How many times have you heard something like this: “The foundation of a healthy diet is fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.”
For many of us—especially seasoned home cooks—this is old news, and it may not even be something we think about all that often. We love plants, of course we eat them every day!
But the truth is, actually consuming the full recommended number of servings of these healthy foods on a daily basis is difficult, even for a registered dietitian like myself. Current dietary guidelines recommend five servings of produce and six ounces of grains daily for most people. Eating meat at every meal – or even every day – can make this a challenge.
In 2003, renowned advertising mogul Sid Lerner revived Meatless Monday (once popular as a war conservation effort) as a way to encourage the public to reduce their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products and eat more healthy plant foods. Since then, individuals, organizations and brands like Bob’s Red Mill have adopted the initiative to help spread the message about the benefits of periodic meatless eating.
In my work promoting Meatless Monday, I find that each eater is inspired to join the campaign for a slightly different reason. Some of the most popular include:
For health: Research shows that those who follow diets low in animal products and high in plant foods have lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of developing cancer and heart disease, lower blood pressure and lower total mortality. Meatless foods, especially whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables are packed full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
To discover a new favorite: It’s easy to fall into a meal rut and cook up the same old chicken breast or ground beef most nights. Challenging yourself to go meat-free one day a week can provide inspiration to finally try that curious vegetable or ancient grain you keep hearing about. You may discover a new healthy favorite that will become a regular feature in your diet on other days of the week.
For solidarity: Social support is a huge element of any healthy habit. Even if you regularly eat meatless meals, making a specific effort to do it on Mondays and to share your habit with those in your household or via social media can inspire others to make Meatless Monday and plant-based eating a regular habit, too. It’s also exciting to know you’re participating in a global movement – over 30 countries now have active Meatless Monday campaigns.
For the environment: Eating less meat is an environmentally friendly choice, since production of animal foods is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
As Meatless Monday’s dietitian, I often hear concerns about whether you can still get enough protein without eating meat. The answer is a resounding yes! Very few people in the United States get too little protein, even among full-time vegetarians. And most plant foods contain more protein than we think, whole grains especially. Quinoa has developed a reputation for being a protein superstar over the past few years, but interestingly, many other whole grains pack in even more protein per serving than the popular South American seed. Amaranth, millet, farro and Kamut® wheat come in at about seven or eight grams of protein per one-fourth cup serving as compared to quinoa’s five.
In the spirit of discovering new favorites on Meatless Monday, I decided to give Kamut® Khorasan Wheat a shot. Kamut® wheat, while technically an ancient wheat, sure looks a lot like brown rice, so I was inspired to try it out in a twist on traditional red beans and rice.
Beans and grains have historically been paired together not only because of their complementary flavors, but because when combined, the proteins from the two plants provide all of the essential amino acids we need to carry out our daily functions. There’s actually no need to make sure you get each of the essential amino acids in the same meatless meal, but that doesn’t mean the combination isn’t still delicious and worthy of a spot in your next Meatless Monday dinner.
Red Bean and Kamut® Soup
- 1 cup Kamut® Khorasan Wheat
- 3 Tbsp Olive Oil or Butter
- 1 medium Onion, diced
- 3 cloves Garlic, minced
- 6 cups Vegetable Stock
- 1 ½ cups Tomato Puree
- 2 (15 oz.) cans Red Beans
- 2 Tbsp Chili Powder
- 2 tsp dried Thyme
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 3 Bay Leaves
- Salt to taste (consider salt content of vegetable stock)
Soak Kamut in water overnight. Before cooking, drain and discard soaking water.
In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute more.
Add soaked Kamut and remaining ingredients. Mix well, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 40 minutes to one hour, until Kamut has cooked and flavors are combined.
Remove bay leaves and serve.
Diana K. Rice, RD is the registered dietitian and recipe editor on staff with The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit public health marketing initiative dedicated to using the first day of the week to prompt healthy behavior changes. Diana focuses her efforts on the organization’s nutrition-oriented initiatives Meatless Monday, The Kids Cook Monday and Healthy Monday. She has studied at NYU, the University of Northern Colorado and Cedar Crest College and is an advocate for sustainable agriculture and children’s nutrition education. Contact The Monday Campaigns to start a campaign in your area and keep up with Diana on Twitter.