Delicious, Nutritious, and Nobody Died

{By Rebecca Florio}

Back in the old days, I loved fried chicken and Mom’s homemade meatballs. If anyone would have told me that one day I’d be a vegetarian, I would have told them they were looking in the wrong crystal ball.

When I was a child, I spake like a child.

Though I never consciously planned to go meatless, as I progressed on my journey to healthier living, I discovered that meat was gradually dropping out of my diet and being replaced by plant-based alternatives. And I didn’t miss it! Instead, my meals were more varied and flavorful than ever before. It didn’t take long for me to make the decision to eliminate meat altogether. Watching a few documentaries on the meat production industry certainly helped accelerate my decision!

Whether you are a “labeled” vegetarian or not, everyone should consider the benefits of eating less meat and more vegetables. The typical American diet is extremely meat-heavy and pretty skimpy when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables.

What are the benefits of meatless eating?

veggie fries

  • Limited intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. Did you know that cholesterol is only found in animal products? Your body actually makes all the cholesterol it needs and when excess cholesterol is taken in through the diet, it builds up on the walls of your arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease.
  • Added variety to your diet. Whether you eat meat or not, it’s good to expand your repertoire of healthy ingredients and experiment with a few new superfoods like quinoa, beans, lentils, mushrooms, soy and tempeh. The more nutritious variety available to you, the less you will find yourself reaching for the unhealthier options.
  • Saved money! Replace expensive cuts of meat with budget-friendly beans, whole grains and vegetables. Now use the money you saved for frozen yogurt! Doesn’t that sound like a good plan?

One of my favorite things about healthy, vegetarian cooking is finding ways to recreate old favorite comfort foods into something abundant in nutrition and not lacking in yummyness. Still skeptical? Try some of my favorite vegetarian meals to taste how delicious meatless eating can really be!

Strawberry Poppyseed and Chickpea Salad

(copycat recipe from a Panera favorite!)

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 c. fresh blueberries
  • 1 c. fresh strawberrys, sliced
  • 1 15-oz can of mandarin oranges
  • 1 20-oz can of pineapple juice, drained
  • ½ c. pecans, chopped
  • 1 batch of Citrus Roasted Chickpeas: Preheat oven to 400F. Drain and rinse a (15-oz) can of chickpeas. In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ c. orange juice, 2 T. olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add chickpeas and stir till coated with dressing. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until chickpeas are golden brown.
  • 1 batch Poppyseed Dressing: Vigorously whisk together: ½ c. oil, ¼ c. apple cider vinegar, ½ c. sugar (or ¼ c. honey), 2 T. poppy seeds, 1 t. dried minced onion, ½ t. salt

Directions: Toss all salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing and serve!

Lentil Walnut “Meat”: My favorite veggie alternative to ground beef.

This mixture is so versatile – I’ve used it in tacos, lasagna, veggie burgers, and chili!

lentils

  • 1 c. dry lentils
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 packet vegetable broth
  • 3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. Chili powder
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 t. paprika,
  • 1 t. salt,

    lentil pie

  • 1 t. garlic powder,
  • 1/2 t. pepper

Directions: Prepare your lentil “meat”: In a medium sauce pan, cover dry lentils with water and vegetable bouillon. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and let simmer about twenty minutes or until lentils are soft. Uncover, remove from heat, and stir in walnuts and sunflower seeds so that they soften a bit with the cooling lentils.

When lentil-nut mixture is cool, add to a food processor or blender. Add spices. Pulverize until texture resembles coarse grumbled meat. Don’t blend too far, or you will end up with mush  . Set aside.

Give meatless eating a chance — and let me know what delicious healthy alternatives you come up with!

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