Facts for Families

Facts for Families

Meatless Meals: A Low Cost Solution

Photo of Jenna Smith

Jenna Smith
Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness
jesmith6@illinois.edu

I grew up on a cattle farm and consequently, we always had meat in the freezer. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for my family to have steak for dinner at least two or three times a week. But as my family got out of the cattle business and I moved out of the house and into town, I finally had to start purchasing my own meat. And, that's when I found out just how costly meat can be!

With this year's drought, economists are predicting a rise in next year's meat prices. This has me and many families thinking about more meatless meal options. It may be difficult to get the mind off of "meat and potatoes" but there are countless meatless dishes that the whole family will enjoy. Where to begin?

Nutritionists and dietitians used to say "start with meat and build around it," but we've shifted now to "build your plate with vegetables at the center and meat or protein on the side." Look to see what type of produce is on sale this week, what's in season at the local farmer's market, or what is in the back yard garden at home. Then, browse through recipes at your favorite recipe website or app, such as American Heart Association, Delicious Decisions, or USDA's Recipe Finder. Often, you can browse by meal, ingredient, cooking method, or special diet. You'll likely find a meatless recipe that can serve as the main entrée.

Protein needn't be forgotten when fixing a meatless dish. There is such a large a variety of beans and lentils that you may enjoy a different dish each night without growing tired of the tiny legume. Try beans and rice, vegetarian chili, bean burritos, chickpeas on top of salad, black bean burgers or lentil soup. Beans are also a good way to stretch ground beef by using half ground beef and half beans. Eggs are another protein option and can be fixed into a veggie quiche or omelet. Greek yogurt, although pricey, is still a more affordable option than meat and can used to make creamy sauces to go into rice or pasta.

If you've never had a black bean burger you're in for a treat. This recipe is so flavorful you'll won't even need the ketchup!

Black Bean and Rice Burgers

1 cup cooked brown rice

2 cans (16 oz.) black beans, rinsed, drained, patted dry

1 green pepper, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ cup corn

2 eggs

1 Tablespoon chili powder

1 Tablespoon cumin

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ cup dried bread crumbs, or as needed

Preheat oven to 375°F and lightly spray baking sheet with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork until pasty. Add chopped bell pepper, onion and garlic. Stir in corn. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, chili powder, cumin and red pepper flakes. Stir egg mixture into the mashed beans. Mix all of the rice. Mix in enough bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide into 6 patties. Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Turn patties over and continue baking for another 10 minutes until lightly browned. Yield: 6 patties Nutritional analysis per serving: 250 Calories, 3.5 grams fat, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 610 milligrams sodium, 42 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams dietary fiber, 12 grams protein

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