One of the recent trends in health research is the link between heart health and a vegetarian diet. This has been brought to light by sources including research articles, Bill Clinton’s diet and food documentaries such as Forks Over Knives.
Choosing vegetarian or vegan choices does not automatically make one’s diet healthier, as many of the above links also point out. A healthy diet should be based on whole food sources, with generous amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Rather than replacing meat with processed meat alternatives (fake chicken or burgers), plan meals with plant proteins such as beans or nuts. Try to avoid packaged or processed foods and sugar as well, such as cakes, chips, crackers and cereal. I know it’s nearly impossible to give these up for good, but limiting it goes a long way toward improving our health.
Our family has been slowly moving toward a vegetarian diet with limited dairy for years, but we have not completely given up meat. We have vegetarian meals most nights of the week, and some of our favorites include black beans and rice, homemade pizza, frittata, split pea soup, and tofu-vegetable curries. We’ve also been cutting out processed foods and limiting sugar, so we were able to keep these foods out of my daughter’s diet for the first two years of her life. It’s becoming challenging the more she’s exposed to parties and friends’ snacks, and so on.
I find it easiest for our whole family to skip meat when we make large pots of vegetarian dishes, and have easy leftovers for lunches. Other simple, family-friendly lunch ideas include grilled cheese or quesadillas, egg –veggie scrambles, bean tacos, nut-butter sandwiches and large salads with beans or egg for protein.
Here’s our go-to black bean crock pot recipe. We make a pot of brown rice in the rice cooker and throw together a simple salad or side vegetable. It’s easy and delicious, and even my 2 year old approves.
I think it’s best to start with dry black beans that have been soaked overnight, but you can substitute 3 small cans of black beans as well.
Crock pot Black Beans (print recipe)
- 1 pound dry black beans, washed, soaked for 8 hours and drained
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 2-3 cups chopped red and green bell peppers
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 cups organic vegetable broth
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp fennel seed
- 2 tsp coriander
- 2 tsp cumin
- ¼- ½ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 large can diced tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Combine all ingredients except tomatoes and vinegar, and cook in crock pot on low 8 hours, or on high 5 hours, until beans are tender. Add tomatoes and vinegar, and serve with brown rice.
I love this recipe because it’s very adaptable. You can add your family’s favorite vegetables or spices, and can add salsa in place of half of the tomatoes (omit the vinegar). We like to top ours with avocado, fresh cilantro, plain yogurt and/or cheese.