By Kathryn McLean
Experts advise us to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to maintain good health. We’re told to cut back on processed foods and drink water. And, finally, to cut back on meat. We should choose vegetarian options more frequently, perhaps starting with Meatless Monday.
But many people don’t know where to start in cutting back on meat and they have trouble thinking of filling vegetarian dinners. If you’re used to eating meat regularly, whether beef, chicken, pork or other animal proteins like goat, lamb and rabbit, or even fish and seafood, omitting those from your dinner can feel like you’re missing the entree.
Start by replacing a meat-based dinner with a vegetarian meal you already know and like. How about vegetarian pasta dishes? Try pasta with tomato sauce. Dry pasta such as rigatoni or spaghetti coated with a thick tomato sauce doesn’t need beef to be delicious. Add assorted vegetables to an olive-oil-and-garlic sauce to make a vegetarian pasta primavera.
Pasta primavera traditionally means pasta with spring vegetables, but any vegetables that you like will do. Or try a creamy sauce, like alfredo, cream and mushroom, or bacon-free carbonara.
Please note that I’m not suggesting that a cream-based dinner is particularly healthy, only that it’s a vegetarian option. The same for all of the vegetarian suggestions here.
If you don’t feel that pasta with tomato sauce is filling enough, how about potato gnocchi or a cheese-filled pasta like tortellini or ravioli?
And what about “breakfast for dinner”? Falling back on eggs for a vegetarian dinner is an easy way to skip meat. An omelet, toast and roasted potatoes is a filling dinner, even without meat on the side.
Pizzas don’t need to include pepperoni. Consider adding veggies as toppings to make your pizza more filling.
Replacing a meat-based dinner with a vegetarian dish you’re already familiar with is an easy way to skip meat once a week.
South Asian dal (a simple lentil dish), falafel, Japanese vegetarian maki rolls, grilled cheese, veggie stir fry (with or without tofu), bean tacos or burritos, and vegetarian Caribbean curries like chana aloo (chickpea and potato) are all vegetarian dishes. You likely already know and enjoy some of these.
If you’re ready to try new dishes, consider adding eggs, nuts or plant-based proteins (tofu, beans, lentils) to simple rice or grain dishes.
For example, top steamed rice with fried or scrambled eggs. Add some vegetables like steamed spinach or mixed frozen vegetables and your favourite condiment, like a hot sauce.
Or try a grain salad: quinoa with mixed vegetables and beans or chickpeas tossed with a simple flavourful dressing. Add a handful of walnuts for both crunch and more protein.
It’s not difficult to replace a meat-heavy diet with a vegetarian dinner once a week. Start with a familiar dish (like pasta with meat sauce) and replace it with a vegetarian version (like cheese ravioli with tomato sauce), and go from there.