Tutorial Tuesday #8–Reducing Your Meat Consumption

Starting a garden is a good way to increase your vegetable intake!

Starting a garden is a good way to increase your vegetable intake!

If someone told you there was one secret to losing weight, improving your health and keeping more of your money in the bank, would you be curious?

Believe it or not, there is one thing you can do to both improve your overall health outcomes and reduce your family food budget. That one thing is:

Reduce the amount of meat your family consumes.

Really. When I look at our food budget, it is obvious when we have a meat-heavy week and when we have a lighter week. Meat is expensive to produce and expensive to purchase. And reducing the amount of meat we eat in our diet has contributed to some major improvements in our weight and health statistics.

Am I telling you to become a vegetarian? No, and for the record, I am not a vegetarian, although I do love plant-based meals. And not all vegetarian fare is healthy (see: French Fries and Funnel Cake). Reducing the amount of animal protein you consume is not the same as eliminating it. You could try one night a week and move it to two or maybe three. How do you do this without a family riot? Here are some suggestions!

Reduce! Use smaller amounts of meat combined with lots of vegetables.

For centuries, humans used meat primarily as a seasoning for vegetables and other carbohydrates like grains. The concept of the large roast dinner (roast beef, full ham, steak and potatoes) came primarily after WWII, when war rations were lifted and middle class Americans suddenly had access to factory farmed (less expensive) meat. Before that, home cooks were creative in stretching a little bit of meat a long way. Actually, most of the rest of the world still does. How do you do that? Here are some ideas:

Collards and hoppin' john uses very little meat for a very satisfying meal!

Collards and hoppin’ john uses very little meat for a very satisfying meal!

  •  Stir fry—protein + vegetables + rice
  • Stews—protein + vegetables + potatoes
  • Pizza—protein + vegetables + dough
  • Casseroles—protein + vegetables + noodles + sauce

Go Meatless and Fun!

Meatless Monday has taken off in homes, hospitals, schools and corporate cafeterias across the country. Going meatless can be a fun challenge! Think your family won’t eat a vegetarian entrée? Check out these ideas:

Family Pizza Contest—We make our own whole wheat crust and family members can make their own special (often secret) pizza using ingredients from the farmer’s market. Once the pizzas are cooked we convene for a pizza tasting and vote for the best pizza. There is always a good time and often a lot of smack talk among contestants. Usually we are surprised—kale on pizza? Yes!

Salad-Palooza—Sometimes family members (especially younger members) just want to have some control over their situation. We shred some fresh lettuce and cut up small bowls of all kinds of vegetables and toppings. Then, everyone makes their own salad their way. No judging. Some of our favorite topics include broccoli, chopped cucumber, chopped red peppers, hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, shredded cheese, olives, and dried fruit. This is a great way to get rid of small amounts of leftover vegetables as well!

Building your own salad puts each diner in control!

Building your own salad puts each diner in control!

Rediscover a favorite—You probably already eat some vegetarian dishes and just didn’t think of them that way. Seeing them in a new light not only makes going meatless seem less intimidating, but it also makes us appreciate some foods we don’t often think about. These familiar dishes are all meatless (although they do involve dairy):

  •  Spaghetti with marinara sauce
  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup
  • Corn and potato chowder
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Salad
  • Peanut butter (or almond butter) and jelly sandwiches
  • Refried bean burritos and guacamole
  • Homemade or vegetarian egg rolls
Pasta with marinara sauce is always a great bet!

Pasta with marinara sauce is always a great bet!

Find Something New—With all the food porn on Pinterest, have your family search for vegetarian dishes that are beautiful and look delicious. Then make them! Again with the control, children aren’t asked very often to choose what everyone eats. They may really get a kick out of it. You could even make the person who chose the dish a dinner ambassador or some other honor. If you have teenagers, let THEM make dinner (you will be surprised).

Go with Stealth—Just don’t tell them. You don’t have to make a big production over going meatless. Sometimes I wait until everyone is finished eating and announced, “Hey, isn’t that amazing–that was a VEGETARIAN dinner!” At first, we had some surprised looks, now it’s just funny.

Use Unusual Cuts of Meat

Steaks, roasts and chops can be a bit pricey. But what about oxtail, shanks, hangar steaks or cheeks? There are cuts of meat that traditionally are underused and much less expensive to buy. Why? Some require longer cooking times and other cuts have just gone out of popularity with the rise of the steak. With a little love, these can be some of the most delicious meals around. Braised Beef Shank Ragu is one of our all-time favorites and makes the most of a less popular (and often less expensive) cut. Don’t know what to try? Ask your farmer or butcher. Anyone selling meat at your farmer’s market will know and will be able to give you some great recipes (and, there’s always Pinterest, right?).

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Refried Bean and Mushroom Tostadas

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Looking for an easy Meatless Monday recipe? This delicious, protein-packed dinner may be just the ticket! The base of this dish is homemade refried beans made with a mix of heirloom beans. When I made chili last week, I rehydrated a ridiculous amount of beans–way more than I needed for just the chili. I ended up cooking them by themselves, then mashing them and pan frying them with butter and garlic. I was really surprised at how much better they tasted than the fat-free canned refried beans I had been buying. The great thing about making your own refried beans, is you can make a big batch and freeze them for later, so a little front-end work pays off over time!

