Looking to transition some meals to meatless without a lot of work, strange sounding foods or fear you won’t get enough protein? Maybe your concept of a vegetarian dinner is a plate of bland, overcooked veggies?
Meatless does not equal tasteless; nor does it equal poor protein! Just ask the estimated 7.3 million vegetarians in the USA alone.
Indeed, a survey by the Great American Meatout found that one in four college students prefer a vegetarian diet. Today, fast food icons, school districts and sports stadiums serve tasty veggie burgers, salads and fruit alternatives to fries. Even the US government has revamped the food pyramid to reflect a need for more whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
There are several great vegetarian cookbooks on the shelves. One of my favorites is, “Diet for a Small Planet,” which proffers that many average meat-centered diets contain more protein than we need (the average woman needs only 46 grams a day).
So, let’s talk about how you can combine tasty, meatless foods to make protein rich meals in your own kitchen by mixing within these four groups:
1. Whole grains: Whole is the operative word here, meaning the germ, bran and endosperm have not been processed away. Try oats, brown rice, corn (yes, corn is a grain), wheat, barley, buckwheat (also called “kasha”), millet, bulgur (cooks quickly) or farro. (For a complete list of grains, go to wholegrainscouncil.org).
· Steam peas; add to cooked bulgur with a teaspoon of fresh ginger and a chopped garlic clove.
2. Dairy i.e.: yogurt and milk.
· Add a ½ cup of milk to meatless bean soup; then run through a food processor before serving.
3. Seeds: Sunflower, sesame and pumpkin are the most popular.
· Sprinkle a handful of shelled sunflower seeds into a meatless chili for crunch and flavor.
4. Legumes: Peas, beans, lentils, peanuts.
· Heat a few tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave. Experiment with spices to create homemade sauces for vegetables, grains or fruits.
Pull flavor and nutrition out of your vegetables: Since healthy parts of some vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, potatoes – wind up being tossed when peeled, wash but don’t always peel. Invest in a steamer, or put only an inch or so of water in a pot; cover and steam the vegetables until tender. Retain vegetable water for soups, stews, etc.
Some words about soy: Tofu and some other soy products have created controversy recently. While some believe soy is the vegetarian’s protein savior - one cup equals about half the daily requirement - others believe only fermented versions (i.e. miso or tempeh) are healthy. Still others say to avoid soy altogether. Check with your doctor or dietician to determine what is best for you.
Try new foods. Choose a new meatless food with each grocery store excursion. FYI: if you have children, they are more likely to eat new foods if they had something to do with picking and or preparing it.
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