Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tips for Meatless Eating from an Almost Vegetarian

Eating less meat with The Conscious Shopper

With the start of our Meatless Mondays Challenge here at the Booth, I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips for those new to meatless eating, but first some background info for new readers...

Previously at the Green Phone Booth: Erin aka The Conscious Shopper revealed that she was eating meat again after twelve years as a vegetarian. Her family has decided to eat about one pound of meat a week, purchased from a few local farms in the Triangle area that practice sustainable and ethical farming methods. For more info, check out Why I Started Eating Meat Again after 12 Years as a Vegetarian.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

When I was a vegetarian, one of the common questions I got was, “What do you eat?”

It's funny that now after so many years without meat, I'm on the flip side of that question. What do all you meat eaters eat? My husband and I sat down recently to brainstorm twelve meat-oriented and relatively frugal meals (i.e. utilizing ground beef, not steak), and it was really hard. All of my cookbooks are vegetarian, I can whip up a mean batch of bean burgers, and I have dozens of Mexican-style meals up my sleeve. But ask me to roast a chicken? Um....

My husband and I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time this year, and you should have seen us struggling to cook the turkey. I've got a roasting pan, right? Uh, no. What I thought was a roasting pan was not a roasting pan. Good thing Walmart stays open on holidays!

So for those of you meatless newbies, here are a few tips:

Start with that old standby: pasta.
In the early years of my vegetarianism, my answer to the “what do you eat” question was always, “The same thing as you but I leave out the meat.” Spaghetti, alfredo, and pasta salad are good places to start, and who doesn't love mac and cheese?

Meet your new friend, Mr. Bean. I'm a huge fan of beans. When my husband puts together a meaty meal on Sunday nights, more often than not my reaction is, “This could use less meat...and more beans.” If you're not currently a fan of beans, it's probably because you haven't tried the right bean. Did you know that there are hundreds of varieties of beans? And every bean tastes a little different. A good place to start might be the chickpea (aka garbanzo bean), which has a very un-beanlike flavor and consistency and works well in pasta.

Get ethnic. Standard American fare is meat and potatoes, but other countries are much more vegetarian friendly. When you're going meatless, Mexican food is your new best friend – you can't go wrong with tortillas, beans, and cheese. Next, you should tackle Chinese – fried rice and stir fry are excellent ways to use up those weird greens in your CSA box. And if you're ready for a challenge, try Indian.

Are you ready for tofu? My husband and I have been married for eight years, and in that time, I've served him tofu hundreds of times. He still doesn't like it. My kids, on the other hand, love the stuff. There have been nights when my oldest has picked every tiny vegetable particle out of his stir fry, gobbled down the tofu...and asked for more. For many people, tofu is too far from the norm, but you should at least try it. You never know.

Stay away from “meat substitutes.” Although those Boca burgers and chicken-less nuggets might be helpful as you're transitioning to more meatless meals (and essential when eating out with friends), don't let yourself depend on them. Most meat substitutes come from processed soybeans, a problematic crop that is most likely genetically modified and grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizer.

Start a recipe file. I prefer to find recipes online rather than in cookbooks. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
For those of you that are trying to eat mostly meatless like me, but still want a little bit of ethically-raised meat in your diets, here are some resources for you:
  • Eat Wild: A directory of pasture-based farms.
  • Eat Well Guide: Find local farms, markets, and restaurants carrying sustainable and organic foods.
  • Seafood Watch: A pocket guide to the very confusing world of seafood.
What other tips and resources have you found for meatless eating?


utahlawyer said...

Great post. One of my favorite vegetarian recipes is my Fresh Garden Chili.

What I like is that the basic recipe is vegan, but can be topped with cheese, sour cream, or meat if desired making it easy to serve when you have a mix of vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters.

I also love that it is full of vegetables and beans making it healthy and really, really good.

Kellie said...

Such great tips - thanks Erin!

Green Bean said...

As a lifelong vegetarian, I totally agree with going ethnic. I grew up in the vegetarian dark days meaning I was served stuff like cottage cheese loaf and loads of meat substitutes that tasted like cardboard. Sure, things have improved but it is just like when you try to go gluten free. Don't try to fake it. Go with something that is naturally that way.

Mexican and Italian are great standbys. Thai and other Asian foods are awesome and you can use tofu if you dig it or not if you don't. I'm currently WAY into the Indian. 1000s of veggie recipes to chose from. :) said...

Some truly great tips - I wish they had been around when I sent almost vegetarian. For me, it happened (appropriately enough!) organically - a little less meat on the plate, a few nights of meatless meals, a little more greens, some playing around with lentils, and the next thing you know, I'm feeling healthier and happier.

It is not an overnight journey, and there are lapses, but vegetarianism is a comfortable dining style and we enjoy it.



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