Following a vegetarian or vegan diet? While only about 3.3% of Americans follow these guidelines, according to a 2016 survey, many are looking into making their diet more plant-based. This ideology can be beneficial both for your health and the environment. It is estimated that one pound of protein from kidney beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, nine times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times less pesticide than producing one pound of beef. Also, there are concerns about manure and water pollution, as well as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide production. That isn’t to say that meat and dairy can’t have a place in a healthy diet, and farmers and ranchers work hard to improve sustainable farming practices all the time. However, many erroneously believe that a healthy meal consists of meat and vegetables only.
My favorite thing about Meatless Monday is that it helps people explore other options in the kitchen. One of my coworkers told me she wouldn’t even know where to begin when making a meatless dinner, because meat is always at the center of her meals. Now meat certainly has its nutritive qualities, such as protein, iron, B12, and zinc, for example. However, you can get most of these nutrients from plants, and plants provide phytochemicals and beneficial fibers, as well as protein, vitamins, and minerals. Most of us could certainly stand to incorporate more plant foods in our diets, especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, with a little planning and adequate calories, we can get enough protein, even for muscle building. While I don’t think everyone needs to follow a strict vegetarian diet, I certainly am a proponent of using Meatless Monday as a way to explore how to incorporate more plants into our diets in a delicious way.
Where to start
There are a few ways to start thinking about incorporating Meatless Monday into your life. First, you could think of some of your favorite foods that contain meat, and replace the meat with something else. For example, bean tacos, veggie burgers, or tofu in curry instead of chicken. Another approach is to make dishes that you don’t normally associate with meat.
This is my husband’s favorite way to do Meatless Mondays, because otherwise he feels like he is missing out. So we often make pizza, pasta dishes, rice or quinoa bowls, and salads without meat, because he doesn’t feel like meat is a “requirement.” I may never get him on board for veggie burgers (although I love them!), but I have been able to find many meatless options that he loves. I incorporate lots of different veggies, legumes, and whole grains to get a good amount of protein and fiber, which keeps us full and satisfied. I also often use dairy when cooking my meatless meals for added protein, calcium, vitamin D, and more, but you don’t have to.
Remember that vegetarian and vegan meals can be nutritionally adequate when planned well, and they are a great way to focus on getting enough vegetables into your diet. Need some inspiration? We have over 400 vegetarian recipes on our blog, and 180 of those are vegan. Grab a knife, and let’s start transforming mundane Mondays into culinary adventures!
Megan Ostler MS, RDN