Learning to cook vegetarian meals benefits everybody's health.

Eating Less Meat? 5 Meatless Meals Everyone Loves

Have you heard about Meatless Monday? It’s an international movement founded 20 years ago at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with the aim of encouraging everyone to eat vegetarian at least once a week. But the concept is even older than that – it started in WWII when meat was in short supply and the U.S. government introduced Meatless Monday to help prevent shortages. Today, though, we know that eating less meat is healthier; in fact, many experts recommend a plant-based diet for optimum health.

But even when you know we need to cut back on meat, it’s not always easy to think vegetarian when you’re standing in the grocery aisle, basket in hand. Here are some vegetable-centered main dishes that will make even the most carnivorous diner happy.

1. Make Your Lasagna Meatless.

Lasagna may be a household favorite, but when you make it with ground beef or other meat, it’s not kind to your heart. Instead, swap the meat with portobello mushrooms, chopped spinach, and mixed veggies (try broccoli, carrots, and squash). Make your entree even healthier by using whole-grain noodles and lower-fat cheeses like part-skim mozzarella and ricotta, which contain less fat than their traditional whole-milk counterparts. 

2. Focus on Frittatas

Like quiche, these baked egg and cheese dishes are quick, delicious, and easy to enhance with all manner of vegetables. But they’re even simpler to make, since you don’t have to bother with a crust. This particularly interesting Persian herb frittata features cilantro, dill, mint and other herbs along with walnuts, but you can make a frittata out of just about any vegetable in your refrigerator.

3. Go South of the Border.

Enjoy the spicy flair of Mexican fare by building vegetable-heavy burritos or enchiladas. Stuff whole-grain tortillas with a variety of beans, corn, tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms, then top with salsa and avocado instead of sour cream to boost antioxidants while reducing fat. Another south-of-the-border speciality is this recipe for vegan southwestern scramble breakfast tacos.

4. Warm Up with a Winter Stew

Not only are stews hearty and comforting, they can be heart-healthy when made with vegetables instead of beef or chicken. Start with this curry quinoa featuring carrots, onions, dried fruits and spices, then experiment by adding additional vegetables, beans, or chickpeas to vary the flavor.

5. Get Friendly with Eggplant.

The texture and consistency of eggplant make it an easy meat substitute, hence its central role in dishes like eggplant parmesan. And eggplant is low-calorie, too; one cup of eggplant contains just 20 calories. Add mushrooms, spinach, and artichokes to the sauce for a nutritional boost that will make your dish more flavorful, too. Or use it in a sandwich, like this Israel sabich seared eggplant sandwich. One more tip: coat the eggplant in flaxseed and oats instead of processed bread crumbs to increase fiber while reducing sugar and fat. 

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.