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Reduce the meat portion and increase the variety

Shelly Barnes • Updated Oct 24, 2017 at 10:30 PM

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy meat-free dishes one day a week.  Whether its meatless Monday or Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, one day a week without chicken, beef or pork can help you broaden your culinary horizons and lead you to experiment with foods you might otherwise pass. 

More people are recognizing meatless meals can be delicious, and other populations that eat more or only vegetables tend to be healthier. While meats provide valuable protein and vitamins and minerals in the diet, they come with saturated fats and cholesterol, as well. So turning to plant sources for some of our protein needs can help reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol we consume.

Don’t get the wrong idea as you start to incorporate meatless meals – we’re not talking about salads and celery sticks all day. There are all types of hearty dishes that aren’t based on meats.

Grains, beans, pasta and vegetables can be used to create fill-you-up meals. These plant-based ingredients can also be supplemented with dairy products and eggs, which will increase the protein content.    

Try a pizza or calzone loaded with mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes and olives instead of sausage and pepperoni. 

Fill up with cooked beans – you can wrap them in a flour tortilla with cheese for a burrito or make some cornbread for a more traditional pairing.

Pasta is another great vegetarian option with tomato sauce, mushroom sauce or pesto and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Portobello mushrooms have a hearty, meat-like texture and can be stuffed, grilled for a sandwich or sliced and put into a sauce. 

Expand your repertoire of grains like polenta, quinoa, rice, bulgur or couscous.  These can be topped with sauces or stir-fried vegetables or can be used in casseroles.

So take a look at your weekly meals and make one day meatless.

Tips for meatless meals include:

• Start with some dishes that are traditionally meatless like eggplant Parmesan or easily made meatless like pizza, stir-fry or pasta.

• Try family favorites without the meat. For example, make Stroganoff with just meaty textured mushrooms instead of beef or make enchiladas with white or black beans. Try a spinach or butternut squash lasagna.

• Use peanuts in your stir-fry instead of chicken or beef.

• When having a vegetable plate for dinner or lunch, make one dish a cooked legume like pinto beans to help fill you up.

• Embrace the egg. Load up quiches and frittatas with fresh produce.

• Try hearty soups that contain beans and vegetables with grains or pasta.

• Risotto, a hearty, creamy rice dish, can be fortified with vegetables like kale or mushrooms.

Try this recipe for a fun meatless meal:

Calzones

• 1 cup warm water.

• 1 package yeast.

• a pinch of sugar.

• 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided.

• 2 tablespoons oil.

• 1 teaspoon salt.

• 2 tablespoons butter.

• 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced.

• 1 onion, sliced.

• 1 green bell pepper, sliced.

• 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese.

• 4 ounces shredded Monterey jack cheese.

• 4 ounces sliced provolone cheese.

• 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water.

• ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese.

• pizza sauce.

Combine water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Let stand for five minutes, until foamy. Stir in 1 ½ cups flour. Add oil and salt and then stir in remaining 1 ½ cups flour. When you have a smooth ball, coat with cooking spray and cover with a towel.  Let rise until double, about one to 1 ½ hours.  

In the meantime, melt butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent and vegetables are softened.  Set aside to cool. Divide dough into four pieces. Roll each piece into a 10-12-inch circle, the dough will be about 1/8-inch thick. Layer one side of each piece with cheeses and vegetables. Fold in half over the filling and fold and pinch the edges to seal closed. Place on a pizza stone or a greased sheet pan. Brush the tops with egg and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden and puffed. Remove from oven and let rest a few minutes before serving. Serve with warmed pizza sauce for dipping. 

 UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels. Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. ag.tennessee.edu.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at sbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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