I am not a vegetarian, but I do make plants the focus of my diet. While living in the Middle East I took quickly to their diet and culture around food. Their diet is basically a Mediterranean Diet which focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil with moderate amounts of fish, poultry and eggs, and very little red meat. The other similarity to the Mediterranean Diet is the atmosphere around meals. Daily meals are events that linger. There is nothing rushed about a Middle Eastern Meal, everyone sits in relaxed fashion on the floor with a small plate of their own while a progression of shared small plates is presented over an extended period of time.
Studies have shown that eating from small plates actually helps us to eat less because one of the fullness cues for our brains is an empty plate. By slowing down the pace of a meal (and extending chew time) you will find that you enjoy the taste of food more because you savor each bite, which leads to improved digestion. The digestion process starts with saliva as we chew which tells our GI tract to get ready. If we rush this process by not fully chewing our food the body is not fully prepared to receive or digest what we’ve given it. This can lead to indigestion and other GI problems. So slow down, and make each meal an event.
There are some delicious plant-based options loaded with the high-quality protein your body needs with less saturated fat, more fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. The health benefits of a plant-focused diet include reduced risk of heart disease, reduced inflammation, weight loss, reduced chance of diabetes, and reduction in the risk of some cancers. Eating protein helps us to feel full longer, and is good for our muscles especially as we age and start to lose muscle mass. It’s a great habit to spread protein evenly across our meals throughout the day. Mixing in plant-based proteins gives us a wider variety of healthy options.
In addition to the health benefits, your budget will benefit from focusing on a few plant-based meals each week. Plant-based proteins are typically less expensive than quality meats.
I am not a fan of starting with a “Meatless Monday” (in the beginning anyway) because tastier meatless meals may require extra prep, and you are most likely preparing new recipes. Rushing home from an already stressful Monday to begin preparing a new meatless recipe is a recipe for failure. I suggest testing these recipes and the concept of lingering over a meal on the weekend when you have time to plan, prep, and prepare without adding any undue stress to a Monday.
Since it’s the weekend, and there is time to linger start with a Mezze Platter to snack on while preparing the meal. (Which could be a great Meatless Meal itself)
Here are a few ideas to spark your creativity:
- Pizza crust can be made of a variety of vegetables, but there’s no shame in sticking with the original.
- Pile on veggies, mushrooms, hummus, pesto, or fruit
Soups and Chili:
- Vegetarian Chili Verde
- Vegetarian Minestrone, Roasted Tomato Soup, Leek and Potato, Butternut squash
- Red beans and Rice
- Lentils, fava beans, Garbanzo beans
- Hummus (made with garbanzo beans, cannellini beans, edamame, roasted vegetables)