If every American went vegetarian for just one day per week, the effects would be startling, on the animal kingdom, the environment, and potentially even the health of those involved.
Eliminating meat from the diet for 1 day reduces saturated fat intake by 15% according to a study from Yale University. It’s true that this reduction may not make a huge difference in overall health, but then again it might, as it could be enough to make subtle changes in cholesterol levels and heart health. Studies also suggest that reducing meat intake can be associated with lessened cancer risk. While a once a week vegetarian diet may not have dramatic impacts, eating this on Monday may serve as a gateway to a more consistently herbivore diet.
In 2010, over 10,000 million land animals were killed in the U.S. for food. Aquatic animal deaths are harder to estimate, but appear to be over 53,000 million per year. By simply eliminating meat/fish from the diet for one day per week, that number would be reduced by 1,477 million land animals or 7,830 million aquatic animals (or some combination thereof). The average American eats over 60 pounds of beef per year. 1 meatless day per person per week would reduce that consumption by around 8 pounds of beef per year, saving more than 14,000 gallons of water used for cattle livestock (based on a number of 1,750 gallons per pound, which is a mid point between the estimate given by cattle ranchers and that produced in environmental studies). A family of 4 could save 56,000 gallons of water in a year.
I could go on with the stats, but my goal here is less to convince people than to support those who might already be thinking about adopting a meatless day in their lives. While the change may seem like a challenge, it’s not as hard as it appears, because many foods that omnivores enjoy can be easily made vegetarian and create a good option for a meat-free menu. I’ve listed a few options below for each meal. I controlled myself and only listed six items for each, but there are many other options to explore! Note that I haven’t attempted to make these items all vegan; however, even that might be easier than you imagine for 1 day each week. Vegan items or vegan options are noted with an *
Breakfast usually isn’t too bad to switch up, as many omnivores eat a vegetarian breakfast many days anyway. The basic idea is to think of meals that you already enjoy for breakfast, and then simply eliminate the meat sides of sausage or bacon. You can then begin to move on to more elaborate vegetarian breakfasts if time and desire so indicate.
- Omelets (with whole eggs or egg whites for reduced calorie and cholesterol content) with your favorite vegetables, cheese, or peanut butter
- Oatmeal with fruit, nuts, and/or granola toppings (* if made without milk)
- Yogurt with fruit and/or granola (or other cereals)
- Cereal and toast (* if made with soy milk and veg butter)
- Breakfast casserole (use your favorite recipe but remove the sausage/bacon and add more seasoning)
- French toast or pancakes with bananas, strawberries, or sliced peaches (* use vegan recipe for pancakes)
Vegetarian lunch doesn’t mean a plate full of celery. There are plenty of non-meat lunch items that are probably already part of your family omnivore diet.
- Peanut butter and jelly/jam/honey/syrup/pickle sandwiches (*if no honey)
- Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
- Chef salad with cubed cheese, diced egg, Bac~os (or other veg bacon bits), and plenty of veggies
- Veggie dogs (try Tofu Pups or Smart Dogs for vegan options) and macaroni and cheese
- Cheese pizza and side salad
- Vegetable lo mein*
Dinner might seem like the most complicated meal, if you are used to making meat the focal point. However, many recipes that contain meat can be adapted for vegetarian cooking, and you may be surprised at how much you don’t miss the meat part of the dish. Eating vegetarian doesn’t have to mean all new foods.
- Chili* (maybe with a veggie dog side or a salad)
- Spaghetti with marinara sauce and a salad*
- Bean burritos and Spanish rice*
- Nachos with refried beans (* if cheese omitted or replaced with Daiya)
- Sesame noodles, edamame, grilled tofu*
- Navy bean soup and cornbread (*if made with vegan recipe)
Combining the items above gives you over 200 different “days” of menus, and that is just the very tip of the iceberg for what is available. If eating a vegetarian diet for only 1 day a week, issues like protein, iron, and calcium are probably less concerning, but even there it’s not too hard to figure out how to manage the day. Over the entire day, shoot for 2 servings of dairy or calcium fortified items, 3-4 servings of legumes (beans, nuts, tofu, soy products) or eggs, 6-10 servings of grains, and 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables. If that sounds like a lot, remember that a serving is smaller than you might think. A serving of grain is 1 slice of bread, 1/2 a bagel, or 1/2 cup of pasta or rice. A serving of legumes is 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/2 cup of beans, 4 oz tofu, or 1 veggie burger. A serving of vegetables is typically 1/2 cup for most cooked vegetables or 1 cup for uncooked leafy greens. A serving of fruit is 1 piece of fruit or 1/2 cup if chopped/sliced.
Even if you aren’t planning to move into a full vegetarian or vegan diet, observing meatless Mondays is a good way to contribute to the health of our environment, the well-being of animals, and even your own health. You can learn more about the Meatless Monday campaign, including many recipes, at http://www.meatlessmonday.com. Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!