While going completely vegetarian may be too extreme for many omnivores, there are numerous good reasons for cutting back on meat, and many people are doing just that.
Decreasing your intake of meat is not only a health-conscious decision; it can also help keep your food bills in check. Whether eating at home or dining out, vegetarian meals present a nutritious alternative to traditional fare.
Making Meatless Meals
Is Easier Than You May Think
A plant-based diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, and nuts is high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. Minimizing animal products leads to a general consumption of less saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.
The vast majority of studies show that the risk of a variety of preventable health problems including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer goes up as consumption of animal protein increases. The Meatless Mondays public health campaign confirms that eliminating meat one day a week is an easy and effective way to positively impact you and your family’s health. Cutting back on meat one or two days a week can also be lighter on the wallet.
Vegetarian protein foods such as dried and canned beans, peanut butter, tofu and soy typically cost much less than beef, pork, poultry and seafood. In addition, many people choose to eat lower on the food chain as a sustainable way to lessen their impact on the environment.
Planning balanced meatless meals takes some creative thinking, but is easier than you may think. Some delicious and satisfying examples of vegetarian dishes include lasagna, pasta, veggie stir-fry, entree salads and bean burritos. Vegetarian dinners make quick and convenient weeknight meals as they often take less time to prepare.
As meat-free dining has grown in popularity, many restaurants have responded by offering vegetarian-friendly meals, or alternatively making veggies the star of the plate accompanied by a smaller portion of meat as a flavoring agent or garnish. When eating at traditional restaurants with limited vegetarian meals, scan the menu for items with smaller meat portions.
Sumner Brooks, a Registered Dietitian in Redondo Beach, suggests opting for an appetizer with a cup of soup or salad instead of a full-sized entree, which typically provides a double portion of meat. Fish is another healthy alternative to meat that is lower in calories and saturated fat.
Here are some ideas for vegetarian-friendly meals to incorporate into your weekly menu:
• Stir-fry tofu and kale or spinach with brown rice.
• Lettuce wraps with firm tofu, shredded carrots, cucumber, avocado, bean sprouts and soy dipping sauce.
• Veggie tacos with beans, lettuce, tomato, onions, salsa and avocado.
• Veggie burger on a whole wheat bun.
• Vegetarian chili with a green salad.
• Whole wheat pasta with pesto sauce or tomato sauce.
• Falafel with chopped tomato and cucumber and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with pita and hummus.
• Black bean and rice burrito served with sautéed bell peppers, salsa and guacamole.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD, is a Registered Dietitian, food- and nutrition writer, and author of the “Everything Glycemic Index Cookbook.” She has contributed to TV and radio shows as well as print media, including Cosmopolitan, Fitness Magazine, US Weekly, Today’s Dietitian, the Renal Nutrition Forum, and the Journal of Renal Nutrition. For more information, please visit her blog at www.halfacup.com
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