21 days to a new you: Go vegetarian
Maybe you're considering going vegetarian to make your diet a little more heart-healthy. Or you're looking forward to saving money on your weekly grocery bill. Perhaps you're concerned about the amount of resources used to raise and process animals for food. Or maybe you're hoping this will give you and your family more seasonal and local meal options. Whatever your reason, you can achieve all of the above, and eliminating meat, poultry, and fish from your diet doesn't have to be daunting. And it doesn't have to feel like deprivation.
By Anne Hurley for MSN Healthy Living
Day 1: Make a plan to eliminate one "animal" a week
Start Week 1 by eliminating all pork products; Week 2, beef and other red meat; Week 3, poultry; Week 4, seafood. By the end of the fourth week, you should not be missing what you eliminated earlier, and should have a nice arsenal of recipes you've built up over the weeks. As you progress, make your previous recipes from your currently "allowed" ingredients. For example, whip up a delicious turkey chili filled with spices and beans to nosh on during the first two weeks. Nobody will miss the sausage or beef versions.
Video: Vegetarian pasta primavera
Day 2: Create a Meatless Mondays roadmap
Meatless Mondays (and Flexitarian Fridays) are catching on like wildfire. Why? Because it's very easy to plan a full day of delicious meatless meals, and it's a great way to start down the path to go veggie longer-term. Planning one day a week of meatless breakfasts, lunches and dinners helps you get your cooking creativity going. Plan those meals ahead and shop accordingly, so that when Monday comes, you don't have any excuse to lapse back onto cold cuts or frozen burgers. Visit meatlessmonday.com for inspiration and yummy recipes.
Day 3: Experiment with new proteins
Tofu's not the only option for vegetarians anymore, but there are plenty of tasty, family-approved recipes for both the silken and firm types. Also try recipes containing tempeh (fermented soybeans, but ever so much more delicious than it sounds), edamame (soybeans in the pod, a great snack for all ages, but if you are concerned about genetically modified food, check the labels, legumes (peas, lentils and beans), nuts, nut butters and quinoa (a delicious "grain" that's actually a seed with complete protein).
Day 4: Put a new twist on traditional 'taco night'
If Tuesdays your family's taco night, keep it up. Just swap in textured veggie protein where you used to use ground beef. Or make your usual spaghetti with "meat" sauce, or sloppy joes, and make the same swap. Brands like Yves and Bob's Red Mill are widely available and highly regarded. You can buy versions that are frozen or refrigerated and essentially ready to use, or dried or freeze-dried, which can keep for months in your fridge until you are ready to reconstitute and use it. You'll also be cutting way back on saturated fats. And the best part? Your family honestly will love it.
Day 5: Eat what you love
If you hate kale now, don't make it extra-hard on yourself by forcing yourself to cook with it. Make dishes and meals with foods you know you like, just leave out the meat or sub in another protein. Try a veggie stir fry with tofu or tempeh instead of diced chicken; your favorite pasta with chunky tomatoes; thin-crust pizza topped with sliced seasonal veggies; or polenta topped with sautéed mushrooms. If you have to hold your nose to choke down something, it's not likely you'll want to stick with it. Also consider vegetarian versions of family favorites: Tofu hot dogs, Tofurkey, Field Roast Deli Slices, veggie burgers, and ‘tuna salad’ sandwiches (made with tofu).
Day 6: Get a veggie 'starter kit'
There are entire websites, magazines, books and organizations devoted to vegetarianism, so gather everything you need for inspiration and guidance. The Vegetarian Times provides a free "Vegetarian Starter Kit" that is equal parts pep talk on the many benefits of eating vegetarian and a smart set of guidelines of things to think about as you begin to plan your menus. Get your spouse and kids inspired by getting them the info they need, as well as recipes they might want to try for family dinners.
Day 7: Try a new fruit or vegetable
Always wondered what star fruit tastes like? Try slicing one up and serving it with raspberry sorbet for a light and delicious dessert everyone will love. Or if you have never tried kale, find a delicious and super-easy recipe for kale chips. You may need to work your way up to having it raw in salad, but there's nothing wrong in trying a yummy snack-version of something new as a way to tempt your palate. Produce sections also often have interesting ingredient-specific recipes available for free. Get your family to agree that you'll all try something new every week and make it a fun adventure.
Day 8: Join an online community of vegetarians
This can be a tremendous resource and source of support, especially if you live in a smaller town with fewer vegetarian resources, or you're surrounded by happy meat-eaters. There are rich and supportive sites like The Vegetarian Resource Group, and there may be others specific to your area. You'll hear the stories of how others creatively solved their cooking, picky-eater, or dining-out challenges, and get recipes and pep talks galore. Help is just a click or two away.
Day 9: Plant (or plan) your own garden
You might be surprised at what you can grow in your own modest city yard, on your deck or even in your windowsill. And the beginning of the year is when you need to start thinking and planning your planting, according to eHow.com. Get your seedlings ready now and they will be robust and ready to roll in a few weeks when spring is near. No room to grow anything? Many cities, like Detroit, and Dallas and Portland, Ore., offer access to your very own patch of fruitful earth. Check with your city to see how to sign up for your own garden, and then start thinking of what you'll cook later in the year from the results.