How you can work to fit January’s Meatless Mondays into a lifestyle change throughout the year

January will be different.

After a holiday spent eating and cooking for comfort and joy, we promise this is the month for a culinary reset. It’s time to take the spinach out of the artichoke dip and throw it in the salad and plan meals that are not only hearty, but also nutritionally rich. And while we’re planning, maybe it’s time to make good on our promise to eat more vegetables and less meat.

There are many reasons why they do so: health, environmental, religious, ethical, financial, taste or a combination of these. It’s a simple concept that’s nothing new.

The no-meat day was introduced over 100 years ago during World War I as a way to save rations for soldiers serving overseas (there were meat-free and wheat-free days in both world wars). These government initiatives became an educational movement that mobilized communities and promoted public health.

In 2003, marketer Sid Lerner, with the help of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, resurrected the movement by launching Meatless Mondays. His goal was to encourage people to reduce their meat consumption by 15%, the amount recommended at the time by the US Surgeon General and the American Heart Association. In the last 20 years, the effort and impact of Meatless Monday has grown exponentially as families, schools and organizations have made it part of their meal planning routine.

Health experts, including those at the Mayo Clinic, have long touted the benefits of eating less meat, saying a diet high in red meat can increase the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. (Eating a lot of processed meats, such as deli and hot dogs, has the same effect.) On the other hand, a plant-based diet reduces the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and type 2 cancer, according to the American Heart Association.

There are also tangible environmental benefits. Research from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future shows that adapting a more plant-based diet can reduce agricultural land use by 80% and agricultural water use by 50%, benefit soil health and improve biodiversity. With almost 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from meat, dairy and egg production, small changes can add up to big results: Skipping meat once a week for a year would save as many emissions as driving nearly 350 miles in a car.

But what does plant-based eating mean?

The term is often used interchangeably with veganism, and that is not entirely accurate. It’s a lifestyle that includes all kinds of eating, not just plant-based.

There’s no secret to it, and for many it’s second nature: a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, peas, and nuts that cuts back on meat, dairy, and eggs.

Vegans exclude everything that comes from animals – meat, fish, dairy products, eggs and honey. Vegetarians are also plant-based, but many include dairy products and eggs in their diet.

Then there are flexitarians, who mostly follow a vegetarian diet, but do not rule out including meat from time to time. Others eschew labels altogether and simply follow a plant-based diet, meaning that meat is on the menu but not the main attraction (such as the Mediterranean diet).

Wherever you fall, making sure you’re getting the right nutrients is paramount. A common problem when cutting meat out of your diet is a lack of protein, but the American Heart Association says not to worry: Plenty of other foods supply enough.

Good sources of protein include tofu, quinoa, mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas, and most beans and legumes, as well as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, corn, potatoes, bell peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, and turnips.

There is no shortage of resources to help chefs move forward. A simple Google search will keep you busy for hours, as will a trip to the bookstore, where even home cooking stalwarts like Betty Crocker and Better Homes & Gardens now have chapters on meatless meals and vegetable cooking.

Who knows, maybe Meatless Mondays won’t be necessary anymore as eating plants becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Pizza with cauliflower

Serves 4.

From top to bottom, pizza is a well-known way to incorporate more vegetables into your meal. There are several types of ready-made cauliflower crusts on the market, but making your own gives you control over the ingredients. The key to a crispy cauliflower pizza crust is heat, and a pizza stone will give you the best results for an evenly toasted crust. (Retains heat and distributes heat well.) If you don’t have a pizza stone, use a preheated baking sheet instead. From the book “A New Cookbook for the 100th Anniversary of Better Homes and Gardens” (IPG, 2022).

4 cups cauliflower florets (or 3 cups cauliflower rice)

2 tablespoons of water

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 1/4 cups (1 ounce) shredded Italian cheese blend, divided

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon of olive oil

2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms

1 cup yellow or green sweet pepper strips

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

3/4 cup pizza sauce

Chopped fresh basil, oregano and/or parsley for optional garnish

Place the cauliflower in a food processor. Cover and mix 4 to 6 times, or until it breaks up and the mixture resembles couscous.

Place a pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the cauliflower and water in a saucepan. Microwave, covered, 3 to 4 minutes or until tender, stirring once or twice; cold. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to a tea towel made of 100% cotton flour. Wrap a tea towel around the cauliflower and wring out until no liquid remains (this step is critical).

For the crust, in a medium bowl, combine the cauliflower and eggs, 1/4 cup Italian cheese blend, Parmesan, panko, Italian seasoning, and salt. On a piece of parchment paper, roll the mixture into a 12-inch circle. Transfer from paper to preheated pizza stone. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, bell pepper, and onion; cook 4 to 6 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally.

Spread the baked crust with pizza sauce. Top with mushroom mixture and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup Italian cheese mixture. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until heated through and cheese has melted. Sprinkle with fresh herbs as desired.

Make it vegan: If you haven’t shopped for vegan dairy products recently, you might be surprised by the range of deals on offer. A vegan Italian cheese blend is readily available, as are vegan parmesan cheese (or a nutritional yeast substitute, also widely available) and a plant-based egg substitute.

Vietnamese style tofu with ginger tomato sauce

Serves 6.

Vietnamese nại hũ sôt cà chua pairs tofu with tomato sauce, an unlikely but delicious combination. Tofu is sometimes fried, but here it is pan-fried; sometimes it is filled with pork or pork may be braised in the sauce, but this recipe is a meatless version. Pressing the tofu releases excess water, so the texture is drier and the surface browns better. Fresh tomatoes make the best sauce, but canned whole tomatoes work too. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. From Milk Street “Cook What You’ve Got” by Christopher Kimball (Voracious, 2022).

2 containers (14 ounces) firm or extra-firm tofu, drained, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons of cornstarch

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 tablespoons grape or other neutral oil, divided

2 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger

2 medium garlic cloves, chopped

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, white and green reserved separately

1 1/4 pounds ripe tomatoes, pitted and diced or 1 (28-ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes, drained, 1/2 cup juice reserved, tomatoes crushed by hand

2 tablespoons fish sauce, more if needed

Line the edge sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Spread the tofu cubes on top in a single layer and cover with more paper towels. Place another rimmed baking sheet on top, then place a few cans or glasses on top as weights; let it stand for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Remove the weights and sheet from the tofu. Pat the tofu dry with fresh paper towels, then add the cubes to the cornstarch mixture. Gently toss until evenly coated.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Add half the tofu in an even layer and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden on all sides, 6 to 7 minutes; transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Using 1 1/2 tablespoons remaining oil, fry remaining tofu in same manner; wipe out the pan.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the ginger, garlic, and green onion whites, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in tomatoes (and 1/2 cup juice if using canned tomatoes) and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring often, until tomatoes begin to release liquid, 1 to 2 minutes (if using canned tomatoes, simply bring to a boil). Cover, reduce to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the sauce thickens, 10 to 12 minutes.

Stir in the fish sauce and then the tofu. Cook, stirring, until the tofu is heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat, taste and season with pepper and possibly more fish sauce. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with green onions.

Make it vegan: Use tamari instead of fish sauce or add a drop of vinegar to dark soy sauce. There are also several vegan fish sauces on the market.

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