Peggy Neu knows Meatless Monday is an easy way to reduce meat without a lot of sacrifice. But what happens when Meatless Monday and Memorial Day converge? What about the sizzling barbecue ribs? What about pleasing a holiday crowd with varying tastes? What about the kids?
Neu sees an opportunity.
She’s president of The Monday Campaigns, and when she spoke about the growth of Meatless Monday this spring at TEDxManhattan, she told the crowd that research shows that people tend to see Monday as a chance for a fresh start. With respect to health, people are more likely to make a change Monday than any other day. A study of health-related Google searches over a multiyear period showed a consistent pattern of Monday spikes. “It’s kind of like a mini New Year’s, but you get 52 chances to stay on track,” Neu said.
Isn’t New Year’s more pleasurable? That’s exactly Neu’s hope for Meatless Monday. At TEDxManhattan, she said that it’s important to make the day “a fun ritual, something that people look forward to” and to approach it as “choice and moderation, giving people vegetarian choices rather than taking something (meat) away.”
So if it’s sizzle you want from your barbecue, there are plenty of cool ways to grill vegetables too. (See tips at the end of this story.) If it’s variety you crave, former Meatless Monday Web editor Tami O’Neill suggested “know when you won’t notice,” as in that freshly wrapped burrito or five-alarm chili in which the flavor might be just as wonderful without packing in the meat.
For kids, the fun particularly matters. Some tips from Meatless Monday include:
— Let kids choose a fruit or vegetable to include in a Meatless Monday dinner. They can help research how to prepare it.
— Involve kids in cooking. Their participation will vary depending on age and ability, but cooking is fun and preparing new foods helps demystify them.
The Monday Campaigns has a site filled with tips for cooking with kids, recipes for different ages and other resources at www.thekidscookmonday.org.
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The idea behind Meatless Monday is simple. Launched in 2003 as a nonprofit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, it asks people to give up meat one day a week, and the name tells you what to do and when to do it.
There’s plenty of science to support the concept. Cutting down on meat can help reduce the risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. There are also environmental benefits. Meat production uses vast quantities of both fossil fuels and water; and industrial agriculture, which produces the bulk of the meat sold in the U.S., is linked to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, air and water pollution, and other environmental ills.
Meatless Monday’s reach is global. It has since been adopted across the U.S. and in 30 countries. Restaurants, school districts and media outlets such as the Food Network, Self and Prevention have signed on, offering special Meatless Monday menus and recipes. Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Padma Lakshmi, Al Gore and Paul McCartney have endorsed the campaign.
“To me, though, the most powerful aspect of Monday as a behavior-change idea is that we can do it together,” Neu told the audience at TEDxManhattan. “How cool is it that this Monday there are going to be people in Iran that will be doing a Meatless Monday and they’re going to do it because they share the same goals, to be healthier and to have a healthier planet. … I think sometimes by synchronizing even simple actions, we can synchronize our hearts and our minds around bigger ideals.”
(See Neu’s TEDxManhattan talk below on YouTube.)
The Meatless Monday website offers an abundance of recipes, searchable by category or ingredients. Numerous food and health websites, bloggers and others also feature Meatless Monday recipes on a regular basis.
Vegetarian grilling tips for Meatless Monday
For those pondering how Meatless Monday can mesh with barbecues as summer begins, The Monday Campaigns offers a list of grilling tips, including:
1. Many vegetables can be thrown right on the grill with just a light brushing of olive oil (with delicious results)! Fresh corn, tomatoes, asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, squash and bell peppers are just some to try.
2. Kabobs are a barbecue staple that make the perfect meatless entree. Add tofu cubes, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted potatoes or just about any other vegetable that strikes your fancy.
3. Grilled fruit is amazing too. For a sweet side dish or dessert, try peaches, pineapples, plums, melons, kiwis, pears or figs with a touch of honey marinade.
4. Swap a hamburger for a portobello mushroom burger or grilled eggplant slices. Put the barbecued veggies on a bun and add your favorite toppings, such as avocados, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers or an olive spread.
5. Try a veggie burger recipe that celebrates hearty ingredients such as black beans, lentils, quinoa and chickpeas. You can also find healthy pre-made patties at supermarkets and natural food stores.
6. Make a delicious, smoky pizza pie right on the grill — all you need is pizza dough, sauce and your favorite vegetables thinly sliced or pre-grilled.
7. Use your favorite marinade recipe to add flavor to extra firm tofu cubes. Grill them up and add them to a salad, serve them with veggies or enjoy them on their own.
8. Add grilled vegetables to a filling summer salad. Garnish fresh lettuces with a bit of fruit, feta cheese and olive oil to complete the dish; or think beyond lettuce and concoct a bean or grain salad.
9. Consider your sides when planning a meatless barbecue. Pasta salads, raw vegetables and hummus dip are great ways to turn your plant-based dishes into a full meal.
10. End the meal on a healthy note with a tray of fresh fruit, a parfait or homemade smoothies.
Trying new recipes and methods of cooking can help turn Meatless Monday into an opportunity to add variety to your diet and explore new tastes. At the same time, as Neu said, “You can draw inspiration and feel part of a larger movement trying to improve our health and the health of the planet.”
Main photo: Grilled vegetables to light up a Meatless Memorial Day. Credit: Sarsmis/iStockphoto