtesy of Sustainable Table®.

Grilled Pizza – Recipe by Laura Edwards-Orr, courtesy of Sustainable Table®.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Crab Cakes – Recipe by John Shields, Chef and Owner of Gertrude’s in Baltimore, Courtesy of Sustainable Table®. (I make these in the summer when there’s an overabundance of zucchini – they’re delicious!)

Oyster and Shiitake Mushroom Pie – Recipe by Tye Tilt, courtesy of Sustainable Table®. (A delicious recipe – and very filling.)

Porto Grilled Veggie Burger – Recipe by Vance Edwards-Orr, courtesy of Sustainable Table®.

Tagliatelle with Mushrooms – Recipe by MeatlessMonday.com

Three Bean-Cassoulet – Recipe by MeatlessMonday.com

Zucchini Boats – Recipe by MeatlessMonday.com

This is just a small sample of the many recipes you can eat on your meatless day. You’ll notice that they tend to be chili or pasta, which are simple to make and inexpensive. For any bean dish, try to serve your meal with rice so you’ll be eating a complete protein. And if you’re buying beans in a can, read the ingredients to make sure you recognize them. The Eden Organic brand is a good option because the cans are bisphenol A-free*, and the only other ingredients besides the beans are water and seaweed. Another option, especially if you’re on a budget and/or would like an even better choice than canned beans, is to buy dried beans and cook them yourself.

All the pasta recipes here include cheese, so you’ll be getting some complete protein, but don’t feel that you have to smother your food in dairy products to get the proper amount. Vegetables have far more nutrients and protein than you may think, and you can always add nuts to your dishes to get more protein, and a more filling meal. But remember that roasted nuts are not so good for you – you want to look for raw nuts, especially almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts.

Be creative. If you know how to cook pasta, or put beans into a pot and simmer them, add in vegetables that are in season. Experiment with spices. Be daring – that’s the fun of trying something new. What if you try to make your own bean burgers? Or a pasta casserole – veggie lasagna?

If you’re cutting out meat but not eggs, look for eggs from chickens raised outdoors on pasture, not in a cage or confined inside. And remember that omelets, egg casseroles and any egg dish are just as tasty for dinner as they are for breakfast. Some example of egg dishes are:

Corn and Pepper Frittata with Salsa Verde – Recipe by Dawn Brighid, courtesy of Sustainable Table®.

Polenta with Eggs and Seasonal Vegetables – Recipe by Anne Dailey, courtesy of Sustainable Table®.

Other simple ideas are homemade macaroni and cheese with a green salad, chickpea curry with rice, any type of salad with nuts and possibly goat cheese, vegetable and bean soup with bread – the list could go on for pages. The key is to enjoy what you’re eating – don’t skimp and don’t feel like you’re being deprived. Look at your meatless day as a chance to explore new foods – brainstorm with your family or friends to come up with a list of ideas. You might also want to make your meatless dinner a weekly dinner or potluck with friends so you all can explore new dishes and new tastes.

Looking at all this food has gotten me hungry – now which recipe should I try?

(Diane Hatz is the Founder of Sustainable Table, Executive Producer of The Meatrix movies and co-Founder of the Eat Well Guide. This is the 20th installment in her series Sustainable Table’s Guide to Good Food.)

*Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical produced in large quantities to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, including food and drink packaging, food containers including the coating on the inside of cans, plastic water bottles, and plastic baby bottles. Concerns over BPA continue to grow so it’s best to avoid products containing this type of plastic. Read the Smart Plastics Guide from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy for more information on what you should avoid and what you can do. And, remember, never cook or microwave in plastic!

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