Meals without meat are often lower in fat and cholesterol than meals with meat, not to mention that they are often less expensive as well. Although cooking meatless may seem daunting at first, your family will quickly come to love meals that feature fresh, healthy plant-based ingredients. When preparing a meal without meat, be sure to include protein and fiber so the meal will be filling and meet your family's nutritional needs.
Hearty soups served with crusty bread make a filling meatless meal. Plus, it is not much more work to make a large pot of soup than a small one, so freeze the leftovers and serve the soup again in a week or two. Make a vegetable soup with rice, barley or small pieces of pasta to add some bulk. Make chili with a few types of beans and a variety of vegetables, such as butternut squash cubes, bell peppers or eggplant. Classic Italian minestrone soup has vegetables, beans and pasta. Creamy pureed soups, such as mushroom soup and squash soup, also stand on their own. Use milk instead of cream to keep them low in fat.
Whole wheat pasta with vegetables and sauce makes a filling meal because the vegetables include protein and fiber. Focus on bringing dark-colored vegetables into the dish for the highest concentration of nutrients. Add reheated frozen spinach to a pasta dish with a creamy sauce, such as fettuccine Alfredo or macaroni and cheese, to make a hearty dish. Keep it low-fat by making your sauce at home using low-fat milk and just enough cheese to flavor it. Roast a variety of vegetables and serve them with pasta and a simple sauce of olive oil, Parmesan and chopped herbs. Make an Asian-inspired pasta dish with stir-fried vegetables and a protein-packed sauce of creamy peanut butter mixed with soy sauce. Make a vegetarian lasagna with spinach, zucchini slices, red peppers and mushrooms with a white or red sauce and a sprinkle of cheese on top.
Beans are packed with protein, fiber and iron, making them an ideal ingredient to use in meatless meals. People on a vegetarian diet should eat at least two servings of legumes per day. Make a simple cornbread casserole by mixing cooked beans, diced tomatoes and cooked corn, topping them with cornbread batter and baking. Serve Mexican dishes, such as taco salad, quesadillas, enchiladas or fajitas, with black beans instead of beef or chicken. You can even form mashed black beans into burger patties with the help of some bread crumbs, a salad dressing mix for seasoning and an egg.
As you transition into preparing meals without meat, remember that most recipes that include small pieces of meat can be prepared with a meat substitute instead. Tofu is made from fermented soy and absorbs many of the flavors you cook it with, making it ideal for stir-fries and curries. Tempeh is a wheat gluten product that looks, and often tastes, a lot like chicken. Cook large pieces of it just like you would prepare chicken breasts. Assuming your kids don't mind the texture of mushrooms, these vegetables make an ideal meat substitute, especially if you use large, hearty portobello mushrooms. Grill portobello caps for mushroom burgers or use sliced mushrooms in place of meat in Mexican food, stroganoff or quiche.