Looking for meat-free alternatives?

Whether it’s the rising cost of food squeezing your budget or a personal journey that led you to join the Meatless Monday bandwagon, eating more plant-based protein is good for your body and easy on the wallet. A recent article in the Globe and Mail (http://tinyurl.com/hxh872q) got me thinking about how people can give up meat and embrace a more plant-based diet. The article described the enormous growth of the market for meat alternatives – faux meats like veggie dogs, ground soy and textured vegetable protein – that have been found wanting where taste is concerned. Food companies, however, have been finding ways to make these products downright appetizing, gaining acceptance from meat eaters and fueling the growth of the global market to a projected US$5 billion by 2020 from US$3.9 billion US$3.9 billion in 2014.

Less meat means a reduced risk for heart disease, lower cholesterol and higher fibre intake, to name a few of the benefits. The options for cooking with plant-based alternatives are endless. By “plant-based,” I don’t mean just leafy greens but refer to beans and legumes like lentils or peas. How about curry chickpeas instead of chicken curry? Or meatballs made from brown rice and mushrooms? Faux meats are OK once in a while but they are highly processed. Vegetarian cooking does require more labour than cooking with meat, but once you get into the habit you’ll love it! A well-stocked pantry is a huge asset for the budding vegetarian chef.

For me, ditching meat and chicken more than 30 years ago had less  to do with a concern for animal welfare and more with a distaste for biting into bone or chewing on a piece of fat. It really grossed me out. I eventually gave up chicken too when the thought of stripping meat from bone began to turn my stomach. For many years, veggie dogs and veggie burgers were a regular part of my diet, but food-label inspections revealed that the ingredient lists for these products was often longer than those for junk food, inspiring me to focus on preparing and eating “real food.” Today, my mission, as a holistic nutritionist, is to encourage others to do the same.

Here are some quick and easy ways to add more plant-protein to your meals:

Curries – use chickpeas instead of chicken

Chili – use a variety of beans instead of beans and ground beef. Black, pinto or red kidney beans are all great chili options. If you are looking for a ‘meaty’ texture, add brown or green lentils or bulghur.

Soup – vegetable-based broth with any bean or lentil makes a hearty meat alternative

Burgers – mushrooms, brown rice or quinoa are great bases for vegetarian burgers


Much of the world survives on plant protein.  When you think of protein you usually think of animal foods like beef, chicken, milk and cheese but plant foods like soybeans, sunflower seeds, almonds and even rice can provide protein. You will survive very well if you eliminate animal protein a few times a week so join the Meatless Monday movement.

Pantry stock items:

Canned or dried chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, lentils

Nuts and nut butters like almond or cashew

Seeds and seed butters like pumpkin or sunflower

Grains/seeds – quinoa, chia, hemp



Black Bean Burgers

½ cup sunflower seeds

1 clove garlic

1 medium sized shallot

1 ½ cups black beans

1/3 cup spelt flour

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

Coconut oil for sauteeing


  1. Toast sunflower seeds and let cool.
  2. Process the sunflower seeds in a food processor until coarsely ground.
  3. Add the shallot, black beans,  flour, soy sauce, paprika and salt and pepper.
  4. Process until well combined but with some texture.
  5. Shape into 4 patties. Heat oil in pan. Cook until nicely browned and warmed through.