Meatless Mondays

Are you familiar with Meatless Mondays? If not, let's take some time to talk about it. Meatless Monday is an initiative associated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to get people to eat less meat by going vegetarian one day a week . Wait! Don't stop reading! It's not as bad as it sounds, I promise.

I'm not asking you to give up meat entirely - just cut back for one day a week. Making veggies the center of your plate for only one day a week can drastically reduce your risk of some cancers, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. At this point, many of us have heard the research about high red meat consumption, but check it out if you haven't already. From a nutrition standpoint, cutting down on meat is a great way to cut your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. It's also a great way to start the week off with extra servings of fruits, veggies and beans, which, let's face it, we're probably not eating enough of. I am a huge advocate of it because I think it's an easy way to improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint.

Worried about protein? Don't be. Protein is found is almost every food we eat. The average healthy person only needs around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but most Americans get much more than that every day (USDA data suggests most men in this country get 190% of their recommended protein everyday!). If you still have concerns, check out this great protein primer from the No Meat Athlete.

Worried your family won't enjoy it? If you don't make a big deal about it, chances are your family won't notice. To get the ball rolling, think of meals your family already enjoys that don't include meat and expand from there. Try familiar foods that can become vegetarian options lasagna, black bean enchiladas, simple mushroom pizzas, or veggie burgers. If you're looking to expand your family's culinary horizons, try lentil curry with basmati rice, or tofu noodles with peanut coconut sauce .

But it doesn't have to be this fancy. For example, it's been a very long day and a busy week, so for dinner I just might throw some left over veggies on a pizza crust and call it a day. Or maybe I'll make this recipe for quinoa salad with peas and cashews that I've been dying to try. We'll see.

Anyway, since the internet is loaded with sites that talk about vegetarian diets, some useful, some not, I want to share with you my favorites. Also, the links above are great resources too. The Meatless Monday homepage offers links to articles and research that support opting out of meat one day a week. They have some FAQs about starting to cut out meat one day a week, and give a list of celebrities and organizations that have taken up the cause. It posts new recipes every week that range from simple family favorites to exotic gourmet feasts. It's a good place to start.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers practical, evidence based tips and recipes for keeping your family healthy. Click here for a list of some of their vegetarian lifestyle topics including recipes, meal planning guides, and cooking vegetarian for a family. Oldways promotes healthy, heritage diets. Not sure what that means? Check them out- it just might change your life (or at least your diet). This will take you right to their vegetarian info. They also have vegetarian recipes and healthy recipes you can use for the rest of the week too.

So this Monday, make a conscious effort to avoid meat. Still not sure you can go a whole day? Why not try going meatless for 3 lunches during the week? Or even 2! Every small step helps you and the planet.

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Katie Schaeffer is a graduate student at D'Youville College, completing her master's thesis is dietetics, focusing on improving urban food environments. She has a background in environmental science, agriculture and nutrition. A 15 year vegetarian, Katie advocates eating a mostly local, plant based diet to improve health and the environment. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Western New York Dietetics Association, and the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine practice group. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking meals for friends and family, singing with the Buffalo Choral Arts Society, and making her own clothes. She loves a good road trip and experiencing new places and new foods. Katie lives in Buffalo with her husband Hill and their dog Brody. Her favorite food is tofu. Not really. It's actually coconut cake.
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