Make the switch to meatless meals for better health

By Roufia Payman, DT, CDN  |  5/4/2020

If you could make one small change today to improve your nutrition and overall health, here’s what it is: Spend one day a week as a vegetarian. Simple as that.

Beginners tend to think vegetarians just eat vegetables and fruits. And they often make the mistake of reaching for unhealthy carbohydrates, such as pasta. To really do the meatless meal right, you need lots of fiber and complex carbohydrates. You need to embrace beans.

Beans are incredibly good for you, filling and delicious. Instead of chicken on your salad, add beans. Replace taco dip with hummus. Great northern beans are mild in flavor, so they are great for white-creamy chili, soups or dips.

Black beans make a wonderful veggie burger when mixed with pureed peppers, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, lime juice and salt. Crisp them in a pan for two minutes and transfer to a 375-degree oven to heat all the way through.

Want a one-pan meal? Try this skillet dish of beans, brown rice, mushrooms, sweet peppers, tomatoes and seasonings, such as cumin, paprika or a sauce with a spicy kick.

I love a good bean salad. My recipe is a combination of garbanzo, black, kidney and white beans, with chopped onion, grape tomatoes, peppers, olives and, for flavor, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cilantro and feta or goat cheese.

When you crave chicken, try this Asian tofu recipe: Use firm tofu cut in cubes. Cook it in a pan with soy sauce. Add vegetables and brown rice with a little stock. You will love the texture. Trust me!

That brings me to whole grains — another tool in your vegetarian toolkit. You can add substance to your dishes with wonderful grains such as quinoa, oats, brown rice and whole wheat breads or pastas.

You don’t want to forget the spices. If spices intimidate you, try a pre-mixed blend such as a low-salt garden seasoning that goes well with almost all dishes. The flavor of mixed vegetables, onion and garlic goes well on many vegetarian dishes.

A great way to flavor quinoa is with a low-sodium broth instead of water. Add chopped vegetables for a delicious one-pan skillet or serve on the side with fish.

One of my favorite breakfast dishes is overnight oats. Top with berries instead of adding sugar for the ultimately healthy breakfast.

Don’t swap out meat for other unhealthy items, such as pasta. If you are craving pasta, use whole wheat pasta in moderation. Another trap is mashed potatoes. It’s a staple in the American diet, but it’s not good for you. Sweet potatoes are a much better option.

In between meals, nuts are a great option. They are nature’s perfect snack. Eat them plain. No added salt or sugar.

Whatever your taste buds crave, there are many options for meatless meals. Trust me when I say, this is a more effective life-change than any type of diet or resolution to eliminate unhealthy foods from your life.

Go meatless once, twice, or however many times a week you can and your body will thank you.

Roufia Payman is supervisor of outpatient  Nutritional Counseling at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck. She also co-teaches a Diabetes Prevention Program, a no-cost 16-week workshop for adults at risk of type 2 diabetes. Call 845-871-3600 for more information.