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Meatless Makeovers: 5 Plant-Based Versions of Your Favorite Dishes

Credited with helping to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and weight, plants are powerful medicine. But sometimes finding creative ways to eat enough of them can be a challenge—especially if you’ve been a life-long carnivore or you cook for one.

Not sure where to begin? “You don’t have to eat piles of steamed broccoli or cauliflower to get the veggies you need,” says New York City-based nutritionist Amy Gorin MS, RDN. “Instead, start small by substituting plants into your favorite meat-based dishes. Done right, you won’t even miss the meat.”

Here are some meat to plant substitutes to get you started:

Craving tacos? Try walnuts or pecans. “Finely chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans, provide a crumbly texture and richness akin to ground meat,” says Jackie Newgent, R.D.N., author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook. Another plus? “Recent research suggests nuts’ triple whammy of healthful fats, plant protein, and fiber may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”

How to make it: Finely grind walnuts or pecans in a food processor. Mix with sautéed chopped onions and garlic. Season to taste with soy sauce, oregano, cumin, chili powder, and fresh cilantro. Serve in warm tortillas with shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes, and avocado.

Craving sloppy joes? Try mushrooms. Meat’s complex, savory flavor—known as umami—is only found in a small handful of foods. Turns out, mushrooms are one of them. While all mushrooms are big on meaty umami taste, darker varieties like shiitakes, creminis, and portabellas pack the most punch.

How to make it: Swap in one pound of finely chopped mushrooms (Newgent is a big fan of creminis) per pound of ground meat in your favorite sloppy joe recipe. Sauté mushrooms in olive oil until browned and the mushrooms have released all of their liquid. For an extra kick add minced jalapeno. Serve on toasted whole-wheat burger buns.

Craving Bolognese sauce? Try lentils. “The first time I had lentils in pasta was in Italy and I’ve been obsessed with the combination ever since,” says Gorin. Like ground beef, earthy lentils are an excellent source of filling protein (16 grams per cooked cup!). Plus, their 14 grams of fiber per cup makes them even more satisfying.

How to make it: If you have a favorite Bolognese recipe, simply substitute 1 cup cooked brown or green lentils per cup of cooked ground beef. If not, try this recipe instead. Not quite ready to take the plunge entirely? Try a 50/50 combo of ground beef and cooked lentils. 

Craving hot dogs? Try roasted carrots. Whether they’re beef, turkey, chicken, or veggie, processed franks are crammed with sodium and preservatives. Why not whip up your own dog instead? “Carrots can be easily formed into the shape of a hot dog using a vegetable peeler,” says Newgent. “And when roasted with the right mix of seasonings they provide the perfect bite, taste, and color.”

How to make it:  Brush carrots with a mixture of ketchup, olive oil, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Roast in a 350°F oven until tender, for about an hour. Serve on toasted hot dog buns with caramelized onions.

Craving chicken parm? Try cauliflower. Truly delicious chicken parm requires a frying pan full of oil. Not so much for cauliflower. “Cauliflower is extremely versatile,” says Gorin. “When baked, it becomes crispy on the outside yet tender and meaty on the inside.” The result? Way less oil, fat, and calories than your typical parm.

How to make it: Slice a head of cauliflower lengthwise through the center. Cut each half into 1-inch thick cutlets. Spray each cutlet with cooking spray. Season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Roast in a 425°F (220°C) oven for 40 minutes, flipping halfway. Top with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

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