What do Ellen DeGeneres, Carrie Underwood, and Bill Clinton all have in common? They all eat primarily a plant-based diet. And thanks to the growing list of celebrities that have adopted plant-based eating, vegetarian cuisine has really come a long way. No longer is a plant-based diet considered to be about as hip and tasty as munching on alfalfa sprouts and granola. In fact, movers and shakers like Oprah Winfrey and Mario Batali are even showing their support for meatless meals by jumping on the Meatless Monday bandwagon.

Meatless Monday, a non-profit initiative developed in association with the John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, has a simple message: By cutting out meat once per week, you can improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint. Countless organizations, restaurants, schools, and hospitals, have embraced  Meatless Monday to celebrate this simple concept.

The great thing about Meatless Monday – and plant-based eating for that matter – is that it allows for a spectrum of eating styles and preferences, ranging from vegans to omnivores. By just giving up meat one day a week, you can ease into the concept of decreasing animal intake. It’s a way to introduce new and often overlooked foods, such as the vast variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains that flood our farmers markets and supermarkets. For example, there are more than 150 varieties of squashes, and don’t even get me started on heirloom tomatoes. A meatless meal is more about what you can eat than what you can’t eat.

If you’re looking for some meatless motivation, visit the Meatless Monday website at www.meatlessmonday.com for delicious recipes and cooking tips, or try one of my favorite meatless recipes at SharonPalmer.com. You can also try one of these simple ideas for getting started:

  • Ease into it. If meat is a staple in your diet for every meal, you have room to cut back. Create a goal for how many meatless meals you want to eat. You could start out slowly by having one completely plant-based meal per week, or even having an entirely meatless day.
  • Keep it simple. There’s a common misconception that preparing vegetarian meals is laborious and complicated – but tons of meatless recipes are incredibly simple to prepare. Think: black bean burritos or spaghetti with tomato sauce.
  • Take advantage of your crock-pot. One way to make vegetarian cooking simple and delicious is to rely on more one-dish meals such as chili, stews, casseroles, stir-fries, and pasta dishes. A crock-pot is a great investment when preparing a meatless meal.
  • Steal ideas from restaurants. Order vegetarian meals at your favorite restaurants, and then try to reproduce them at home. Especially look to ethnic restaurants to find meatless inspiration for delicious meals and dishes to prepare at home. Some cultures know how to do vegetarian meals right!
  • Invest in a good veggie cookbook. A cookbook can give home cooks valuable ideas for how to put together simple, delicious meals. Be willing to experiment and try a new recipe every few days until you find a collection of dishes you really love.

Sharon Palmer is a registered dietitian, writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 750 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. Sharon makes her home with her husband and two sons in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles.

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