It’s no secret that plant-based diets are loaded with health benefits, from helping maintain a healthier weight to warding off a plethora of ailments and diseases. But not everyone is ready to say sayonara to their Meat Lovers pizza or favorite burger joint, and that’s ok. Flexitarian diets, which incorporate meat occasionally, combine the benefits of plant-based diets with the flexibility of eating the occasional steak. And what better way to start than with Meatless Mondays? Meatless Monday is a worldwide movement designed to help people and the environment by cutting out meat once a week. With so many people—and restaurants—taking part, it’s easier than ever to go meatless.
Why Meatless Monday?If you haven’t dedicated a day to going meatless yet, there are plenty of reasons to start:
- You’ll eat healthier foods. By cutting meat out of your diet, you’re actually adding to it in the form of healthier substitutions like whole grain, lentils, and vegetables. These vegetarian staples are loaded with heart-healthy fiber, antioxidants, and important nutrients.
- You’ll save money. Next time you go out to eat, check out the meatless options on the menu—you’ll find that they’re usually cheaper than their meat-based counterparts.
- You’ll help the environment. If you’ve ever thought that just one person can’t make a difference, think again. The environmental benefits of going meatless just once a week are pretty staggering. For example, that pound of beef in your cart required between 1,800 and 2,500 gallons of water to produce.
But What About Eating Out?
Maybe you’re worried about meatless options when dining out. Here’s some good news—going meatless doesn’t mean picking at a salad while everyone else is chowing down on meat. More and more restaurants are backing the Meatless Monday movement and catering to the needs of flexitarians and vegetarians by offering a wide variety of meat-free options, so you don’t have to head straight to the salads when you get the menu. What’s more, many of them also offer special discounts for Meatless Mondays. When navigating the menu, look for symbols or sections that call out vegan or vegetarian options. And don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions if you don’t see a meatless option of a mouth-watering dish. Most restaurants are more than happy to accommodate their customers and can even make suggestions for Meatless Monday newbies.
What Can I Order?
Whatever type of food you’re in the mood for, your local meatless dining options are probably much better than you think. Take a look at some of the best meatless options:
With staples like rice, beans, and cheese, flavorful meat-free options abound at your favorite Mexican spots. Skip the carne and order the cheese or bean-based versions of tacos, burritos, and just about any other Mexican dish. Beans are also packed with fiber, which not only helps you feel fuller longer, but also helps cut your heart disease risk and maintain a healthy weight. To get the greatest benefits of your meatless dish, order brown rice instead of white (it has more nutrients and tons of health benefits) and opt for black or pinto beans over refried. Tasty, meatless sides like fresh salsa, guacamole, and corn over loaded nachos or other meaty appetizers.
While meat-based Italian dishes are the norm, you might be surprised to see how many meatless options you’ll find that aren’t just cheese. Many Italian dishes are also pasta-based, and ordering whole wheat versions of your favorites will also leave you feeling satisfied, thanks to the high fiber count. Vegetables often take center stage in pasta entrées and make delicious and healthy substitute. Try eggplant parmesan (the eggplant offers rich antioxidant benefits, not to mention filling fiber); spinach manicotti, ravioli, or lasagna; mushroom risotto or ravioli; and don’t forget pasta primavera, which is a naturally meatless dish of pasta and fresh veggies. It’s also easy to go meatless with soup. Minestrone soup is a classic, filling soup loaded with protein (thank you, beans!) fiber, and healthy vegetables. Tomato basil, kale and white bean, and tasty Ribollita, a traditional veggie soup loaded with kale, beans, and cooked with bread. And what about pizza? Don’t think you’re limited to a plain cheese pizza. You’ll find many restaurants are spicing up this go-to dish with unique and delicious vegetarian options, like roasted red pepper and onion, barbeque jalapeno and pineapple, or goat cheese and pesto!
If you’re headed to a Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or other Asian restaurant, you’re in luck. Many of these dishes are naturally vegan or vegetarian. Start your meal off with a meatless appetizer like miso soup, vegetable spring rolls, seaweed salad, or edamame and sea salt. When it’s time to order the main dish, tofu is a popular meat substitute in Asian dishes and can be substituted for meat in just about any dish. Tofu is unique because it takes on the flavors of the foods it is cooked with, making it a delicious meat-free protein option for curries, stir-fries, and rice dishes. Sushi is also a delicious vegetarian option. While most people think of seafood when they think of sushi, there are actually plenty of vegetable-based sushi rolls with avocado, cucumbers, carrots, and more.
Indian food is so bursting with spices and flavors, you won’t even notice the lack of meat in your meal. Vegetarian and even vegan dishes are very common in Indian dishes, with the veggies themselves taking the leading role in many popular curries. For example, did you know that baingan bharta is an eggplant-based curry? Or that okra is the main ingredient in bhindi bhaji? Pair any of these curries or meals with naan or rice and you’ll have a filling, delicious meal. Lentils are also used as a meat substitute, and paneer, an Indian staple made from soft, milk-based cheese, is naturally meatless. You can also try traditional Indian appetizers like pakora, which are fried battered veggies, and samosas, tasty pastries with a savory filling like lentils or spiced potatoes.
Often considered one of the healthiest diets around, you won’t have any trouble finding vegetarian options at your favorite Mediterranean restaurant. Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), which happen to have the highest protein content of any bean, can be found on the menu in falafels, in wraps, or hummus. As an added bonus, chickpeas are also high in insoluble fiber, which helps you feel fuller longer. Fresh salads that include ingredients like quinoa and couscous and are paired with classic Mediterranean vegetables like olives, cucumbers, red peppers, and onions are delicious meatless options. For a fresh and tasty meal, try tabbouleh or a traditional Greek salad paired with a dip like hummus, babaghanouj (made from eggplants) or muhammara (red peppers and walnuts).
Staples like fried chicken, ribs, and hamburgers make Meatless Mondays a bit of a challenge at American restaurants. Fortunately, many restaurants offer menu options that are just as good as their meat-based counterparts. Most burger joints offer veggie burgers, which do an excellent job of filling you up while tasting delicious. Portabella burgers are also a popular substitute for beef. Other meatless American restaurant staples include baked potatoes loaded with toppings, soups and grilled cheese, bean chili with cornbread, veggie pizzas and flatbreads, and green salads that include filling options like beans, avocado, or chickpeas. You can also make a hearty meal entirely out of meatless appetizers like mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, baked apples, or mac and cheese. Going meatless doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your social life or give up eating out. Many restaurants are joining the meat-free movement with tasty and filling plant-based options. So go ahead, go out! There’s certainly something on the menu—wherever you go—for everyone.
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian