It was never my intention to blog about all these World Days of this and that, but it just so happened that the recent World Days were about causes I strongly believe in and I have put everything else on hold to blog about it.
Because today marks the beginning of the World Meat-Free Week and I just happen to believe that meat-free is the best way to be for numerous reasons, including human health, ethical and environmental, I decided to share my favourite meat-free meal ideas.
Why go meat-free for a week?
If I go deep into that topic, I am going to get twice as many haters as supporters, unfortunately, so I am not going to provoke you with graphic details of any sort. For today, let’s just keep it mostly environmental.
- Fact #1: Meat farming is one of the biggest contributors to global climate change. It is responsible for more greenhouse gas (GHG) emmissions than the entire transportation sector combined. One 8-ounce steak produces the same amount of GHG emissions as driving 29 miles in a small car.
- Fact #2: Livestock accounts for consumption of 23% global freshwater and 45% of total land use. We could use this land and water to grow more crops and make water available in regions with scarce availability, while having much less environmental impact.
- Fact #3: Eating a plant-based diet can cut your carbon footprint in half!
- Fact #4: To produce 1 lb of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water. Americans (and Americans alone!) consume 54 lbs of beef annually. That is 97,200 gallons of water for beef in America. In comparison, Americans eat annually 142 lbs of potato and it takes 119 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of potato. That makes 16,898 gallons per year – almost 6 times less than to produce beef.
(source: One Green Planet)
- Fact #5: Livestock farming is the leading cause of global deforestation – an area twice the size of Germany has been deforested in the Amazon for cattle grazing and farming. These forests regulate the CO2 from the atmosphere and clearance of these forests means the rise in the atmospheric CO2 levels that leads to the climate change.
- Fact #6: Apart from consuming large amounts of fresh water, livestock waste and bacteria pollute the water making it unsuitable for human consumption and marine life.
- Fact #7: Livestock produces methane as part of their digestion cycle, which further contributes to rising temperatures.
Animal farming also requires the use of energy and transportation. Because the current demand for meat is extremely high, the damaging effect of animal farming is also very high.
IF you went meat-free for just 1 meal, it would save
- the equivalent of 8 days of water for personal use
- the carbon equivalent of boiling 388 kettles
It would also mean a dietary fat reduction equivalent to the weight of 2 tsp of butter, but this has more to do with human health than the environment.
(source: World Meat Free Week)
The Health Benefits
Dropping meat partially or fully also doesn’t come without health benefits. Dieticians and health professionals all over the world are recommending to reduce the consumption of meat and animal products.
The benefits of eating a plant-based diet include healthier heart and blood vessels, reduction of cholesterol and overall lipids in blood, reduction in blood pressure, reduction in blood glucose as well as weight reduction. That is, of course, if you eat a balanced diet of varied whole foods.
Eating more fruit and vegetables ensures that you get a broad variety of vitamins, minerals and precious antioxidants that help us fight disease.
In a nutshell:
- Meat-eaters are more likely to develop heart disease and certain cancers.
- Vegetarians are 25% less likely to die of heart disease.
- Eliminating red meat alone from your diet significantly decreases your risks of getting colon cancer, which is strongly linked to red meat consumption.
- Plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
This is not a complete list of benefits, but just some.
(Source: Harvard Health Publishing, ‘Becoming A Vegetarian’)
World Meat-Free Week
Starting from today, June 11th till June 17th is the World Week Without Meat, and I ask you to consider going meat-free for at least one meal a day during this week – both for you and for the planet.
It will involve some changes in your routine, no doubt, but it’s not that drastic I can promise! I’ve been in those shoes before. Only I decided to go vegan all at once. I can’t say it was always a smooth ride – I used to go from vegan to vegetarian to ‘flexitarian’ due to my issues with gluten and back to veg. I love this lifestyle more than anything – that is for sure. As a person who ate virtually no vegetables and very little fruit before becoming vegetarian, I instantly fell in love with the new recipes from Week 1. That was almost 5 years ago. And today most of my family is plant-based of their own free will and I am beyond happy about it.
But this all doesn’t mean that you have to become vegetarian overnight or become vegetarian at all. First of all, you have to do what makes you happy and feel good. My only arguement for you to try is You never know what works best for you unless you try. So I urge you to give it a try for the planet and for your own good. But it’s up to you to decide how far you can go.
Meat-Free Meal Ideas
Meat-free dishes don’t have to be complicated. In fact, many of your regular dishes can be made vegetarian quite easily. For example, Spaghetti Bolognese could be made with lentils instead of mince, or Quorn could be used as a quick substitute, although I do recommend you stick to unprocessed foods. You could also easily make Chilli sin Carne, or Bean Chilli. Beans and lentils are so versatile that you can use them instead of meat in almost anything: salads, soups, curries. Nuts and seeds can be added as toppings for extra protein.
To give you better ideas, I am going to share a few of my favourite recipes.
1. Avocado Toasts
These are the easiest kinds of toasts and there are quite a lot of variations.
Simple Avo Toast:
- 2 pcs of wholegrain bread
- 1/3-1/2 avocado
- Salt, pepper, chilli flakes and smoked paprika to taste
- Add-ons: tomato slices, cucumber slices, your favourite mustard, hummus, red onion, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, balsamic vinegar, roasted chickpeas (or mashed chickpeas).
- For lacto-ovo vegetarian toasts: add Mozzarella, goat’s cheese or cottage cheese and boiled, poached or fried egg.
My favourite combos are simple avocado toasts with sea salt, chilli and smoked paprika, or with mustard and tomato slices.
2. Oat Porridge
It never gets old. I make my porridge in a microwave to save time. I simply add plant ‘milk’ to it (I don’t use dairy milk at all; you can learn more about dairy and human health from Harvard School of Public Health), tahini both for healthy fats and protein (as well as Calcium), and some berries.
Simple Oat Porridge:
- 40 g rolled oats
- 140-150 ml soy/oat/cashew milk
- A small handful of raisins and/or goji berries
- A handful of frozen berries (if using fresh, stir them in once the porridge has cooked)
Cook in a microwave (stove is fine, too) for about 2-2,5 min (a little more if using frozen berries). Then add:
- 1/2 to 1 tbsp light tahini
- a drizzle of maple syrup if you prefer it sweeter
- fresh berries, if using
- various toppings: chopped nuts and seeds, milled flaxseed, chia and hemp.
3. Green Smoothie
These are an excellent way to get your vitamins, fibre and even minerals such as Iron and Calcium in. If you have never had a green smoothie before and worry that you’re going to taste the greens, you can add a bit less and then work your way up. But I can reassure you (as someone who ABSOLUTELY hates greens) that you won’t taste and mind them at all.
Simple Green Smoothie:
- 1 c of water or dairy-free ‘milk’
- 1-1,5 c of fresh or frozen berries (mixed or any you prefer)
- 1 ripe banana
- 1/2-1 c spinach
- 1 tbsp milled flaxseed
Blend everything together until smooth. Optionally add:
- Chia or hemp seed
- 1-2 tbsp peanut/cashew/almond butter
- lemon or lime juice
- any other fruit
- protein powder (I use hemp protein because of its rich nutritional profile)
- turmeric, cinnamon, cacao powder
Chocolate smoothies with raw cacao powder are also my favourite because raw cacao offers a lot of minerals, some vitamins, fibre, healthy fats and even protein!
Lunch and Dinner Ideas
Salads are great at lunch time and offer a lot of nutrients from fresh foods. I am not a fan of making salads though – they mostly feel too complicated. But from time to time I like to make a simple salad to go with the main dish.
Simple Garden Salad:
- Greens of your choice (or none, if you’re like me – I like them better in my smoothies)
- Bell pepper
- 1 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 tsp Balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Chop it all up and mix in a bowl. Supercharge with:
- Nuts and seeds of your choice
- Chia, hemp or flaxseed
- Cooked lentils (green keep their shape well for salads; you can also add canned lentils)
- Cooked beans, like chickpeas or mixed beans (again, I use canned)
- Cooked brown rice, couscous, millet or quinoa
- Eggs and cheese for lacto-ovo vegetarian meal
The ideas are almost unlimited. If you add grains and legumes (beans, lentils and nuts) to your salad, you actually turn it into a complete meal and don’t need to worry about anything else as long as you eat enough). You can also make your favourite salad and substitute lentils or beans for meat and fish.
2. Veggie Wrap
Basically, make a salad from above and put it in a wholegrain wrap. Hummus makes a nice addition to it as well as some pesto. I love Harvest Moon’s Vegan Basil and Walnut pesto, but it is very easy to make your own by mixing a handful of basil leaves, 2 cloves garlic, a small handful of cashews or walnuts, juice of 1/2 lime, olive oil and salt to taste.
3. Bean Chilli
This one is a staple in our house and it takes only about 15-20 minutes to cook (including prep).
