Did you know that only about 5% of Americans are vegetarian or vegan? While that number may seem miniscule, statistics show that a lot more people are looking into making their diet more plant-based (according to a 2018 poll), as it can be greatly beneficial for both your health and the environment.

According to this study, it’s estimated that one pound of protein from kidney beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times less pesticide than producing one pound of beef. There are also concerns about manure and water pollution, as well as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide production, but remember, these are just estimates. Measuring sustainability is complex and this isn’t to say that meat and dairy can’t have their place in a healthy, sustainable diet. Farmers and ranchers work hard to improve sustainable farming practices all the time. However, many erroneously believe that a healthy meal consists of meat and vegetables only and are missing out on many of the other plant foods available to build a healthy plate.

A great way to incorporate more plants and less meat is by doing Meatless Monday every week. It’s my favorite because it allows you to explore other options in the kitchen and center your meal around something else. One of my coworkers told me she wouldn’t even know where to begin with a meatless dinner, since meat is always at the center of her meals. Now, meat certainly has its nutritive qualities, such as protein, iron, B12, and zinc. I am not advocating to avoid meat, but instead to add to it. Most of us could certainly stand to incorporate more plant foods in our diets, especially fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Also, with a little planning and adequate calories, we can get enough protein, even for muscle building. Instead of focusing on restricting or eliminating meat, think about incorporate more plants in a delicious way.

Getting started with Meatless Monday

There are a couple ways to start incorporating Meatless Monday into your life. First, you could think of some of your favorite foods that contain meat, then replace it with something else. For example, bean tacos, veggie burgers, or tofu curry.

Another approach is to make dishes that you don’t normally associate with meat. This is my husband’s favorite way to do Meatless Mondays because then he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out. So we often make pizza, pasta dishes, rice or quinoa bowls, and meatless salads, because he doesn’t feel like meat is a “requirement” for those types of meals. I may never get him on board for veggie burgers (I love them!), but I have been able to find a lot of meatless options that he loves. I like to incorporate a variety of veggies, legumes, and whole grains to get a good amount of protein and fiber. That way, it helps keep us full and satisfied longer. I also often use dairy when cooking my meatless meals for added protein, calcium, vitamin D, and more, but you don’t have to.

Remember, vegetarian and vegan meals can be nutritionally adequate when planned well and supplemented with B12 for vegan. They also have been associated with many health benefits, and are great way to get fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet, which can help with your overall health and potentially decrease your carbon footprint. Grab a knife and let’s start transforming mundane Mondays into culinary adventures!

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