Would like to lose a few pounds? Drop your cholesterol level a few points? Live a few years longer? Then you may want to go meatless a few times a week. Eating a few meatless meals a week can help lower your weekly dose of animal fat. But will just cutting back on meat make you healthier? Maybe. But many of the benefits of vegetarian eating come from adding lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains to your eating style.

The good news for meat lovers is that you don't have to completely cut the meat out to gain the benefits of a vegetarian eating style. But trying a few meatless meals a week can help you:

  • Lower your grocery bill.
  • Lower the amount of animal fat in your diet.
  • Lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
  • Increase disease-fighting nutrients from plant foods.

But if you're used to cooking meat at your main meals, how do you cook without it?  There are lots of great main dishes that really don't need meat. By using high protein ingredients like starchy beans, pasta, and soy foods, you can make great main dishes that are inexpensive, healthy, and tasty. Here are a few options:

  • Pasta with sautéed vegetables. Pasta is high in protein because it's made with a type of wheat that's higher in protein than the kind that is used to make bread. You may have noticed that pasta labels always say made with "semolina flour" - that's a high protein flour. So just top your pasta with sautéed veggies, perhaps some tomato sauce and a little parmesan cheese and you've got a healthy, inexpensive, tasty, meatless meal! You can also make dishes with beans and pasta to really up the protein quotient.
  • Beans & Rice. Not only are beans & rice inexpensive, but when you combine them, you make what's called a "complete protein" which means you've got all of the building blocks of protein (called amino acids) that you would find in meat! Traditional southern dishes like hoppin' john and red beans rice make great substitutes for meat.
  • Chili without Carne. You can make your chili without meat. What many people don't realize is that the spices we add to chili is what really gives it its flavor - not the meat. Load it up with beans and vegetables and few people will complain.
  • Add Meat Substitutes. A great way to add the protein and texture to soups, stews, and chili is to add something called "texturized vegetable protein" (TVP) or "texturized soy protein" (TSP). These inexpensive "crumbles" are made from soybeans - which are very high in quality protein but without the animal fat. You can find TVP in health food stores. Just add hot water and toss it into the pot - it takes on the flavors it is cooked with which makes it versatile and tasty.
  • Find recipes. There are lots of great recipe sources on the web that can get you started on your goal of a few meatless meals a week. Take advantage of them and share the ones you like with friends & family!

 For other great meatless meal ideas, visit the meatless Monday site at: www.meatlessmonday.com

Beth Kitchin PhD RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences