Meatless Monday

Have you heard of the term "Meatless Monday"? You might think it is a trendy fad, but believe it or not, it is an actual movement founded in 2003 by Sid Lerner in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. There is even a website dedicated to it: www.meatlessmonday.com.

Why is meatless Monday getting all this attention? Because skipping meat one day a week is good for you, great for our country's health, and better for the planet.
  • Saturated fat is almost entirely found in animal meats like beef and pork as well as in the skin on poultry, so reducing your intake even by one day a week can make a difference in your health.
  • Meat is often the most expensive ingredient in a recipe, so adding a vegetarian meal to your weekly menu can save money.
  • Eating less beef can help the planet. According to foodtank.com, the amount of water required to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons. As a comparison, the water footprint of corn is 108 gallons.
  • Plus, cows are very ... gassy. Timeforchange.org states a cow on average releases between 70 and 120 kg of methane per year. Methane is greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, but the negative effect on the climate of methane is 23 times higher.
Before we leave the topic of saturated fats and your health, I can't resist mentioning coconut oil. Coconut oil has become very trendy and some talk it up as a magical "cure-all" for what ails you. But the American Heart Association advises against consuming it. They say it increases LDL, or "bad," cholesterol and "has no known offsetting favorable effects." As long as 30 years ago, I followed a strict vegetarian diet and remember waaay back then that the general consensus was coconut oil was not good to ingest. Isn't it interesting how public opinion swings back and forth like a pendulum about so many things?

It is important to do your own research, talk to your doctor about healthy choices and don't believe everything you read on the internet (except what you are reading right now because I wouldn't lie to you!) So does this mean that Meatless Monday has to be "boring, leafy-green salad Monday"? Not at all! The good news about meatless dishes is that they can be very satisfying when you use the right ingredients. And you can still prepare many of your favorite recipes by substituting some of the following vegetables or vegetable-based products and adding your favorite Tastefully Simple seasonings.

Even though we are talking about going "veg" only one day a week, it is important to know that if you drastically cut back on your weekly intake of meats, you would need to substitute other vegetable-based complete proteins into your diet.

A complete protein is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of the nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on our own. Every cell in your body contains protein, so you must ingest these nine essential amino acids or building blocks of protein so your body can repair and build cells. The nine amino acids must also be eaten within the same meal.

Meats, fish, eggs and dairy are the most commonly consumed complete proteins, but if you choose a strict vegan diet, it is very important to consume protein substitutes. Many vegetables like legumes, beans and dark green vegetables as well as seeds and nuts contain amino acids, but they are incomplete. This means that they lack some of the amino acids needed by your body. So typically you have to serve them with grains like rice or corn to fill in the missing components.

Examples would include black beans and rice, peanut butter on wheat toast, or a bean burrito. These food combinations provide all the amino acids needed in the same meal, which is necessary for your body to repair cells and make new ones.

In other words, incomplete proteins just don't cut it long term. Man cannot live on bread (or salad) alone!

Now that we have finished our biology lesson, keep in mind, if your goal is only one meatless dish a week, then by all means, prepare any recipe that sounds good to your family! No worries!

If you want to replace meat in your diet or amp up the protein in your dish, consider the following:
  • Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans; has a hearty texture like meat so is often used as a meat substitute for beef, pork, chicken and fish. Tempeh is considered a complete protein and has double the protein content of tofu.Tofu is made from soy milk but is minimally processed and molded into a block.
  • Quinoa is a grain crop dating back to the Incan empire. It is a seed prepared like rice. It is gluten-free and also contains all nine essential amino acids. It is so versatile, it can be used in place of pasta in dishes, flavored with veggies and seasonings on top of a salad or even sweetened in granola bars. Try Greek Quinoa. Tastefully Simple has a deliciously healthy Peanut Butter Quinoa bar mix your kids will love as an afterschool snack.
Even though some vegetables may not be complete proteins, they are still hearty enough to serve as satisfying meat substitutes. Beans and legumes such as lentils, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and black-eyed peas are inexpensive and because of their high fiber content, are filling. You can easily create delicious vegetarian soups, stews, and chilis using these ingredients. Try this homemade Black Bean Veggie Burger recipe. Portobello mushrooms and eggplant also have a dense texture that makes them a satisfying substitute for meat. Try this Asian-inspired Bayou Asian noodle dish but add Portobello mushrooms for your next entree. If you are looking for a delicious, protein-packed side, try Quinoa-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms.

I love using Tastefully Simple's seasonings in my vegetarian dishes because they do a much better job of enhancing the flavor of the dish without adding a ton of sodium. That is why Tastefully Simple likes to say we provide the flavor, you provide the fresh!

Why not start a new tradition with your family by trying a meatless Monday recipe or two from Tastefully Simple.com? Just type in a key word like "quinoa" or "mushroom" into the recipe search and select the category such as “main dish.” If the recipe calls for meat, try substituting Tempeh or Tofu. You will be surprised at how versatile Tastefully Simple's recipes are. As your family expands their taste buds, they may discover Meatless Monday isn’t so bad! Please share your family's favorite vegetarian dish in the comments below. It may help to inspire other cooks. And remember, as you experiment with your favorite Tastefully Simple products, don’t hesitate to share your family's favorites on our website. Many of our best recipes come from talented home chefs like you!

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