Meatless Mondays catching on with Chicago families

We all want to do our part to improve the environment. We recycle, switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, maybe even drive a hybrid car. But did you know that what we eat may have an even bigger impact on the planet than any of these decisions?

The biggest environment culprit: meat. The United Nations estimates that nearly one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions are generated by raising animals-far greater than the amount generated by cars. Equally alarming, it takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef. By contrast, it only takes 220 gallons of water to produce a pound of soy tofu.

While many of us understand that eating lower on the food chain is more environmentally friendly, we may be loath to give up our steaks, pork chops and chicken wings forever. This is Chicago, after all! Many of us simply love the way meat tastes. Plus, lean cuts of beef and chicken are an important source of protein and key minerals like iron.

But you don’t have to stop eating meat to have an impact on the environment. Simply reducing consumption of meat can make a big difference.

That is the thinking behind Meatless Monday, a growing movement embraced by famous chefs, celebrities, universities, hospitals and city councils across America. Started by marketing executive Sid Lerner in 2003 and endorsed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Meatless Monday asks Americans to pledge to eat vegetarian one day per week for both health and environmental reasons.

Monday was chosen as the meat-free day as a nod to the rationing system in place during both world wars. During World War I, the federal government launched a campaign to encourage Americans to embrace “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” to save resources as part of the war effort. President Roosevelt reinstated the program during World War II.

Plus, Monday obviously is the start of the work and school week. Research shows that people are more likely to maintain habits that they began on Monday throughout the rest of the week.

For families

Interested in trying Meatless Monday at your house?

Luckily, many kid favorites, such as pizza, pasta and macaroni and cheese already are meatless. But the options don’t end there. Another great Meatless Monday idea is breakfast-for-dinner. Make scrambled eggs, whole grain pancakes or waffles and fruit salad for a healthy, meatless meal with a sense of fun. Or try a lunchtime classic for dinner instead: grilled cheese and tomato soup makes a hearty, satisfying Meatless Monday dinner.

But Meatless Monday also is a great time to expose your kids to different cuisines. Try stir-fried vegetables and tofu for a vegetarian dinner with an Asian flair. Or serve cheese enchiladas with rice and beans.

One of my favorite Meatless Monday dinners is shakshuka, a North African dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce. Introduced to Israel by Sephardic Jews, shakshuka has become a favorite homey breakfast or lunch in that country. Shakshuka usually is quite spicy, but because I make mine for kid palates, I tone down the heat. This Meatless Monday dinner has the added benefit of being quick to prepare-perfect for a busy weeknight!

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