I just got back from a family reunion trip, where I was surrounded by some pretty serious meat-eaters (and I mean serious!). More than one person confessed to me that they would love, love, love going meatless, but just feel overwhelmed trying to decide how to start. I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years, and a vegan for nearly a year now, and while it’s not easy to make big diet changes, the payoff can be huge. Going meatless is not as hard as you might think, and there are many ways to turn it into a family-friendly process. Summer is the perfect time to try going meatless. Here are some tips to help you jump-start the process, and get moving on the road to a healthier you, and healthier kids.
1. Start out gradually, by cutting out meat one day/week. Try a Meatless Monday, or pick another day that might work well for you and your family. When you make your grocery list for the week, factor in that meatless day and make sure you are well stocked with pantry items for any new recipes you are excited to try.
2. Soften the switch by serving high-protein meat replacements for your meatless meals. Try hearty legumes like lentils and whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat. If your kids balk at the sound of whole grain, sweeten up the challenge by trying quinoa in a pudding. Or, if you just can’t let go of the vision of a burger topped with a juicy tomato slice, try a veggie burger, instead. Both Morningstar Farms and Boca make a delicious veggie burger that, when topped with tomato, lettuce, or an avocado slice or two, can make a delicious and heart-healthy alternative to hamburger.
3. Ignite your family’s interest in meatless meals by visiting vegetarian and vegan friendly recipe sites, or stopping by the library for a cookbook or two. The internet is filled with recipe web pages and blogs, most featuring colorful, mouth-watering photos of the recipes. Get your kids involved in the meal planning and cooking. Take a trip to your local Farmer’s Market, and challenge your kids to a fruit and vegetable scavenger hunt. Vegetarian and vegan cooking involves lots of color and textures that are perfect for encouraging kids to “eat the rainbow.”
4. Combine your going meatless meal days with family-friendly activities that encourage healthy living and fitness. Exercise curbs the appetite, naturally promotes an overall sense of well-being, and encourages good digestion. On meatless meal days get the kids off the couch and outdoors. Go for a family bike ride, a run, or a walk around the neighborhood.
5. Be gentle on yourself as you make the transition to going meatless. Change doesn’t come easy, and dietary changes can be especially difficult to turn into habit. Gradually add more and more meatless meals into your daily schedule, and search for ways to replace meat in some of your favorite recipes (black bean tacos topped with diced tomatoes, guacamole, and finely chopped red onions instead of your usual ground beef) . If you fall “off the wagon” no worries. I tried going vegan a few times before I was able to commit. The payoff? Not only are my kids eating healthier, but I lost 15 pounds, have more energy than ever, and feel fantastic.