Considering Meatless Monday (with Gluten-Free Options)

Gluten-free dinners made with spaghetti squash.

I’ve attempted to go vegetarian twice in my life. Both times were, to put it mildly, abject failures. Mostly because I had no idea what it meant to be a vegetarian. “Just cut out meat!” I thought.

This is reminiscent of the first time I decided gluten was my digestive problem. I simply cut out bread and some pasta — but the truth is, I mostly ate whatever I wanted, with a nod toward being gluten free. Since I didn’t feel better, I decided gluten wasn’t my problem.

Yeah, how many years of my health could I get back if I’d taken my diet seriously back then?

Vegetarianism is different, of course. I’m an omnivore, no doubt about it. I eat a lot of veggies, but I like my meat. Lately, though, I have been looking more at vegetarian main dishes, and realizing where I went wrong both times I considered vegetarianism: it’s not the elimination of meat that’s key, it’s making meals that satisfy on all levels that are key.

And why is this post about Meatless Monday? A couple of reasons. First, of course, is that eliminating meat once a week has various benefits (some squishy, some important). Second, and think this really matters for those of us who are gluten free, is that trying a new way of looking at meal makes us more creative cooks. Rather than thinking of vegetables as something we toss on the side, thinking about them as the centerpiece of a meal forces us to rethink how we prepare and serve food.

And, of course, being gluten-free doesn’t make it harder to eliminate meat. There are many amazing dishes that can be made quickly and easily (see this week’s gluten-free meal at the end of this post for a family favorite).  I love it when I stretch my cooking muscles! To that end, here are a few ideas for meatless main dishes to get you started:

  • For example, the tomatillo-greens-egg dish I recently mentioned. I usually serve it as a side, but made it a main dish for my bookclub. It was a perfect, complete meal. While perfect as it is, adding some beans to the greens will make it even more hearty.
  • Or this chickpea stew. This is a full meal, though I’d add a bit of rice instead of the baguette, and maybe a carrot or cabbage salad. Mostly because I adore carrot and cabbage salads.
  • Frittatas also make a great vegetarian meal. Hearty, flavorful, infinitely customizable. You can’t go wrong with a dish that readily takes on all the ingredients you have on hand, plus cheese. Frittatas are also perfect for leftovers!
  • For those who love spicy Chinese, how about a take on General Tso’s Chicken featuring cauliflower? Substitute rice flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour for the regular flour in this recipe (I’ve had good results with cornstarch plus garbanzo bean flour). I love new ways to cook veggies that seem boring.
  • For people who love meatballs, simple broccoli meatballs will leave you satisfied and not missing the lack of meat at all. Serve with pasta or as an appetizer.
  • I’ve been dreaming about posole since I had a great dinner at a local restaurant. This beautiful breakfast (or any time) soup closely replicates the experience. It’s also perfect for lunch.
  • If you’re looking for pure comfort food, how about grits and greens? I’ll admit these are a go-to dish on Friday nights when I’m too tired to come up with a clever meal.

What are your favorite vegetarian main dishes? And yes, nachos count.

Tip of the Week

Sometimes it’s easy to forget the distinction between vegetarian and vegan. While vegetarian meals do not contain any meat products, vegan dishes contain absolutely no animal products at all. This includes cheese and eggs.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

Pasta, pasta, pasta. Tonight, we’re having spaghetti squash with capers, garlic, red peppers, and feta cheese. On the side will be a beet salad. This low carb version of a pasta dinner is filling and delicious — all I need to keep eating more!

Preparing spaghetti squash is as simple as cutting it in half, removing the seeds, roasting it cut-side down in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, and scraping out the spaghetti-like flesh. Toss the strands with a bit of olive oil or other sauce and eat it all up!

  • Spaghetti Squash with Capers, Garlic, Red Peppers, and a Dash of Feta Cheese
  • Beet Salad
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