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?).

Shrimp and Kohlrabi Stir Fry

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Have you ever seen a strange, new vegetable at the farmer’s market and wondered what in the world to do with it? We tried a new vegetable this week–kohlrabi! I had seen it at the markets, but I had no idea how to cook it or what parts of it to cook. So, I decided to ask the folks at In Good Heart Farm. Turns out, the leaves and root are both edible and the root, once peeled, tastes like very sweet broccoli–yum! The leaves taste much like collard greens. So, I bought a bunch and used it in a shrimp stir fry with green beans and tatsoi–another sweet green. The result was quite delicious and fresh tasting. We are now checking to see if we can plant some kohlrabi in our winter garden!

Stir fry dishes are terrific for using up leftover bits of vegetables. This stir fry features some leftover green beans that didn’t get cooked last week and some fresh, baby ginger we got at the market. In addition to our kohlrabi, we used fresh tatsoi, an Asian green that is crunchy and sweet, some sweet, local onions, and some organic garlic. Topped off with local shrimp, this dish was so good that it was hard for us to stop eating! This is a great combination we will repeat in the future.

Shrimp and Kohlrabi Stir Fry (4 servings)

  • 1 sweet, organic onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves organic garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1″ piece of fresh, baby ginger
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 organic kohlrabi, the roots peeled and sliced and the leaves washed well and chopped
  • 1 large, organic carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 2 small bunches of organic tatsoi, washed, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/4 lb. fresh green beans, washed and trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon organic sesame seeds
  • Organic tamari soy sauce, to taste
  • Cooked rice
  1. Make sure all ingredients are washed, cut up and ready to go–cooking will go fast!
  2. Heat the grapeseed and sesame oils in a wok or large skillet over high heat.
  3. Add the onion to the hot oil and stir fry for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the kohlrabi leaves and root slices and stir fry 2-3 minutes or until leaves begin to wilt.
  5. Add the garlic, ginger, carrot and green beans. Stir fry for another 2-3 minutes, tossing ingredients well.
  6. Add the tatsoi and shrimp. Toss and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until leaves are soft and the shrimp are just pink and opaque.
  7. Remove from heat, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over hot rice.
  8. Sprinkle with tamari, to taste.
  9. Serve immediately.

Winter Vegetable Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

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We celebrated Chinese New Year by making a stir fry dinner with local vegetables, chicken and an amazing spicy peanut sauce. I’m not sure this is a dish anyone from China would actually recognize, but it was fresh, tasted good and gave us all a moment to reflect on the beginning of the Year of the Snake. Stir fry is one of those great, eternal cooking techniques that can make a delicious meal from an endless combination of foods. And right now, we have a seemingly endless supply of Chinese cabbage in our garden, so this recipe was just the ticket to make a dent in it! If you haven’t grown Chinese cabbage, consider it this spring. It is very tasty–fresh and crunchy, but also a little sweet. None of the cabbage “bite” that European cabbages have.

The sauce we used is an adaptation of THIS salad dressing posted by Creative Noshing. It is really pretty amazing–spicy and a little sweet. We loved the dressing so much that we modified it as a sauce for stir fry. YUM.

This recipe is my technique for making stir fry. I like to cook small groups of ingredients together and then add them all in at the end. I find that this way, I don’t have overcooked vegetables and my wok stays fairly hot. You can add the sauce at the end of cooking (we’ve tried this), but it is much better to give each guest some sauce to add at the table instead. You can season your stir fry as you go–I love the taste of the vegetables so much that I don’t generally add salt and pepper except to season the chicken.

Spicy Peanut Sauce (makes about 1 cup)

  • 4 tbsp. smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. sriracha chili paste
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2cup olive oil (you could also use peanut oil)
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper

Put all ingredients in a food processor or the mixing container for an immersion blender and blend away until smooth. Set aside.

Stir Fry Chicken and Vegetables (makes 4-6 servings)

  • 2 tbsp. organic coconut oil
  • 1/2 lb. boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
  • 6-8 organic carrots, peeled and cut into coins or slices
  • 2 organic sweet peppers (I used one red and one yellow), cut into thin strips
  • 1 organic yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups organic broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup sliced, fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cups organic fresh greens (chard, Chinese cabbage, bok choi), cleaned and trimmed
  • 4 cups cooked organic rice
  1. In a wok or very large saute pan, heat the coconut oil over high heat.
  2. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add chicken to the wok.
  3. Cook chicken quickly, tossing in the wok to keep the chicken from burning. Cook about 4 minutes or until chicken is browned on all sides.
  4. Remove chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  5. Allow remaining oil to heat again. When hot, add the onions, peppers, and carrots. Toss and cook on high for about 2 minutes. Remove to bowl with chicken.
  6. Add more coconut oil if needed and heat wok over high again. Add the mushrooms and broccoli. Toss for 2 minutes. Remove to the bowl.
  7. Add the greens to the wok and stir fry over high heat for 2 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients back to the wok and toss well.
  8. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.
  9. Plate the rice and add the vegetables and chicken on top. Serve with spicy peanut sauce.
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