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A Beginner’s Guide to Meatless Monday

Whether or not you’ve read any Michael Pollan articles or had a heart-to-heart with your doctor about diet and exercise, Pollan’s phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” has become a guiding phrase for both a healthy diet and a healthier planet.

The Health Benefits of Eating More Plant-Based Meals

There is lots of evidence that shows replacing animal-based foods with plant-based foods, even once per week, may have several health benefits. Reduced inflammation, lower risk of death from heart disease, improved weight loss, and lower blood pressure can all be attributed to eating more plants. Plants also contain unique phytochemicals that may help with managing or even prevent certain diseases like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and more.

Are Plant-Based Meals More Expensive?

Focusing on a plant-based diet, if even just for one day a week, can stretch your grocery dollars across your meal plan. To save money, buy in-season whenever possible and lean on the freezer aisle for more economical options like greens and berries in the off-season. If organic produce is available, use the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” to guide your organic and non-organic purchases. Eating plant-based can also cut down on food waste. That bag of carrots in your crisper drawer does double duty as a savory side in one meal, and then simmered in vegetable stock and blended for a Carrot Ginger Soup later in the week.

Are Plant-Based Meals Better for the Environment?

Heck yes. Industrialized livestock production is responsible for a staggering amount of pollution in the air and water. Many experts feel the easiest solution to this growing catastrophe is letting go of our consumption of cheap meat and focusing on a plant-based diet. Reducing meat intake promotes regenerative farming practices such as crop rotation, pasture grazing, and an overall reduction in agricultural pollution. All the more reason to put more plants on your plate!

5 Beginner Tips for Going Meatless on Monday:

Meatless Monday is a fun way to incorporate more plants into your diet. Search any social media platform for the #meatlessmonday hashtag and you’ll see why. Here are five beginner tips for going meatless on Monday:

1. Prep the building blocks ahead of time.  Spend a little downtime on the weekend to prep the vegetables and grains that you’ll be using for your meatless meals. Turn on the oven and roast a few different kinds of vegetables with similar textures. Grains like farro or barley can be batch cooked until tender and frozen in smaller portions. When Monday rolls around, all you have to do is add veggies and reheat for a quick veggie-grain bowl.

2. Master a couple make-ahead sauces. While prepping your veggies, make a few sauces to keep in the refrigerator to take your meals in different flavor directions. Simmer a big batch of this Basic Tomato Sauce for pasta and veggie-topped pizzas. Double the dressing in this Asian Tofu Lettuce Wrap to drizzle on a grain bowl or chopped salad later in the week for fast flavor. The feta dressing in this broccoli salad would be delicious next to a Mediterranean mezze platter with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and toasted pita bread.

3. Roast for the most flavor.  Roasted vegetables are my ace in the hole for meatless meals. The golden brown exterior mimics the umami flavor of meat. Add these Lemon Roasted Beets or Roasted Garlic & Asparagus to your meatless meal plan and you’ve got the building blocks of a healthy dinner any night of the week.  

4. Incorporate texture. When you’re thinking about preparing a meal sans meat, it’s important to think about texture. A plate of mushy vegetables isn’t going to get anyone running to the table. Instead, a mix of raw and cooked veggies like this nutrient-dense Raw & Roasted Carrot Salad provides color, crunch and a flavor boost. Toasted nuts like pecans and almonds, and pepitas and sunflower seeds provide crunch and savory flavor when sprinkled on top of salads, soups, and main dishes.

5. Experiment with spices and herbs.  To add a layer of flavor complexity to meatless dishes, add spices like cumin, coriander, and basic blends like curry and chili powder.  Using dried herbs and spices give you the ability to layer on flavor while cooking. Then, just before serving, hit your meal with a shower of chopped fresh herbs for a bright finish To see this in action, try the Beans & Greens Soup recipe below.

7 Must-Try Meatless Monday Meals

Looking for Meatless Monday recipe inspiration? We’ve got you covered. Here are seven delicious, easy meatless meals to try.

1. Spicy Vegetarian White Bean Chili: This spicy, hearty chili can be revisited all year round to customize with seasonal vegetables.  Add diced zucchini in springtime, fresh corn in the summer, and butternut squash or roasted sweet potatoes throughout the fall and winter.

2. Tomato-&-Olive-Stuffed Portobello Caps: In this recipe, hearty portobello mushroom caps are grilled and stuffed with tomatoes, olives, and cheese. Serve this dinner party worthy main next to a green salad for an impressive Mediterranean-inspired meal.

3. Spring Beans and Greens Soup: Loaded with herbs, seasonal greens, and two kinds of beans, this soup tastes like spring in a bowl. Don’t skimp on the yogurt and lemon; they give the dish a bright, fresh flavor.

4. Moroccan Red Lentil Soup: This Zipongo staff favorite might be the most economical in the bunch. It’s made with mostly pantry staples, comes together in under an hour and packs loads of flavor. Feel free to swap in any dark leafy greens you’ve got, like chopped kale or chard, and simmer just until tender.

5. Asparagus & Mushroom Risotto: Cabernet adds body and deep color to this spring-inspired take on the classic Italian dish. No asparagus at your market yet? Stir in some frozen peas instead.

6. Eggplant Pomodoro Pasta: This quick tomato-based sauce gets an upgrade with sautéed eggplant and salty olives and capers. Until tomatoes are at their peak, feel free to swap in canned whole peeled tomatoes. Just drain and crush with your hands into the skillet. Just make sure to wear an apron!

7. Green Pizza: This recipe couldn’t be easier. Roll out and bake store-bought whole wheat pizza dough and top with pesto, broccoli, and mozzarella cheese. We’re willing to bet this white pizza will satisfy all the meatless skeptics in your house.

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