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EAT YOUR VEGGIES: Adding vegetarian dishes to the menu will benefit your health

Whether you are a meat and potato lover or a total vegetarian, it is important to eat healthy, delicious foods that give you the nutrition your body needs.

A healthy diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.

Over the last year, I have gradually changed my diet to eat more beans, grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat, especially red meat. This change has helped me to maintain a healthier lifestyle. I have seen my weight and cholesterol count drop and I don’t feel like a “slug” anymore. By reducing my intake of meat, I have more energy and stamina, my overall health has improved and I know I have saved money on my grocery bill. My change in eating habits has also given me the motivation to try a wide variety of healthy foods that were not part of my food world.

Vegetarian diets are becoming more common and with a little planning, a vegetarian diet can be satisfying and good for your waistline. If you choose this type of diet, it is important to ensure it is well-balanced and nutritious. You could stuff your face with chips and chocolate at every meal and be vegetarian, but you would not be doing your body much good.

Vegetables are often pushed to the side of the plate, however they can easily stand alone or even become the featured food. Vegetables are actually quite versatile, and as nutritional powerhouses, they can form the foundation of a healthy eating plan.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetable dishes. Toss aside the idea that you have to eat meat every day and try a couple of meat-free meals each week. Fill in these days with fish, pasta or build your meal around vegetables, beans and grains. By adding meatless meals to your weekly menu, you can save money and reap the rewards of numerous health benefits. Here are some tips that may help you limit or replace the amount of meat in your diet.

n Mushrooms can be a tasty substitute for red meat in most dishes. With the right preparation, portobello mushrooms can add a “meaty” texture to stroganoffs, soups and pasta dishes. If you don’t want to forgo red meat entirely, substitute half of the red meat in your dishes with mushrooms. You will be surprised at how many calories and fat grams this saves.

n You can also marinate a large portobello mushroom in French or Italian dressing or make your own marinade with one and one-half tablespoons balsamic vinegar, one teaspoon olive oil, a clove of minced garlic, salt and pepper. Grill the mushroom over medium heat until it is tender, about five minutes on each side. Serve it on a bun or alone.

n In a heavy skillet, add chopped sweet onions, red peppers, yellow summer squash, zucchini squash, one tablespoon olive oil, two minced garlic cloves and one tablespoon Italian seasoning. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Serve them over cooked pasta with a prepared pasta sauce.

n Brush cherry tomatoes, button mushrooms, zucchini slices, red onions and bell peppers with Italian dressing. Place them onto skewers and grill over medium heat, turning often, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Serve them on top of a bed of rice pilaf.

Meatless products, such as tofu dogs, soy burgers, nut loaves or texturized vegetable protein can add variety to your diet. These products, found in many grocery stores and health food markets, simulate the taste and texture of meat and usually have less fat and fewer calories. Many of the meatless products, such as tofu or tempeh, are made from soybeans.

It is important for parents to provide good nutrition for their children and teach them how to make healthy meal choices, not just because the kids are growing and developing, but because they are forming life-long eating habits. Our lives seem packed to the brim with work, school and extra activities that leave us no time to spare however, try not to let the convenience of fast food replace sitting down to a healthy, well-balanced meal.

Vegetarian Lasagna

q 4-1/2 ounces oven-ready lasagna noodles

q 1-pound firm tofu

q 5 ounces spinach (1/2 bag)

q One 26-ounce jar sun-dried tomato sauce

q 1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning

q 8 slices organic vegetarian mozzarella cheese

n Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain all moisture from the tofu. Crumble into a mixing bowl and set aside.

n Place 1/2 cup tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Add one layer of oven-ready lasagna noodles, followed by 1/2 cup tofu crumbles.

n Sprinkle the tofu with some of the Italian seasoning.

n Add one cup fresh spinach over tofu. Repeat layers (starting with the sauce then the tofu, Italian seasoning, and spinach) until the pan is full (3 or more times).

n Press the layers down tightly. The pan will appear full but the spinach will contract while cooking. Pour any remaining sauce over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.

n Uncover and place veggie cheese slices over the top; bake an additional 5 minutes.

n Serves 4.

n Source: Publix Apron Simple Recipe

Vegetarian Tortilla Pie

q 1 jar (11 to 12 ounces) medium salsa

q One 8-ounce can no-salt tomato sauce

q One 15 or 16 ounce no-salt black beans, rinsed and drained

q One 15-ounce no-salt whole kernel corn, drained

q 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves (ruff cut with kitchen shears)

q 4 low-fat 10-inch flour tortillas

q 1-1/2 cups shredded reduced fat Monterey Jack cheese

q Reduced fat sour cream – optional

n Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

n Spray a 15-1/2 by 10-1/2 jellyroll pan with nonstick cooking spray.

n In a small bowl, mix the salsa and tomato sauce together. In a medium bowl, mix the black beans, corn and cilantro together.

n Place 1 tortilla on the jelly roll pan. Spread one-third of the salsa mixture over the tortilla. Top with one-third of the bean mixture and one-third of the cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, ending with the last tortilla.

n Bake the pie 10 to 12 minutes, until the cheese and filling is hot.

n Serve with sour cream. Serve 4 (cut into 4 wedges)

n Source: Good Housekeeping

Middle Eastern Chickpea Burger

q 2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1-15 ounce can, drained and rinsed chickpeas (spritz with fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt)

q 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

q 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

q 1/2 teaspoon paprika

q 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

q 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

q 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

q 2 teaspoons minced garlic

q 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

q 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

q 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

q 2-1/2 cups cooked brown basmati rice

q 3 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper

q 1/4 cup loosely packed minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

n Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

n Combine the chickpeas, salt, turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, olive oil and lemon juice in a food processor and process until smooth and well combined, scraping the sides occasionally. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and fold in the rice, bell pepper, and parsley.

n Moisten your hands to keep the mixture from sticking, then shape the mixture into 1/4-inch thick patties about 2-1/2 inches in diameter. Place them on the prepared pan and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until the patties start to get dry and crisp on the outside. They will firm up as they cool.

n Makes 17 patties.

n Variations: For a crispy burger, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the patties for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

n The chickpeas and spice puree from the food processor makes hummus.

n Source: The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz

Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be e-mailed at