When it comes to knowing what a plant-based diet is, Brandy Clabaugh is stumped: “I guess I have this image that I’d be eating like tree bark and I wouldn’t feel as full or as happy,” she says. “But if I could make something that has good flavor and some bulk, I would be all over it. Right now I just don’t know how to go about it.” Brandy’s partner is amenable to a change (“He’s awesome. He’ll eat whatever I put in front of him.”), and she admits that buying high-quality meat is expensive. But her current nightly menu revolves around it: chicken, pork, and, “of course” her beloved red meat—steak, hamburger, as well as some ground lamb here and there. “I’m already a little overweight, and I know deep down it would be healthier for me and the environment to cut down on meat, but I can’t figure out how to do it out without feeling deprived.”
For people with less experience cooking or eating vegetarian dishes, it’s easy to discount them as just salads and, well, bark, but ask any full-time vegetarian what they love to eat, and they’ll likely recite to you a plethora of meatless meals—chickpea curry, broccoli and bell pepper stir-fry, roasted vegetable pasta tosses, veggie panini. Since Brandy loves to cook, going meatless can be a culinary adventure. For her, the key to this Healthy Habit will be finding meat-free options that are fun for her to cook and leave her filling full and satisfied.
- Fill up with beans... Beef does have boffo protein, but you don’t have to rely on meat alone to feel satisfied. Try cooked dry beans, such as kidney, navy, black, and pinto. They’re great (and economical) as the base of a soup or stew, tossed with pastas, or in hearty casseroles, like our Navy Bean-and-Artichoke Casserole with Goat Cheese.
- …Or hearty whole grains. Whole grains such as quinoa, barley, farro, and brown rice are filling in place of meats. One-hundred percent whole-wheat couscous cooks quickly and pairs well with curries or full-bodied sauces. Cook quinoa and farro, top with sautéed seasonal vegetables, fresh herbs, and toss with a tangy vinaigrette. Or use boil-in-bag brown rice as a quick partner to vegetarian stir-fries.
- Pasta is always a pleaser. Pasta is versatile and affordable—just be sure you include lots of vegetables to make it satisfying, so you don’t resort to sat-fat high cheesy pasta for every meal.
- Try your hand at hand-held foods, like samosas, calzones, and falafel-stuffed pitas. Samosas, a popular Asian stuffed pastry, are a fun (and portable) culinary experiment for the adventurous chef. Same goes for calzones—you can make any kind of calzone you want, even individualize some for your family members. First try our Vegetable Samosas with Mint Chutney and our Spinach Calzone. Then, when you’ve mastered the techniques, branch out and try our your own fillings. These make great leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, too.
- Become acquainted with polenta. Precooked refrigerated polenta makes an excellent base for vegetarian meals. (You’ll find it in the produce section of the supermarket.) Cooked polenta slices are the perfect partner to hearty sauces or sautéed vegetables. Try Cheesy Polenta with Mushroom Sauté.