Meatless Monday: Why it’s a Thing + Easy Recipes
- Meatless Monday is a movement about not eating meat on Mondays.
- Reducing meat consumption can help your health and the environment.
- Scroll to the end of this post for a few of the great meat-free recipes you can try.
Even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian, odds are you’ve come across Meatless Monday. Recipes, restaurant dishes and other foods without meat are promoted in articles or on social media with #MeatlessMonday.
So, what’s the deal with it? Is it just another fun made-up food day like Taco Tuesday that’s easy to remember and market to people and makes a good hashtag? Well, perhaps some of that. But Meatless Monday actually has a mission behind it.
What is Meatless Monday?
As you can probably figure out, Meatless Monday is the idea of not eating meat (beef, chicken, pork and also fish) on Mondays. Some people go meatless every Monday as well as multiple times a week. Of course, vegans and vegetarians go meatless all the time.
Why is Meatless Monday a thing?
Meatless Monday was launched in 2003 to encourage people to “reduce meat consumption by 15% for our personal health and the health of the planet.”
While it may be hard to try to convince some people to go full-on vegetarian or vegan, Meatless Monday promotes a simple idea that’s pretty doable—go without meat one day a week. Also, science shows that people see Monday as a fresh start and are more likely to start a healthy habit on a Monday.
But can not eating meat just one day a week really make a difference? Some environmental and health experts say yes.
Meat usually requires more water to produce since crops need to be grown in order to feed the cattle.
Alfalfa sucks up more water than any other crop in California, the New York Times reported in 2014. “And it has one primary destination: cattle.”
The article cites the “water footprints” for meat and non-meat food:
- Beef has a water footprint of roughly four million gallons per ton produced.
- Starchy roots are about 102,200 gallons per ton.
- Vegetables are about 85,000 gallons per ton.
- “Sugar crops” like sugar beets are about 52,000 gallons per ton.
Lamb and beef production emit significantly more greenhouse gases than other main sources of food and protein, according to data from the Environmental Working Group. Cheese came in number three, higher than turkey and chicken, in part because it’s made from animals that “constantly generate methane through their digestive process.”
So if your reason for going meatless once a week is the environment, you may want to go without cheese that day too, or work yourself up to it.
Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change. While the EWG admits that even if everyone in the U.S. went vegetarian “it would only make a moderate dent in overall carbon emissions, about a 4.5 percent reduction,” Meatless Monday can still make a difference.
Here are some stats from the EWG about how meat consumption compares to other environmentally conscious actions:
- If you eat one less burger a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for 320 miles or line-drying your clothes half the time.
- If your four-person family skips meat and cheese one day a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes.
- If your four-person family skips steak once a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for nearly three months.
- If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
“Even reducing meat intake has a protective effect,” says the Mayo Clinic, which advises people go meatless one day a week or at least start with a meatless meal or two. “Research shows that people who eat red meat are at an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Processed meats also increase the risk of death from these diseases. And what you don't eat can also harm your health. Diets low in nuts, seeds, seafood, fruits and vegetables also increase the risk of death.”
What About Protein?
Not eating meat once a week doesn’t mean you need to go without protein. Several meatless protein sources exist including pulses like beans and lentils, nuts, quinoa, eggs, seeds, dairy and some vegetables. If you choose to consume soy, go for organic and fermented soy like tempeh, which you can find at Trader Joe’s, or miso.
The average woman needs about 46 to 75 grams of protein per day, so check the protein content on what you’re eating. Protein consumption should be on the higher end if you’re more active.
You can find tons of meatless recipes with a simple Google search. And we’re not talking about just tofu. Chances are, all your meals don’t usually contain meat in them anyway or the meat can be easily swapped out with a protein like beans, lentils, tempeh, etc. so it should hopefully be pretty easy to go meatless for one day.
Keep in mind that just because something is meatless doesn’t make it automatically healthy. Some recipes are smothered in cheese or have a lot of oil, flour or sugar, so find what works for you.
Try these easy overnight oats recipes that are energizing, full of different flavors and can be made gluten-free and dairy-free too. Oats have natural protein, as do mix-ins or toppings like nuts, seeds or nut/seed butter.
Make a delicious smoothie that just happens to have greens it. Add a protein powder you like or some nuts or nut butter you like for more protein.
Make this easy, protein-packed bowl from our 7 easy meals in a bowl series. Sub white rice with brown rice or quinoa if you like or make easy cauliflower rice (or buy it) if you want to go grain-free and get more veggies.
Create the classic or kick it up a notch with some of our better PB&J ideas and recipes. Pro tips: Find organic or gluten-free bread, nut butter without added oil and sugar, and jelly sweetened with just fruit.
Lentil or Bean Pasta
Several lentil and bean pastas exist right now that taste as good as regular pasta but are packed with protein and fiber so they’re filling. You can try Banza (made with chickpeas), Trader Joe’s organic lentil pasta (made with just lentils), Explore Cuisine bean and lentil pastas and Modern Table Meals lentil pasta.
Simply cook up one of these pastas, mix with no-sugar-added pasta sauce like Muir Glen, and add sautéed veggies like mushrooms or zucchini or serve veggies on the side. Boom. Dinner is served. Make a big batch ahead of time for several meals.
Make one of these 14 easy vegetarian stir-fry dishes. Add chickpeas or tempeh for extra protein.
Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.