The case for going without meat one day a week.
Is there anything more American than the chicken nugget? Quick, cheap, portable and deep fried, these golden morsels have become as synonymous with our culture as apple pie. More than a telling indication of our nation’s priorities, processed meats have become a way of life: On average, Americans consume over 200 pounds of meat each year—45 percent more than the USDA recommends.
Eating a lot of meat has been linked to a daunting list of health concerns. Aside from the connection between overeating and obesity, studies have tied excessive meat consumption to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and various forms of cancer. One recent study even linked the amount of meat consumed to age of death, extrapolating that “over the course of a decade, the deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women could be prevented just by eating less red and processed meats.”
Given the clear connection between meat consumption and health, it would make sense to cut back. But our society of supersizers shows no sign of switching to a plant-based diet. So how might we eat our meat and have our health, too? The answer is simple: Meatless Mondays.
The idea behind Meatless Mondays is as simple as the moniker—skip meat one day a week to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of chronic, preventable disease. Meat contains high levels of saturated fat, one of the reasons why too much meat can lead to poor health. By making Mondays meatless, you can cut your saturated fat intake by up to 15 percent—a big difference for such a small change.
The campaign’s philosophy of better health through moderation has sparked a worldwide movement: Already, Meatless Mondays have spread to eight countries—as far away as Brazil and Taiwan. Even celebrities like Simon Cowell, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Paul McCartney have pledged to make their Mondays meatless.
With all the buzz surrounding Meatless Mondays, you may be wondering how you can start your own. Thankfully, going meatless has never been simpler. Ease into plant-based options by selecting a healthful version of your favorite meatless comfort food—perhaps some eggplant parmesan with whole grain pasta or a colorful veggie stir-fry.
After that, expand your horizons by scanning your favorite cookbook or recipe site. You can make Monday the day to try something new by experimenting with an unknown spice, grain or plant-based protein. To ensure that your meal is an event to remember, plan out your menu over the weekend. You’ll save yourself the hassle of missing ingredients come Monday.
Even little ones with picky palates can get involved. The key to success is letting them lend a hand: Studies have shown that kids of all ages are much more likely to eat a new dish if they helped prepare it. Have fun with your family by using a quirky, kid-friendly recipe or by allowing your child to choose the meal’s main ingredient.
Meatless Mondays are also the perfect opportunity to educate your kids about nutrition and healthy habits. In fact, schools across the nation are bringing the program to their cafeterias and classrooms. And best of all, getting your child’s school to observe Meatless Mondays is as simple as saying please.
Elizabeth Pucchini, along with other parents at the Children’s Workshop school in New York City, formed a nutrition committee to ask that its cafeteria go meatless one day a week. To their great surprise, the school agreed. Pucchini encourages parents across the country to bring Meatless Mondays to their schools. “I would advise parents to get involved and know they have the power to demand change. They should arrange a meeting with their school foods manager and speak with them about the changes they want to see on their menu.”
Given our current fast-food culture and desire to return to more wholesome fare, there’s never been a better time to make Mondays meatless. You’ll be surprised by how fun and easy it can be. And once you’ve cooked up your own Meatless Monday, tell your friends, family, and neighbors about the growing movement to make healthier choices, one week at a time.
Tami O’Neill is the assistant editor for The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit public health initiative. She currently lives, works, and blogs in New York City.
Poster of a 1943 war poster published by the U.S. Printing Office via Flickr user Boston Public Library.