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Healthy Living: Meatless meals

Have you ever heard of a movement called Meatless Mondays? It’s an idea, created in association with the Johns Hopkins University public health school, to help Americans cut back – just a little – on the amount of meat they eat.

The idea isn’t to turn you vegetarian. Instead, it’s to help you reduce your meat consumption just a little bit, by about 15 percent – in the interest of improving your overall health, especially heart health.

Going meatless occasionally has a vaunted historical past in this country. During both world wars, Americans participated in voluntary meatless days, to help ration expensive meat and assist the war effort. The season of Lent – when many people already try to avoid meat at least one day a week for religious reasons – is a good time to give it a try.

And no, it does not have to be Monday – fit it into your schedule when it works for you!

One meal at a time: If a whole day without meat seems too drastic for you or your family, choose just one meal to start – perhaps breakfast or lunch instead of dinner.

Go ethnic: Many ethnic cuisines, including Chinese, Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern, are especially rich with vegetarian options, such as curries, stews, soups, and stir-fries. Serve with rice or pasta and you have a complete meal.

Make simple substitutions: Serve dishes you like, but leave out the meat. For instance, try veggie fajitas, but with big strips of portabello mushrooms in place of the chicken or steak. Serve pasta with a simple white sauce instead of meatballs, or add extra peppers, carrots and mushrooms into your marinara sauce instead of hamburger. Use spinach instead of meat in lasagna.

Add beans: Beans are not only a great protein source, but they’re filling and satisfying. And in some dishes (chili, bean and ham-less soup) you may not even miss the meat. Experiment with different kinds of lentils, split peas and beans to find new favorites.

Spice it up: Many recipes depend on meat for a depth of flavor. When you cook without it, you may find you need to add extra herbs and spices to kick up the taste – perhaps half again as much.

Eggs and cheese: If you were going vegan, these would be off-limits. But if you simply want to eat less meat, egg and cheese dishes like omelets, frittatas and quiche offer familiar tastes for brunch, lunch or even a light dinner.

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