As a private practice dietitian, one goal many of my clients have is eating less meat. Whether it’s for ethical or health reasons, they are looking for ideas to include more plant-based meals in their diet.

I encourage people to remember that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing – vegan or carnivore. If you’re ethically called to go vegetarian or vegan, go for it! But you can also get huge health benefits simply from eating more meatless meals, even just a few times a week. Studies have linked higher fruit, vegetable, and whole grain consumption to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and better longevity. It can also save money, both in health care and at the grocery store. And eating more meatless meals requires less natural resources – consider that 25 kcal of energy is used to produce 1 kcal of meat-based protein, compared to 2 kcal to produce 1 kcal of plant based protein.

Canned beans are the easiest, and most family friendly way to eat more meatless meals. Stock up on a variety of canned beans at Earth Fare and keep them stored in the pantry for whenever you need a quick, weeknight meal. Buying canned saves a ton of time compared to dry beans. Just give them a good rinse to get rid of any extra sodium.

Canned beans are also packed with nutrition. Beans are high in filling, gut-friendly fiber, B-vitamins, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Regular consumption of beans has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease, and because beans are rich in complex carbohydrate, they’re super filling and energizing – perfect for keeping you satisfied and energized.

Beans are also a great choice for plant based meals if you, or someone in your family, is less accepting of vegan proteins like tofu or tempeh. Most people enjoy beans, and don’t necessarily think of them as a “health food.”

Here’s some ideas for protein-packed, meatless meals using canned beans:

• This sheet pan Mexican veggie dinner is packed with flavor and spice, plus protein from Earth Fare canned black beans.
• These stuffed sweet potatoes are perfect for lunch!
• Canned lentils make a surprisingly delicious taco filling.
• Swap any of your favorite canned beans in this spicy lentil veggie burger.

Quinoa and Pinto Bean Chipotle Chili
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 onion, peeled and chopped
• 1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 3 tablespoons tomato paste
• 2-3 canned chipotle chilies, chopped
• 1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
• 1 lb zucchini, shredded on the large grates of a cheese grater
• 2 14-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
• 4-6 cups vegetable stock
• ¾ cup quinoa, rinsed
• 2 14-ounce cans kidney or pinto beans, drained
• Optional for serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, cilantro, scallions, chopped red onion, crumbled feta or cotija cheese or shredded cheddar

Instructions:
1. Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. Add onion, peppers and garlic with a pinch of salt and sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes.
2. Add tomato paste, chipotle chilies, and chili powder and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
3. Stir in zucchini, tomatoes and 4 cups of broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes until vegetables are cooked through. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
4. Stir in quinoa, cover and cook 15 minutes until quinoa is tender. Stir in beans and cook an additional 2-3 minutes until warmed through. Let sit for 5 minutes, season with salt and black pepper to taste, then serve chili garnished as desired.

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About the Author

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE, CLT

Rachael Hartley is a private practice dietitian and food and wellness blogger at The Joy of Eating. She believes loving every bite of food is central to living a happy and healthy life. Through her practice and blog, Rachael inspires clients and readers to rediscover the joy of eating with nourishment, not deprivation, and to nurture a healthy relationship with food. Follow along on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.