- 1/2 onion
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 2 cans mixed beans
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 2 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- salt and pepper to taste
Finely chop the onion, garlic and bell pepper. In a cast iron pan, gently sautée them for a few minutes until golden and softened. Add the rinsed beans, chopped tomatoes and tomato purée along with the spices. Add 1/2 c of water if it is too thick to your liking.
Bring to a boil then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro if you like. Serve with brown rice or quinoa.
Prepare the bean chilli from above. Scoop about 2-3 tbsp of chilli onto a wholegrain wrap, roll it and place in a lasagna dish. When all the wraps are rolled, pour the remaining tomato sauce from the chilli over the wraps. If you eat dairy, add a tbsp of sourcream and sprinkle some cheddar over and bake at 180C for 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Or use the vegan alternatives.
5. Curried lentil stew
This one was my first vegan meal I’ve ever made on my very first day and I fell in love with it. You can enjoy it with a piece of wholegrain toast, or like my husband – with a bowl of rice.
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 butternut squash (or a large sweet potato)
- 1.5 c dry red split lentils
- a handful of spinach
- 1-2 tbsp mild curry powder
- 900 ml vegetable stock
- Chilli flakes
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
Chop the onion and press the garlic. Dice the butternut squash (or sweet potato) in 1/2 inch cubes. Rinse the lentils until the water runs clear (5-7 times).
Heat olive oil in a medium/large saucepan, gently sautée the onion and garlic, then add the butternut squash, curry powder and chilli flakes and cinnamon. Sautée for about 5-7 minutes until the squash is slightly browned. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil and then simmer until the squash is softened and breaks with a fork, about 10-15 minutes. Now add the lentils and bring to a boil once again. Simmer the lentils partially covered. It takes about 7 minutes to cook the red split lentils until soft. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the spinach.
6. Avocado Rolls
I am a big fan of sushi. And avocado. I can probably eat avocados on their own, but I love them the most in my sushi rolls.
- 1 c sushi rice
- Nori sheets
- 1,5 c water
- Salt to taste
- Sushi rice dressing (you can make your own but I prefer the taste of Obento dressing)
- Soy sauce
- Pickled ginger
- Optional: cucumber, pepper, mango, tofu, spinach – anything you like in your sushi
Rinse the rice until the water runs clear (at least 5 times). Add 1.5 c water and 1 c rice to a small sauce pan. Sprinkle with salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Then turn the heat off and let it stand covered for 15 more minutes.
Transfer the rice into a shallow dish (like lasagna casserole) to help it cool. Once cooled a little, add the dressing and mix well. Let stand for a few minutes. Prepare your veggies by slicing them into thin strips.
To roll the sushi you will need a bamboo mat and a bowl of water. Place the nori sheet shiny side down on a bamboo mat, wet your fingers in the water and start spreading the rice over the nori, leaving about 3/4 inch at each end of the nori free. Once the rice is spread, put the strips of your fillings (for me it’s mostly avocado) on top of rice in the lower end of the nori sheet and start rolling slowly. It may seem tricky at first, but it’s actually easy once you get the hang of it. When all of your rolls are done (about 2-3 with this amount of rice) cut them into 1 inch pieces with a very sharp knife.
Enjoy with Tamari/soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.
Other Super Easy Ideas
In our days, supermarkets have everything you need to make cooking easier – there is a wide variety of prepped fresh or frozen veggie meals. Unfortunately, it does not come without a con – they are packaged in plastic, which I have picked a fight against recently. But if you are really stuck for ideas or short on time, just go to your local supermarket. In a fruit and veg section there’s usually a fridge with ‘washed and ready to eat’ greens as well stir-fry and fajitas mixes. Just pick one of those packs and stir-fry it, steam or stew. Add to cooked rice or quinoa, throw some canned beans on top and you are good to go. Try adding tofu to stir-fries for extra calcium and protein. Just make sure whenever you are using a soy product that it is certified organic or GMO-free.
In the freezer section you can also find things like vegetable moussaka, lasagna or even burgers (I prefer Strong Roots because it’s not just some processed mock meat, their patties are made of quinoa with veg and greens).
There’s really a lot of things to eat without meat. And I, personally, found that my diet has become much more varied without meat as I have the opportunity to use so many different vegetables to make up the bulk of my meals. Vegetables, fruit, grains and nuts are much more nutrient-dense and are very healthy to eat, and fortunately enough, they are much better for our planet, too.
Keep our Earth green,
Keep your body healthy.