If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of eating less meat—or eliminating it entirely—now is the time to get started.
Not only does a vegetarian diet help control your blood pressure, improve your heart health and reduce blood sugar, it also makes the world a better place by reducing your carbon footprint.
Raising livestock uses more food, water, land and energy than growing plants.
“You don’t need to be a full-on vegan to reap the benefits of a vegetarian diet,” said Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN, community nutrition educator for Spectrum Health Healthier Communities.
As a working mother with two young boys, she takes a very realistic approach to cooking.
“We have lots of meatless meals at our house,” Corwin said. “By making small tweaks on traditional recipes, you can make meals that are quick and easy. Just think, you don’t need to thaw out the chicken to start cooking after work.”
Six easy tips to become a part- or full-time vegetarian:
1. Meatless Mondays
Many Americans eat too much protein. But if your family isn’t ready to eliminate meat entirely, you could try skipping it one day a week. You won’t be alone. There’s a whole website devoted to meatless Monday recipes, with ideas for every meal and every season. Or browse the site by ingredients for inspiration.
2. Small tweaks on traditional recipes
Some of the easiest recipes to modify are Italian dishes, Corwin said, noting that anything with pasta or marinara sauce tastes great without meat.
One of her favorites is a quick Italian skillet meal: While cooking pasta in a big pot, she sauteés a can of diced tomatoes with white beans (or tofu) in a skillet. She adds fresh or frozen spinach and Italian seasoning, then tosses the sauce and pasta together and tops it with Parmesan or feta cheese. It’s that easy.
3. Satisfy the meat-and-potato lovers
When Corwin teaches classes on vegetarian cooking, she is sensitive to traditional palates.
“It’s easy to substitute black beans or lentils in sloppy Joes,” she said. “You’ll get the same flavor profile and texture as using meat.”
She’s also a fan of black bean burgers, which she makes ahead and freezes for quick, easy meals.
4. Serve “brinner” occasionally
If your family enjoys eggs, consider brinner, a mash-up of breakfast and dinner.
“Egg sandwiches are quick and easy, and a frittata is a delicious way to use up a variety of veggies and cheeses,” she said. “Plus, it’s just fun to have breakfast for dinner.”
5. Think vegetarian when you go out
Most restaurants today offer at least a few vegetarian entrees. When in doubt, check out the Happy Cow website for veg-friendly menus, health food stores and even vegetarian meet-ups.
6. Save money
There’s a reason people talk about eating rice and beans to save money. Although the amount spent on groceries varies from family to family, chances are you could slash your grocery budget about 10 percent by eliminating meat, Corwin said.
Whether you use the money to splurge on eating out or sock it away for a rainy day, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re in control of your budget, your diet and your health.