Refried Beans (makes 4 cups)

  • 4 cups of rehydrated, organic beans
  • 4 tablespoons organic butter or olive oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  1. Mash beans with a potato masher.
  2. In a cast skillet, heat butter or oil over medium high heat.
  3. Add beans, garlic and spices and cook while continuing to mash the beans. If beans seem especially dry, add 1/4 cup of water and continue stirring and mashing for about 5 minutes.
  4. Cool and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to use.

Refried Bean and Mushroom Tostadas (makes 4 servings)

  • 4 tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
  • 2 cups refried beans (or more–up to you!) [see recipe below]
  • 1 large organic yellow onion, peeled and sliced thin
  • 10-12 fresh, organic Shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
  • 2 roasted red bell peppers (or 1 jar of prepared roasted peppers)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen, organic corn
  • 2 cups farm cheese, grated
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (you may need two baking sheets depending on the size of your sheets vs. tortillas).
  2. In a cast iron skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of oil over medium high heat.
  3. Add one tortilla and fry it quickly, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and continue adding oil and tortillas until they are all cooked.
  4. In the same skillet, heat the remaining oil and lower heat to medium. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes or until soft. Sprinkle onions with 1/4 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt so onions will release their juices.
  5. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook another 2-3 minutes, until mushrooms soften. Add the red pepper and stir well. Heat through and reserve.
  6. Warm the refried beans in the microwave or in a sauté pan/ skillet.
  7. Assemble the tostadas by putting tortillas on the baking sheet(s) and topping each tortilla with a layer of refried beans. Top with the onion/mushroom mixture.
  8. Sprinkle each with the corn. Top with cheese.
  9. Bake tostadas for 10-12 minutes. The timing will depend on how thick your toppings are.
  10. Serve immediately with chopped tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup

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You need this soup.

Are you sitting somewhere looking out a window staring in disbelief at white snow, thinking “what in the world???”. You need this soup.

Are you wondering what lowlife bribed the groundhog to convincingly tell us all a boldface lie about spring? You need this soup.

Are you wondering why the heck people believe a rodent about seasonal change, but refuse to believe science about global warming? Well, then you need to come sit with me…’cause I like you…and we’ll have this soup.

This recipe came from a great vegan food blog called the Lunch Box Bunch. It is so very, very good. Slightly sweet, spicy and rich. A great winter soup that is also vegan and gluten free (yes, really!). And once you have a baked sweet potato, it takes about 10 minutes to make. Easy, delicious, healthy and quick. What’s not to love? Except that snow outside…and that damn groundhog…

You can get the original soup recipe HERE. I changed it up a bit, using coconut milk instead of vegetable broth/soy milk and one chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (I love those things) instead of chili powder. Also finished with a squeeze of lime and some home baked chipotle lime tortilla strips. Next time, I might try adding curry to get some turmeric in that soup! YUUUUUUMMMMMM. My version is below.

Check out the Lunch Box Bunch blog (and Twitter feed) for more great, healthy, vegan recipes!

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup (2 servings)

1 large, organic sweet potato
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 lime

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap sweet potato in foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove pulp from sweet potato when cool enough to handle.
Combine sweet potato pulp, coconut milk and chili pepper in a sauce pan. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add juice from half the lime and stir.
Heat through, then ladle into serving bowls. Squeeze remaining lime half of lime into serving bowls. Top with crispy tortilla strips, avocado chunks, lime zest or roasted pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Vegetables

This is from our former blog Year of Healthier Living. I’ve been thinking about this dish and can’t wait to make it again!

Did you know that there is an Italian Food Day? I have no idea why this isn’t an entire month–I know I could do it. In spite of the Americanized version of Italian food, which tends to be very heavy on the cheese and meat, most Italian food in Italy is locally-based, impossibly fresh and creatively resourceful. I know this because I once tried to eat my way across Tuscany (I am an expert–don’t try this at home).

This is one of my favorite vegetarian pasta dishes. It is delicious, healthy and easy to make. Plus it uses up a lot of random vegetables that may be living in the refrigerator. This recipe is actually based on a dish made by The Cake Boss (go figure!) and its simple beauty comes from using whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables are available. Roasting the vegetables brings out their natural flavor and sweetness without any additives other than olive oil and salt. That is truly Italian cooking!

You can vary this dish throughout the seasons by using what is ripe and delicious at the time. You can also vary the

pasta you use. I like orecchiete (little ears) pasta because it holds the sauce well. As a mom, I think this is one of those healthy, versatile recipes that could be a regular (and by changing it up, maybe no one will notice I am basically recycling the same dish). Score!

  • 1 lb. fresh pasta (we used orecchiete pasta)
  • 1 organic onion
  • 2 organic tomatoes
  • 2 c. organic broccoli florets
  • 3 organic carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3″ planks
  • 2 c. cubed organic butternut squash
  • 2 handfuls of kale (from our garden!) or other greens–arugula is good, too!
  • About 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (we used Hillsborough Cheese Co. garlic and chive ricotta)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
  2. Put a stock pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
  3. Cut all vegetables except kale into bite sized chunks and toss with olive oil and a little kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Chop kale into little bite sized pieces and reserve.
  5. Put all vegetables except kale in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Add kale to pan during last 5 minutes.
  6. While vegetables roast, add pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente. When pasta is done, reserve 1 c. pasta water for sauce and drain pasta.
  7. In a large bowl, add cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, kale, ricotta and pasta water and mix together. The cheese should melt and make a light sauce. The pasta water is essential and will thicken the sauce and help it stick to the pasta.
  8. Serve with pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan or whatever makes you happy!

Buon appetito!

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