One of my favorite ways to pump up our family's nutrition and to reduce our grocery bill at the same time is by preparing a vegetarian dinner once per week. Meat is usually one of the highest dollar items in our grocery budget. Vegetarian meals are usually based around low-cost protein such as whole grains, legumes, and eggs. Vegetable-based dinners are packed full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Most Americans are sorely lacking in at least a few of these departments.
I also find that going vegetarian once per week helps to add more variety into our diets, so there is less of, "Mom, why do we have to have chicken again?" or some similar complaint. I find that by adding a little shredded cheese atop most of our vegetarian fare makes the dish delectable (or at least palatable - LOL) to my young ones. Additionally, teaching our children to eat healthy vegetarian foods, like beans and rice, paves the way for healthy eating habits into adulthood.
There is another benefit to eating vegetarian once per week, it reduces the amount of energy consumption and thus greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere. Bringing meat to our tables includes a long energy-intensive, and frequently chemical-laden, chain of raising livestock on farms: Animal feed and fertilizer to grow the feed, big transportation energy consumption, meat processing, etc. According to New York Times food writer Mark Bittman in his new book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, "Switching to a vegetable based diet only one day a week is equivalent to driving 1,160 fewer miles in a year." So next time you savor a forkful of beans and rice, know that you are doing something good for your body, good for your wallet, and good for your planet!
Savory Lentils & Rice
1 c. lentils
1 c. brown rice
2 c. vegetable broth (or chicken broth, or water plus bouillon granules)
1 c. water
1/2 chopped onion (or 1-2 T. onion powder)
2-3 T. olive oil
Bring water and broth to a boil, add lentils, rice, onion, and seasonings. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook 45 minutes.
Top with cheese or homemade salsa. I made the salsa in the photo above from tomatoes from my parents' garden. Super-duper delicious.