It can be challenging to serve healthy meals on a budget, but with planning you can eat better for less. Many people save money by adding meatless meals to their weekly menus. Meatless meals are built around vegetables, beans and grains — instead of meat, which tends to be more expensive. Meatless meals also offer health benefits.
A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Just eating less meat has a protective effect. A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate 4 ounces of red meat or more daily were 30 percent more likely to contract a serious illness. Sausage, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increased the risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of serious illness.
The fact is that most Americans get enough protein in their diets. Adults generally need 10 to 35 percent of their total daily calories to come from protein. Of course, you can get protein from sources other than meat. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing a variety of protein foods, including eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. The guidelines also suggest replacing protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories. The fats in meat, poultry and eggs are considered solid fats, while the fats in seafood, nuts and seeds are considered oils.
You don’t have to go cold turkey. Instead, try easing into meatless meals. Consider going meatless one day a week. If you don’t like the idea of a whole day without meat, start with a meatless dinner each week or choose to eat meat free lunches or breakfasts. Plan meals that feature entrees you like that are typically meatless, such as lasagna, soup or pasta salad.
When your meals include meat, don’t overindulge. Choose lean cuts and avoid oversized portions. A serving of protein should be no more than 3-4 ounces or about the size of a deck of cards and should take up no more than one-fourth of your plate. Vegetables and fruits should cover half your plate. Whole grains make up the rest.
Finding ideas for cooking meatless meals isn’t necessarily easy. You can get bored with the same foods every day, so here a few suggestions on how to vary your meal plans.
1. Vegetable Stew
You don’t have to put meat in your stews to get the same taste. Hearty vegetables like potatoes and carrots make meals by themselves. When you make your vegetable stew, use good portions of these vegetables in your recipe. Also add green beans and sweet peas. Tomatoes and corn also round out this type of stew.
2. Vegetable Stir-Fry
Stir-fries are delicious ways to cook meatless meals. Most traditional stir-fries add chicken, beef or pork into the recipe. You can substitute mushrooms for meat in your favorite stir-fry recipe.
A salad is a healthy meatless meal that has numerous nutritional benefits. Of course, you’re probably thinking a salad won’t fill you up much. Salads can be complete and sensible meals if you add items that have protein. Top your salads with nuts or beans. Protein is great for building muscle tissue and warding off heart problems. The fiber in beans keeps constipation away.
Omelets aren’t just for breakfast anymore. They make great lunch and dinner meal options. Make your omelet delicious and fulfilling by using low fat cheese, egg whites and vegetables. Also avoid too much salt and use small amounts of healthy oils when preparing your omelet. These ingredients can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart-related problems.
5. Bean Soup
Beans are high in fiber and protein. They are delicious in soups as well. Pinto, kidney and black beans are perfect for soups. They provide a heartier taste than lighter colored beans such as lima and navy beans. You can make your soup even more filling by adding pasta, onions, tomatoes and carrots.
Here are some recipes that may tempt you to try a meatless dinner, soon.
Pour 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato oil (from the jar) into a small skillet and heat and add:
- 1 small eggplant (about ¾ lb.), peeled and chopped fine.
- 1 large garlic clove, chopped fine
- 3 sun-dried tomatoes chopped fine
- 1/4 cup finely chopped carrot
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/4 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Cook over medium low heat until very soft. Turn into bowl and mix in 1/4 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs. You may need a little more breadcrumbs so that the mixture holds together. Chill.
Form into 4 patties. Brush each side with a little olive oil and grill for about 3 minutes on each side. Serve each with 1 tablespoon of basil sauce on a hamburger bun.
Can be frozen and reheat in a 350 degree oven..
- 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
Process all ingredients in food processor or blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.
Roasted Vegetable Crepes
Thin pancakes with a savory vegetable filling are great for dinner or brunch.
