August 22, 2016

Meat substitutes for Meatless Monday — or any other day


Meat substitutes aren’t just for vegans or vegetarians. These delicious meat alternatives will have everyone coming back for seconds. 

If Boca Burgers, tofu-based chicken breasts and other processed products are the only ideas that come to mind when you hear the term “meat substitutes,” it’s time to expand your knowledge of vegetarian-friendly barbecue alternatives that can be made fresh at home. Whether you are a vegetarian, vegan or meat lover, meat substitutes are a nutritious, enticing option for everyone and can be included in a healthy eating plan.

With outdoor grilling season still in swing, these main dish meat-free ideas may just become your new favorite for Meatless Monday or your next backyard barbecue:

  • Grilled eggplant: Eggplant is an ideal vegetable for grilling. Simply brush eggplant slices (each 1/2-inch thick) with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and grill over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side or until eggplant is tender and grill marks are visible. Place on a whole-grain bun or panini sandwich bread and add your favorite toppings. For additional ways to use grilled eggplant, check out balsamic grilled eggplant and grilled eggplant and tomato stacks.
  • Grilled portabella mushrooms: Juicy portabella mushroom caps can serve as a faux hamburger or can be filled with tomato sauce, part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced veggies and Italian seasoning to create mini mushroom pizzas. To grill, toss de-stemmed mushroom caps with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper (optional). Grill over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes on each side.
  • Vegetable/tofu kabobs: Mix-and-match vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, sweet corn, sliced onion, bell pepper, green/yellow sliced zucchini and baby potatoes. Toss with light Italian dressing or extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with desired seasoning and a dash of salt and pepper. Add cubed tofu for additional protein. Looking for a flavorful marinade? Try one of these flavor combinations or experiment with your own.
  • Veggie flatbread: Grilled flatbreads are simple and fun to create. Go ahead and get creative – add any combination of vegetables, low-fat cheese, spices, fresh herbs and sauces like pesto or sun-dried tomato basil. For a healthier appetizer or dessert, swap savory for sweet ingredients. Consider these combinations:


  • Pesto + spinach + artichoke + cherry tomato + shredded parmesan cheese (sprinkle)
  • Hummus + kalamata olive + red onion + crumbled feta cheese (sprinkle) + red bell pepper + artichoke + parsley
  • Shredded fontina cheese (sprinkle) + spinach + mushroom + red onion + garlic + extra virgin olive oil (drizzle)


  • Part-skim ricotta cheese (light spread) + fresh peaches + honey (drizzle) + balsamic vinegar/reduction (drizzle)
  • Goat cheese + fresh pear + arugula + honey (drizzle)
  • Part-skim ricotta cheese (light spread) + apple slices + walnuts + cinnamon + honey (drizzle)

Try these sides

Enjoy these mouth-watering sides to complement your grilled main dish:

  • Grilled watermelon salad: This refreshing salad combines watermelon, feta cheese and cucumber topped with a light dressing. Switch it up by topping with fresh, thinly-sliced basil leaves and drizzle with balsamic reduction.
  • Mexican street corn salad with avocado: Turn classic vendor-style Mexican street corn into a bold-flavored salad mixed with irresistibly creamy avocados. Swap the vegetable oil for one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and cut back on both calories and fat by using reduced fat/light mayonnaise or Miracle Whip.

Lindsay MacNab, MS, is a registered dietitian, health nut and deep dish pizza addict from the wonderful windy city of Chicago. She was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Diet & Exercise from Iowa State University. She was a 2015-2016 dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Following her internship, Lindsay aspires to combine her passion for nutrition, writing and health and wellness into a nutrition communications career that she will love for a lifetime.