so i don't know if anyone noticed, but one sunny morning about a week and a half ago i was informed it was national donut... er... doughnut day. that's cool, i love me a gooey, fluffy, stick to your ribs, deep fried ring of batter once in awhile. and what's cooler than getting it for free (thank you dunkin' donuts and krispy kreme)? but the more i thought about it as i was packalackin' the kids into the car to head to the nearest dunkin donuts, i realized i probably didn't need to sabotage my happily shrinking muffin top with one (or two... or three) pieces of fried heaven. i begrudgingly unpacked the kids from the car and steered my brood up to the kitchen where we noshed on a healthy snack of carrot sticks instead. i wondered as i ate, why don't we ever hear about national carrot day?... (february 3rd, in case you were wondering). how is it that we as a nation are consistently on the top 10 of world's most overweight countries, yet all i seem to hear about are free doughnuts and oprah feeding the world with kentucky fried chicken? okay, so fast food restaurants are starting to provide healthy alternatives for my toddler's kids meal when we eat on the run. but with such minimal effort on the front lines of the nutritional powerhouses that influence our lives on a daily basis, i decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. the weekly mcdonalds coupon booklet arrived in the mail just in time for me to intercept it and toss it in the trash. no "buy one get one free" mcmuffins or big macs for us. no sir. we were going to the extreme for the week. i knew i would catch some flack from the resident meatosauruses living under my roof, but in an effort to promote healthier eating habits i made the executive decision: we were going to be vegetarian for the week.
did i hear you gasp? is the thought of ditching burgers, steaks, chicken nuggets, pork chops, hot dogs and ham sandwiches dibilitating? i mean, WHAT will everyone eat? we're all going to STAAAAARVE! this is where culinary creativity comes into play. i mean, i've got the pickiest of all toddlers. the PICKIEST. he eats alot, and he eats well, but he only eats like 5 things: bananas, chicken nuggets, eggs, chicken nuggets, green beans, and chicken nuggets. so deleting three fifths of his daily guaranteed sources of nutrition and replacing it with something new (that he would actually eat) was going to prove to be my biggest challenge. i first broke the news to my husband. he met me with the anticipated opposition: "WHAT will i eat? i'm going to STAAAAARVE!". after a few short moments of discussing we came to a compromise. he would indeed participate in the family challenge, but only under the stipulation that i don't sneak in tofu or fake meat or any other "gross stuff". i then went and broke the news to the kids... after i finished explaining our meatless agenda, emmabean stuck her finger up my nose and laughed, and chris pointed at the tv and yelled "tommy choo choo!"... i took their responses as total compliance and left it at that.
now that i had everyone on board with my harebrained scheme, i had to come up with a game plan. what do you feed to a group of devoted meat eaters? after endless prodding on the internet i finally composed what i thought would be a fail-proof list of go to's for our meatless week. vegetable fried rice, black bean burgers, lentil sloppy joes, chickpea salad sandwiches, vegetarian "meat"balls and pasta. these were all vegetarian counterparts to some of our favorite carnivorous meals: chicken fried rice, hamburgers, sloppy joes, chicken salad sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs. i had to prove that eating a vegetarian diet didn't make us two headed aliens, but rather healthy. i'm not saying that eating meat is UNhealthy, but with today's preparation techniques introducing mega amounts of unhealthy fats and sodium, and out of this world overproportioning that you get at restaurants, i really do believe there is such a thing as eating TOO MUCH meat.
so to make a really long story a little shorter, my clan reluctantly dug into 7 days worth of vegetarian meals and the pre-meal "yucks" quickly turned to full mouthed "yums". i managed to finagle a few i'd-eat-that-again's out of a previously oppositional husband. we even found ourselves at a burger king on a saturday afternoon and stuck to our guns, swapping cheeseburgers and nugget meals for veggie burgers and mac & cheese meals (who knew?!?!). our weekly grocery budget was the same, debunking the common myth that eating vegetarian is too expensive. and i have to say, laying off the meat for a week made me feel a little better in general.
i'm not saying that i want to convert my family to full time vegetarianism. that's a decision they make on their own. but eating our lacto-ovo vegetarian diet forced us to stray from the path and try new healthy things that we may not have ever eaten and incorporated into our everyday lives (fyi - "lacto-ovo" means we ditched the meat but kept the dairy and eggs, just one of a few types of vegetarian diets). after this week, black beans and chickpeas will always have a happy home as a pantry staple in our kitchen. homemade vegetable fried rice will be our new fix for the chinese food craving. lentils will take their place next to chicken nuggets on my picky toddler food list. and maybe, just maybe i'll worry a little bit less about my husband inheriting his father's high cholesterol. i'm not going to preach about animal cruelty and factory farming, different people have different reasons/beliefs contributing to their personal decision to be vegetarian or vegan. i'm not going to try to forcefully impose the idea of necessity to omit meat from your daily diet. but i AM going to challenge you, if only from the nutritionally healthy standpoint, to ditch meat for a week and introduce a new and healthy dish or two to your family's plate at dinnertime.