Be assured you won’t need to change your religion or take up yoga, but you may need to change your diet. Flexitarians are people who have adopted a vegetarian way of eating but are flexible enough to occasionally eat fish, chicken and beef.
Motives for adopting flexitarian diets vary. Some individuals want to lose weight. Others have ecological concerns; that is, they want to “green” their diet and avoid foods, such as beef, that require large amounts of energy and water to reach market. Eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains, especially when locally grown, is easier on the environment.
Stretching food dollars is another reason to avoid meat, especially during economically troubled times. Serving grain and vegetable-based casseroles is a good way to provide hearty food to a hungry family on a limited budget.
And some consumers feel that a primarily vegetarian diet is healthier than a diet that includes red meat. Research supports this conclusion. In a study of over 500,000 middle-aged and elderly Americans, researchers reported that consuming red meat increased the risk of early death for both men and women. Processed meats, such as sausage, cold cuts and hot dogs, compounded the risk.
My husband and I both grew up in homes where meals, including breakfast, were built around meat. Consequently, we’ve found it difficult to eliminate meat entirely, but we’ve begun to make changes.
I cook most of our meals, so I began by reducing portion sizes when meat was the centerpiece of the meal. I also began cooking dishes where meat played a minor role rather than a star-performing role. For example, my original recipe for scalloped potatoes called for layering slices of potatoes, onions and ham. Now I make scalloped potatoes with less than a cup of cubed ham, which is just enough to give the casserole a ham flavor. Or I make a half-dozen enchiladas using less than one cup of chicken, relying instead on beans, cheese and nonfat sour cream for filling.
Now that I have made this transition, the next step is to serve meatless meals two to three times a week. This menu requires that I explore the world of grains. Quinoa, one of my staples, is especially good because it can replace meat nutritionally as a source of protein.
My current pantry favorite is semipearled farro, a grain I was introduced to at a friend’s dinner. If you haven’t tried it, you are in for a treat. The grain looks like barley on steroids. Farro cooks quickly (in about 15 minutes), so it is convenient to prepare, and the grain adds a nutty texture to dishes.
Here is an easy recipe incorporating farro:
3 cups broccoli, broken into tablespoon sized pieces
2 cups precooked farro (may be boiled in stock for added flavor)
1/2 sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
One-half cup liquid (water, white wine or broth)
1 16-ounce can cream of mushroom or broccoli soup
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cashews, peanuts or almonds, optional
Salt, to taste (salt in cheese may be sufficient)
Mix the ingredients in a large bowl. Spread the mixture evenly in a shallow casserole dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees until bubbling hot (about 30 minutes). Use the leftovers for a nourishing hot lunch the following day.
When it comes to adopting a flexitarian approach to eating, self-interest and principles complement each other. Adopting the flexitarian diet can help us lose weight, save money, improve our health and lessen our impact on the environment. From my perspective, these benefits are irresistible.