Introducing your family to the concept of vegetarian eating can be daunting. For a family entrenched in meat-and-potatoes eating, serving up a simple salad can leave everyone asking "Where's the beef?" A better mantra, really, is "Here's to your health!"

Research shows that eating a vegetarian diet helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and a variety of other health concerns. Reducing meat consumption gradually is a great way to help guide your family toward better health. In 2004, the Johns Hopkins Institute began promoting "Meatless Mondays" — one day of the week to commit to eating plant-based meals. Committing to this weekly habit will not only improve your family's health, but will also help preserve the health of the planet.

Worried that your family will revolt if you skip the steaks? Here are 5 tips to help ease the transition and make Meatless Mondays a welcomed family event.

Start Simply

Your first Meatless Monday doesn't need to be a tofu masterpiece. Start with simple family favorites that are easy to modify:

  • Grilled flatbreads with fresh mozzarella, basil pesto, and tomatoes
  • Burritos stuffed with brown rice, sautéed mushrooms, and black beans
  • Pasta tossed with steamed zucchini and yellow squash, topped with fresh Parmesan

Let Veggies Take Center Stage

When I first became a vegetarian, I quickly realized that I could easily build a meal around bread, pasta, and cheese. Kind of defeats the purpose of going veg, doesn't it? To ensure that you're planning balanced meals, start with vegetables, and then add whole grains and dairy to complement the main dish. Adding a colorful side salad will help add even more variety to your meal.

Master New Methods

I am not a fan of carrots. Raw, steamed, boiled? Yuck! When I learned how to roast carrots, my opinion of them quickly changed! Cauliflower, beets, and Brussels sprouts all take on a much heartier flavor when tossed with olive oil and roasted in a hot oven. Grilling vegetables can have a similar effect. Say goodbye to mushy veggies and hello to green goodness.

Explore Meat Alternatives

There are so many options for meat alternatives today! Tofu, tempeh, and seitan can help bridge the gap with "meatier" textures. Many companies now offer convincing chicken alternatives as well. Experiment with using soy substitutes in your favorite meat recipes and see if anyone really notices the difference! If you're more comfortable using "ready made" products, companies like Garden Burger and Morningstar Farms offer meatless burgers, "chicken" patties, sausages, and bacon.

Research New Recipes

It may be easier to introduce completely new meal ideas to your family. Looking forward to new recipes can make Meatless Mondays an exciting event. You'll find dozens of vegetarian cookbooks on the shelves of your library and bookstore. Sites such as Vegetarian Times, VegWeb, and Veg Kitchen offer extensive recipe archives. Two recent favorites in my house: Plant Burgers from Morgan's Menu and Asparagus Lemon Pasta from Epicurious.

Meatless Mondays will likely become a family tradition that you'll feel great about.

What are your favorite vegetarian meals?

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