- 1 cup quick-mixing flour, such as Wondra
- 2/3 cup reduced-fat milk
- 2/3 cup cold water
- 3 eggs or 3/4 cups egg substitute
- 6 tablespoons melted butter, divided, or Smart Balance Spread
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups)
- 1 bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium sweet onion, coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 2 cups grape tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- Coarsely ground black pepper
To prepare crepes:
1. Place flour in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in milk and water until smooth. Whisk in eggs, 3 tablespoons butter and salt. Let stand 10 minutes. (This allows the flour to absorb the liquid.)
2. Heat an 8- or 9-inch crepe pan over medium-high heat until hot. Lightly brush pan with some of the remaining melted butter.
3. Pour 1/4 cup batter into the center of pan. Quickly tilt in all directions. (Batter should lightly cover the bottom of pan.) Cook 30 seconds. Lift edge with a spatula to check doneness. Shake and jerk the pan by its handle to loosen crepe. Turn crepe over with your fingers or a spatula and flip. Cook 15 to 20 seconds. (Second side will be spotty brown.)
4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining batter and melted butter. Makes 10 crepes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
To prepare filling:
Place zucchini, bell pepper, onion and tomatoes in a large baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Add salt, thyme and pepper. Roast 30 minutes or until tender. Makes about 3 cups.
5 ounces brie cheese or softened Alouette or light cream cheese
Spread 2 tablespoons cheese on half of each crepe. Top with about 1/3 cup roasted vegetables. Fold in half then in half again.
Polenta and Vegetables With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
- 1 cup uncooked instant polenta
- 2/3 cup grated Parmesan, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or oregano) or 1 tablespoon dried
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 asparagus stalks, ends trimmed
- 8 scallions, trimmed
- 2 small eggplants, trimmed and halved
- 1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 jar (12 oz) prepared roasted red peppers, drained, or make your own, see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/24/the-italian-way-with-red-peppers/
- 1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 large clove garlic, chopped
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, basil or parsley (plus extra for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Add polenta in a stream, whisking to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until thick, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in 1/3 cup Parmesan and season with cayenne and salt.
Coat a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray. Transfer polenta to pie plate, smooth into an even layer and let cool 15 minutes.
Heat broiler or outdoor grill or indoor grill.
Whisk garlic, thyme, lemon juice and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss vegetables with dressing. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange vegetables in 1 layer (or layer in a grill basket).
Broil or grill vegetables about 4 inches from heat until tender and lightly brown, 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter.
Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Sprinkle polenta with remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Broil the polenta in the pie plate until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, then cut polenta into 8 triangles. Or, you can grill the triangles until lightly brown.
Divide polenta among 4 plates. Top with vegetables, drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with chives. Serve any remaining sauce on the side.
Chunky Vegetable Pot Pie
You can use any combination of vegetables that you like – just keep the amount the same. You can also vary the seasonings according to taste.
- 1/2 medium (about 8 ounces) butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
- 1 large sweet potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thick 1-inch long matchsticks
- 1 cup cauliflower florets (from ½ of a cauliflower)
- 2 medium beets, trimmed and scrubbed, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into thick 1-inch long matchsticks
- 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch long matchsticks
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 medium shallots, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, divided
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, divided
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or an alternative, such as Smart Balance Spread
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place squash, sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower, beets and parsnips in a roasting pan. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil; Italian seasoning and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring twice during the cooking. Remove; reduce oven to 375°F.
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the garlic and shallots; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high, and add the wine. Let the wine reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and simmer over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Set aside.
Combine 1 cup flour, the baking powder, 2 teaspoons tarragon and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and Parmesan, process until combined, and set aside.
Transfer vegetables to a large bowl. Add zucchini, remaining 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons tarragon; toss to combine. Stir in the stock mixture; season with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a shallow ovenproof casserole and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and drop heaping tablespoons of the biscuit dough over the vegetables, leaving some of the vegetables exposed.
Place the dish in the oven and bake until the biscuits are golden, about 25 minutes. Serve hot.
Total Servings: 6
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