Plant-based diets, which limit or eliminate animal products, have many benefits. They are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products, and they reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, diabetes and certain types of cancer. However, you don’t have to give up all animal products to see the benefit — just eating plant-based meals one day a week can improve your health and the health of the planet. One way to work in more plant-based meals is to start your week off with a “Meatless Monday” as part of your routine.

Romi Londre mug

Romi Londre

I can’t tell you how many lunches or dinners I’ve been to where the plated “vegetarian option” is a sad-looking salad with no protein. I’m here to set the record straight — vegetarians and vegans eat yummy hearty meals full of protein, too! Here are some protein ideas to get you started on your Meatless Monday adventure.

Beans

Most of us are familiar with beans and they are a good place to start for a meatless meal. There are many varieties of beans and they can be used to make familiar dishes meatless. Some ideas for bean entrees are bean chili, black bean tacos, falafel, lentil soup, black bean burgers, minestrone soup and chana masala. The list goes on and on! Try the recipe for linguine with chickpeas and arugula below.

Tempeh

Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that consists of whole soy beans compressed together as a block. It has a nutty flavor and dense texture, and it pairs great with stir fry. It doesn’t have a very strong flavor and it takes on other flavors very well. Try marinating it before stir frying; otherwise you can just cook it in a little olive oil, add a drizzle of soy sauce, and enjoy with stir fried veggies and rice.

Tofu

A soybean product more well-known than tempeh, tofu is also known as bean curd or soy curd and is a staple around the world. Tofu is fairly bland by itself, but like tempeh it picks up flavors very well. You can eat it plain, but it is better when marinated. For a more firm, meat-like texture use a technique called dry frying. Choose extra-firm tofu, slice it and place in a nonstick pan over low to medium heat. Cook slowly until browned on both sides pushing down on the tofu with your spatula occasionally. Remove from heat and marinate in your favorite marinade or even just a drizzle of soy sauce. To make the cooking process a little faster, you can press out some water before you cook the tofu by wrapping it in paper towels and placing a baking sheet and a couple cans on it for 30 to 60 minutes.

Seitan

A traditional Japanese food, seitan is made from wheat gluten. Seitan products are often the most similar in texture and look to meat products, and they come in a wide variety of flavors, including chorizo and bacon. Seitan is a good transition food for meat-eaters trying to incorporate more plant-based meals.

Meat analogues

Meat analogues are non-meat foods that are made to look, taste, and/or have the texture of meat. This category may include foods from the other categories such as tofu brats and chorizo seitan. This category also includes foods made with jackfruit and mycoprotein from mushrooms or fungus. Jackfruit is a large fruit native to Asia that has a texture similar to shredded meat. Keep in mind that just because a food is a meat alternative doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good source of protein. Portabella mushroom burgers make a hearty entrée, but a portabella mushroom cap only has about 2 grams of protein. Jackfruit products and some veggie burgers are also low in protein.

If you are nervous about trying some meatless meals, start with something you know! A soy veggie burger or tofu brat thawed and lightly grilled make a nice, light, summertime meal! Here are a couple other meal ideas to try:

Linguine with garbanzo beans and arugula

Makes: 4 servings (serving size: 1½ cups)

Ingredients

6 ounces whole-grain linguine or spaghetti

1/2 tablespoon olive or canola oil

1 cup fresh or frozen stir-fry vegetables (onions and green, red and yellow peppers), chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (15 ounces) unsalted garbanzo beans, drained

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

4 ounces (about 4 cups) arugula or baby spinach, coarsely chopped

Directions

Cook linguine for 5 minutes in boiling water. Drain, reserving 2 cups cooking water.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add stir-fry vegetables and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes.

Add the pasta, reserved cooking water, chickpeas, crushed red pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice to skillet. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the cheese and arugula or baby spinach. Toss to combine until arugula or baby spinach is wilted. Serve.

Nutrition information: Per Serving: Calories 374, fat 10 g, saturated fat 4 g, sodium 459 mg, carbohydrate 51 g, fiber 9 g, protein 20 g

Source: Mayo Clinic Staff

Pecan crusted tofu

Makes: 5 servings (serving size: 3-ounce plank)

Dietitian’s tip: If you’ve never tried tofu, this is an excellent introduction. Use whatever nuts you have on hand.

Ingredients

For tofu:

1/2 cup pecans

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup egg whites

15 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 5 planks

For sauce:

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a food processor, combine the pecans, flour, brown sugar and salt; process until an even texture is achieved. Remove pecan mixture from food processor and place in a medium bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg whites. Dip each tofu plank into the egg whites, then into the pecan mixture. Place each plank on the baking sheet. Bake the tofu planks for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. To prepare the sauce, in a small bowl combine the honey, Dijon mustard and maple syrup. Stir until smooth. Drizzle sauce over baked tofu right before serving.

Nutrition information: Per serving: Calories 240, fat 12 g, saturated fat 1 g, sodium 311 mg, carbohydrate 22 g, fiber 3 g, protein 12 g

Source: Mayo Clinic Staff

Romi Londre is a registered dietitian with Mayo Clinic Health System of La Crosse.

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