There are lots of reasons to cut down on meat in your diet. It is better for the environment if you are going green. It is better for your heart health and overall body weight. And it is certainly better for your budget!
Anyone who does the shopping for their home knows that meat is one of the most expensive items on the grocery list: red meat, white meat, and fish all have seemed to becoming pricier and pricier as time goes on. So one quick way to help your family’s budget is to start doing vegetarian meals. This doesn’t mean that you have to go strictly vegetarian. One the other hand, you do not have to serve meat with every single meal. If you experiment in the kitchen a bit, you will eventually get into the habit of meatless cooking. You will even find that you do not even have to have a particular recipe to follow. Below are some ideas for quick and easy vegetarian meals that do not take much time to prepare and that your family will really love.
Italian is one of the best cuisines to follow if you want to go meatless. Prepare rotini or bow-tie pasta up the way you normally would, then add an Alfredo or marinara sauce and stir in a variety of vegetables. You will probably find that a combination of any of the following works best: mushrooms, zucchini, onion, artichoke hearts, broccoli or asparagus, lightly sauteed in garlic and olive oil. You can serve this with garlic bread and a green salad for a great and hearty meal.
Mexican food can easily go meatless, too! To make awesome vegetarian quesadillas, place a whole tortilla in a dry skillet on low heat; while the tortilla is warming up, spread out cheese slices (you can use pepper-jack for this dish, to give it a little heat) and a variety of sauteed vegetables (like a combination of red and green peppers and onions) then top with another whole tortilla. Flip this over once, making sure that both tortillas have been browned and are slightly crispy. Then you can remove it from the heat and slice into quarters with a pizza cutter. Top it with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. You can serve this with re-fried beans and Spanish rice on the side and no one will complain about the lack of meat in this hearty meal!
Chinese is another cuisine that really lends itself to vegetarianism. These dishes rely on the flavor of the sauce, spices and vegetables more than meat to give them their distinctive flavor. For a great Chinese stir-fry, add any of the following vegetables to a skillet with olive or sesame oil and garlic: eggplant (this really tastes meaty when it is prepared like this), mushrooms, bamboo shoots, baby corn, onions, broccoli, carrots or thinly sliced strips of red cabbage. Saute them with the olive oil and garlic and towards the end, add some soy sauce and a little ginger powder to give it a great taste. Serve over brown rice to make this dish even healthier. To make it a meal, add vegetarian egg-rolls and homemade egg drop soup. Your kids might not even realize that they are going meatless!
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Beans and Rice:
While Cajun cuisine does tend to rely heavily on sausage and seafood, its rich spices can easily lend itself to vegetarian cooking as well. Prepare your brown rice as directed on the package. When it is done, add several cans of red beans, minced garlic, sliced onions, sliced okra and the Cajun seasoning of your choice (there are quite a few available in the spice aisle of most grocery stores). Serve with coleslaw on the side. If you feel like you must have sausage in this, go with a vegetarian sausage like Morning-star. You will not even realize it is made from tofu and not pork!
Beans and Cornbread:
For a night of good ole’ Southern cooking at its very best, serve up a plate of beans and cornbread. You can make the cornbread from a mix as directed. And while, it is cooking, heat several cans of Navy or Northern beans in a pan, add freshly chopped onion and salt and pepper to taste. Allow beans to simmer until onion is soft. There are several sides to choose from with this dish, including fried potatoes, coleslaw or a mess of sauteed collard or turnip greens to make this a true Southern treat!
Naturally, the French have a lot of offer by way of vegetarian cuisine. One of the dishes best-known here in America is quiche, a sort of savory pie with egg as its base. Start with a store-bought whole wheat pie crust. In a bowl, beat 4-5 eggs together, add a dash of water, a dash of milk or cream, a cup of shredded cheese and any of the following vegetables: sauteed red bell pepper, onion, artichoke, asparagus or broccoli. Bake at 350 degrees until center is firm and top is golden brown (usually around 30 to 40 minutes). This is excellent served with a plain green salad, a mixed fruit salad or both.
A diet that is based mostly on plants has enormous health benefits. It tends to be lower in calories and saturated fat as well as being higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This can help with weight loss and improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It can even help protect you against serious conditions like diabetes or certain forms of cancer.
And, as you can see, if vegetarian meals is done right, you can have all the economic, environmental and health benefits of going vegetarian and not even miss the meat! The trick is to serve hearty, flavorful meals that are rich in veggies and whole grain pastas, brown rice or whole grain breads so that you feel satisfied after eating. Again, with the taste and textures of most of these vegetarian meals. Your family is not even likely to notice that you have just served up a vegetarian dinner!