Cooking School

Flexitarian lifestyle: How to eat less meat

By: Alexandra Ward

Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

Flexitarian lifestyle: How to eat less meat

By: Alexandra Ward
When I was four years old I bit into a burger and got a piece of tendon. I spit the burger out and refused to eat meat until I was 11 years old, when I gradually began to re-introduce small amounts of lean meat back into my diet. As a result, I've always been willing to explore meat-free alternatives.

I never knew there was a term for how I ate until I picked up a cookbook called Everyday Flexitarian (Whitecap, 2011), by Nettie Cronish and Pat Crocker.

Below, Nettie and Pat share what it means to be a flexitarian. Plus, learn how they feed fussy kids and stay on budget without compromising on quality ingredients.

Q: Where did the term flexitarian come from?
Pat: Well, we're actually not sure who coined the term, but it's been in use for almost ten years now.

Nettie: It's someone who eats many different foods. Someone who is flexitarian is very comfortable being vegetarian one day and eating meat the next.

It's very, very important to eat well consistently – it's a lifestyle that you choose and it involves planning. [It's good to] be very open-minded, especially about ingredients that they aren't familiar with, or may not have liked from their youth.

Q: What can we do to reduce our meat intake?
Pat: As a meat eater myself, one of the easiest ways to look at your total meat consumption is by adopting either Meatless Mondays or Tofu Tuesdays. These are banner ways that people can become mindful of the fact that moving to a plant based diet is extremely healthful.

As Nettie says, keep an open mind. In the book, we looked at meat as an embellishment, or a finish to a dish rather than the central part of the dish.

Nettie: We were very conscious of that in the book. Meat is a condiment.

Q: What are your favourite fast and easy weeknight recipes?
Pat: We have a lot of noodle recipes… Those we always find are quick and easy.

Nettie: (Noodles) don't take a lot of time to prepare. While the grains or noodles are cooking, that's when you prepare the rest of the recipe. You have to be organized with your cooking time. With quinoa, put your stock on to come to a boil while you're rinsing it.

I also love curry pastes and nut butters. You can sauté anything in them, whether you want to do tempeh, tofu, or even ground turkey.

Our pita pizzas are a wonderful recipe for the fussiest eater; you've got all these bowls of different ingredients. Whether it's sun dried tomatoes, olives, different kinds of grated cheese, onions and lettuce -- just smear tomato sauce on your pita and add whatever you want, [place it] under the broiler and then it's done!

Q: How do you feed picky kids?
Pat: Offer healthy choices, so whatever they choose is healthy. We do that with pizza and we also do it with our rice wraps. With my daughter, I'd offer two things that were both healthy. It wouldn't matter to me which one she picked, but she'd feel she was in control, that she wasn't being led to the table and told to eat.

I think that's a very difficult concept. You want your kids to eat healthy ingredients, but at the same time if food becomes an issue, then they're not going to listen to anything you say. My other two kids were such great eaters! My 12 year old could exist on pepperoni pizza and burgers.

(The solution is to) keep that nice balance between letting them have some choice and making sure those choices are within a tightly drawn parameter.

Q: How do you stay on budget and maintain quality in your ingredients?
Nettie: When my kids were younger I was a member of a food-buying club (the Ontario Natural Food Co-op) with three other families. We would get a catalogue and we'd buy in bulk and split it. That really helped save quite a bit of money.

For people who aren't part of a food-buying club and are on their own, you need to plan your meals and know what you need to buy.

Pat: It takes planning to be on budget, but that's what a flexitarian is. Plus, as you reduce your meat intake, your grocery bill also shrinks.

Tuscan Fusilli with Lentils and Kale
The sweet, slow-cooked, and caramelized onions in the sauce help to round out the earthy and dense lentils, giving them a nutty-sweet flavour. I use fusilli here because its spiral pockets trap the sauce. Fusilli is an ancient Italian word, meaning "rifle," referring to the screw-shaped grooves inside the barrel. You can use any of the short dried pasta shapes in its place. - Nettie

Tuscan Fusilli with Ground Turkey, Lentils, and Kale
Ground turkey or chicken is great for this dish as it's light and lean, although using veal might be more in keeping with a dish from Tuscany. I usually season the meat with only ground nutmeg, but you could add ground coriander or cumin, or both. Be sure to drain the meat before adding it to the pasta and greens. -Pat

1/2 cup (125 mL) red or green lentils, rinsed
2 cups (500 mL) water
1 tsp (5 mL) salt, divided
2 Tbsp (30 mL) + 1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh rosemary
4 cups (1 L) chopped kale
3 cups (750 mL) dried fusilli pasta
6 oz (175 g) ground turkey or ground chicken
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground nutmeg

Combine lentils and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Remove from heat, season with 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil in a large heavy skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes or until onions are soft and moist. Uncover and increase heat to medium. Stir in remaining salt, garlic, and rosemary. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add kale and bring back to a boil. Boil gently for 5 minutes or until tender but not soft or mushy. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove kale to a colander. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and drain well. Cover the pot of water to keep it boiling.

Add pasta to the boiling water and boil, stirring once, for about 7 minutes or until al dente. Reserve 1 cup (250 mL) pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta. Rinse pasta with cool water and drain well.

While pasta is cooking, heat 1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground turkey and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring constantly, and breaking up any clumps, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until meat is browned with no pink inside. Stir in nutmeg and set aside.

Add lentils and their cooking liquid to the onions in the skillet. Using kitchen scissors, cut boiled kale into smaller pieces as you add it to the skillet. Add cooked pasta and enough reserved cooking water to keep pasta and vegetables moist. Increase heat to high. Cook, stirring constantly, until pasta is mixed in and heated through. Remove vegetarian servings and divide among 4 plates.

Using a slotted spoon to allow the meat to drain, transfer the meat to the fusilli and vegetables remaining in the skillet, divide among 2 plates and serve.

Note: This recipe has not been checked or tested by The Canadian Living Test Kitchen.

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Cooking School

Flexitarian lifestyle: How to eat less meat