Dinners have typically included meat as the central item, with side dishes completing the meal. Meatless dinners can be healthy, tasty and filling while also being nutritious. Getting the required amount of protein might be a concern, but other sources can provide good protein and a base to plan your dinner around.
Beans and Legumes
Using black, pinto or red beans as a central theme for your dinner provides several options. These foods are excellent sources of protein and dietary fiber. Beans are excellent for stews, soups and can be included into casseroles. Beans also can be used as the foundation for burritos or tacos for a Mexican-themed dinner.
Lentils are easy to make and versatile. Aside from a hearty soup or cold salad, lentils can be blended with bread crumbs, grated zucchini and carrots to make a vegetarian meat loaf. They are also tasty when formed into cakes, lightly fried and topped with grated cheese or a tomato sauce.
The vegetable side dish does not have to be limited to peas or corn. A dish of roasted peppers, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots will go nicely with most meals or can be used over a bed of rice or pasta instead of a meat sauce. Adding grated cheese, fresh herbs, olive oil and balsamic vinegar will enhance the flavor. Sauteing kale, mustard, chard or spinach greens is another option. And although vegetables contain some proteins, by adding almond or pecan slivers you will increase your proteins as well as necessary unsaturated fats.
Pasta, Rice and Grain
Whole-grain pastas, brown rice and grains such as millet, quinoa, polenta and barley can make a filling component to your meal while also being nutritionally beneficial. Noodles and pastas can be used as a focus with a cream or vegetable sauce for a topping. Polenta, when cooked and cooled, can be formed into patties or squares and baked for a foundation that can be spread with cheese, pesto or tomato sauce for a pizza alternative. The millet and quinoa grains are complete proteins and can be used as a cold salad, folded into eggs or baked into casseroles.
Many products are available that mimic the texture of meat without using any animal products. Many of these products are soy-based, such as tofu, but some use vegetables or textured vegetable proteins (TVP). These foods used to be found primarily in health-food stores, but as many people move away from a meat-based diet, popular brands such as Morningstar and Quorn can be found in mainstream supermarkets. Popular items include meatless burgers, hot dogs and even meatless cold cuts, all of which make good dinner menu items.
Sample Dinner Ideas
For a complete meal, try making black bean burritos or tacos with shredded cheese, lettuce, salsa and avocado. Sauteed greens, roasted sweet potatoes and lentil cakes with tomato sauce also make a nutritious meal. A three-bean stew served with salad and a whole-wheat crusty bread will be good and filling on cool evenings. You can also go the more traditional route and serve spaghetti with a meatless tomato sauce, meatless burgers and fries or hot sandwiches using meatless cold cuts. Stir-frys are also popular and can be filling when you add brown rice and stir in eggs, which will also add protein.