Weekday Food Warrior: Becoming a Weekday Vegetarian

After ten years of smoking, I finally quit six months ago. The first month was damn near unbearable, but being able to walk three miles on the treadmill without breaking much of a sweat is worth every day of irritability and discomfort. I’m healthier.

And heavier. I gained fifteen pounds since tossing cigarettes, despite not making any changes in my diet.  Because I do the grocery shopping and the cooking, I also make the decisions about what we buy. After my rapid weight gain, I decided to try something new: becoming a weekday vegetarian.

It’s a more than a passing fad, it’s a movement with wide and lasting impact. Aside from the health benefits, cutting down on meat consumption also has a positive effect on the environment: 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases are produced by the meat industry. By eating meat just two or three times a week, you save your waistline and the environment at the same time. It’s win-win…if you can live without meat every day.

My husband, usually content to let me shop at farmers’ markets and cook meals full of fresh vegetables, finally put his foot down after this development. “What the hell does a meal without meat even look like?” he demanded. He wouldn’t eat my homemade marinara with pasta unless I cooked sausage to mix into the sauce. I had to come up with dishes that would be filling, healthy, and satisfying for even the most devoted carnivore.

Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing
When I was a poor college student, tofu was my best friend. It’s versatile, healthy, and much cheaper than meat. Knowing that hubby isn’t a fan of tofu, I looked for soy-based products that closely resemble and taste like meat. There’s a huge market out there: everything from Boca burgers to Quorn’s chicken-like nuggets are available for consumers who want to fool themselves into thinking they’re eating a juicy burger or a pile of chicken nuggets.

But none of it actually tastes like meat. None of it. Some of the meat substitutes do a decent impression—particularly Quorn’s Beef-Style Grounds, which can take the place of ground beef in pasta sauces and chilis. But for people who want the texture and the fatty flavor of real meat, nothing else will do.

Weekday veggie goodness
The trick is to find meatless dishes, using vegetables and beans, that are tasty and filling on their own. Portobello mushrooms are earthy, have a thick, tender texture, and are meaty in their own way. A simple barley and kale stew made with roasted portobellos was happily devoured by my husband, who didn’t notice the absence of meat until I pointed it out. Other recipes include chickpea curry with rice, vegetarian chili, and one of my favorites, pasta Alfredo. Now, I make my Alfredo sauce with heavy cream and Parmesan cheese—so if you’re aiming for a weekday vegan lifestyle, skip recipes with meat and dairy products.

Meat eating responsibly
On the weekends, you can eat whatever you want (within reason, of course): have that juicy T-bone, or grill some brats, or get a plate of sushi. If you’re trying weekday vegetarianism as a way to reduce impact on the environment, be sure to choose meats that are responsibly raised, and to choose restaurants that use local ingredients. Finally, mix up the kinds of meats you consume: instead of steaks and burgers all weekend, try a pork chop or some chicken kebabs, maybe even grill some salmon. You can—and should—eat healthy, even on the weekends. But if you want to splurge, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Weekday vegetarianism isn’t for everyone, but it helps you take a look at your meat consumption in relation to your intake of fruits and vegetables. If you’re not ready to take the plunge, consider Meatless Mondays or vegetarian lunches a couple of times a week. Anything that can help you make better decisions about your eating habits is a good thing.

Guest post by Andreea V.

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