By Christine Zellers, MPP, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences
Meatless meals have grown in popularity as more American’s look for alternatives to traditional eating habits. Vegetarians eat plant based all the time, but meatless meals do not mean taking out meat entirely and eating only vegetables. Meatless meals allow a person to still enjoy eating animal protein while cutting back or alternating with plant-based meals. Meatless meals simply substitute animal protein with plant proteins on occasion. Plant-based foods are healthy because they consist of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains which have beneficial effects on the body. They are lower in calories and therefore help to maintain a healthy weight, have less saturated fats and are a good choice for heart health. The vibrant colors called phytochemicals provide vitamins and minerals and the high fiber content keeps the body functioning properly.
Studies have begun looking at the benefits of plant-based diets to determine the positive attributes on health and preventing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, inflammation, and certain cancers. Eating a well-balanced diet is key to disease prevention but it has not been fully determined that a meatless lifestyle is that one secret to good health. However, by virtue of eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains chronic diseases prevention is more likely.
The ingredients of a healthy meatless meal are the same as those for a meal with animal protein minus the meat. The My Plate model from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest eating from all five food groups, fruit, vegetables, diary, protein, and grains. Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains can be used the same as they would in a dish with animal protein but to make the meal meatless the protein group can be substituted with plant protein like beans, nuts, or seeds. Quinoa is a seed that is consumed like a grain and in just one cup of Quinoa there is 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber making it a good addition to a meatless meal. To make a meatless meal seek out a reliable source for a recipe that contains all five food groups or substitute a favorite dish that has meat for a meatless options. For instance, when making chili leave out the ground beef or turkey and just enjoy the veggies and beans. When making stuffed peppers instead of ground beef use black beans and rice or quinoa, tofu is a nice addition to stir fries instead of chicken and adopts the taste of the veggies and sauce.
Meatless meals are easy, fun, and healthy, and summer is a perfect time to add more plant-based meals since New Jersey has so many great tasting local vegetables available. Having items in the pantry like brown rice and quinoa and a variety of beans and nuts makes substituting meat for plant-based dishes easier. Choose one day a week to make plant-based or try adding just one meal a week and increase from there. Whole foods are best, read food labels of processed plant-based foods to check for chemicals and fillers and to avoid unwanted fats, sodium, and sugars. As with any change start small for better success and make tasty healthy dishes that are meatless new favorites.
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 38 minutes Serves: 8
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions finely diced
4 cups chopped eggplants
4 cups chopped tomatoes
1 red pepper thinly sliced
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp capers
1/2 cup chopped basil
- In a large frying pan on medium heat, cook the diced onions and garlic for 2- 3 minutes in olive oil. While that’s cooking, cut the eggplant into approximately 1/2 inch sized cubes and add to the frying pan. Season with salt.
- Cook the eggplant for approximately 5 minutes until tender. If the eggplant starts to look dry, drizzle more olive oil over top.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and vinegar to the pan and let the mixture simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes and peppers have become soft.
- Add in the chopped basil and capers and serve. Enjoy!