The Veggie Table: Five Tools to Go Meat-Free, Easily

By: Janel Ovrut Funk

Following a plant-based diet has a whole host of health benefits, even if you go meat-free just a few meals or days each week. Besides enjoying the delicious variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, you gain the health benefits of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and health-boosting antioxidants. And to top it off, reducing the amount of meat you eat has environmental benefits, too. By rethinking the way you eat, you can do your body and the earth a huge favor.

Here are five tools to help you go meat-free, easily.

Protein Replacements

If by going vegetarian you think you can just drop the meat from your entrée, you’re going to be left a little unfulfilled. Make sure you trade the meat with a plant-based protein to satisfy your hunger. Swap your ham and cheese wrap for a hummus and cheese wrap, boost the beans in your chili in place of ground beef, and scoop chickpea salad onto your crackers instead of chicken salad. You may be removing meat, but you’ll be adding in flavor at the same time.

Books and Blogs

There is no shortage of cookbooks and blogs out there with tantalizing meat-free recipes to inspire you in the kitchen. Moving towards a meat-free diet is easier with the guidance of others’ tried and true vegetarian and vegan recipes. Some of my favorite vegetarian and vegan blogs include Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, Chef Chloe and Post Punk Kitchen. Vegetarian Times and VegNews are informative magazines filled with thoughtful articles and recipes, and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is a good cookbook for beginners and vegetarian veterans alike.

Dining Out

If you’re too timid to taste tofu at home, why not try new food options when dining out? This way you’ll get to explore new foods to see if you want to bring them into your recipe repertoire at home. Once you know what you like, you’ll be able to mimic meals you enjoyed while dining out in the comfort of your own kitchen. And go global – many ethnic restaurants have entire menu sections devoted to vegetarian selections.

Vegetarian Potluck

Have friends who are looking to cut back on meat? Organize a vegetarian potluck where everyone brings a different plant-based dish. Have all of your guests bring a copy of the recipe to share, so everyone leaves having sampled new vegetarian dishes, and the opportunity to try making them at home.

Shop Veg

Many food brands have a myriad of vegetarian and vegan options, meaning you don’t have to scour the ingredient list looking for hidden chicken broth or gelatin (but do look closely for dairy ingredients if you’re vegan). Morningstar Farms, Amy’s, Boca and Garden Burger, Dr. Praegers, Silk and LightLife all have delicious options -- from veggie burgers to frozen tofu bowls -- that can help you make vegetarian meals in a pinch.

Janel Ovrut, MS RD LDN, loves experimenting with vegetarian and vegan cooking. Read her food blog, Eat Well with Janel , and follow her on Twitter @DietitianJanel . Catch up on her previous posts here .

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