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A lot of things have changed about Christmas since I was a child of the 60’s, especially the food we celebrate with. Back then you ate what your female relatives made for you without complaint, no matter how weird it was. No special diets were recognized, in fact, if you dared ask for an accommodation,  you were labeled a picky eater.

Now we accommodate special diets and needs as a routine part of the holidays. As a vegetarian, I’m very thankful for this change! No longer do I have to make due with a green salad or side of vegetables while the others chow down on holiday favorites. Today’s hostesses prepare a vegetarian main dish alternative just as I cook meat for all you meat eaters!

But what you may not know is that eating a plant-based cuisine can be good for you! in fact, a study entitled “Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality.” by Mingyang Song, Teresa T. Fung, Frank B. Hu, Walter C. Willett, Valter D. Longo, Andrew T. Chan, Edward L. Giovannucci (published in the JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(10):1453–1463. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.4182) set out “To examine the associations of animal and plant protein intake with the risk for mortality.”

The study authors concluded that “Although higher intake of animal protein was associated with higher cardiovascular mortality and higher intake of plant protein was associated with lower mortality, these associations were confined to participants with at least 1 lifestyle risk factor. Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, may confer a substantial health benefit. Therefore, public health recommendations should focus on improvement of protein sources.” That’s some pretty convincing evidence.

It’s also better for the environment when people replace some of their animal intake with plant-based cuisine.  Recent studies have shown that even making better meat choices can help. For example, a 2014 study entitled, Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States and published via the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 found that pork, chicken, eggs or dairy are better choices than beef which was found to require 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer, and 11 times more water. Beef’s higher environmental burden adds up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions than the others.

However, the study also found that in a calorie-to-calorie comparison basis, wheat, rice, and potatoes required two to six times fewer resources to produce than pork, chicken, eggs or dairy. It’s hard to ignore the benefits of adding veggie cuisine to your diet.

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Swapping Animal Meat for Plant Proteins Is Easy!

You’d be surprised how easy it is to swap animal meat out and put plant protein in its place is! Remember, it’s the seasonings and not the animal that gives a dish its taste. The meat provides the texture and mouthfeel, and plant-based products have improved over the years to mimic their animal counterparts so well that I’m always having to remind myself that what I’m eating is made from plants! In fact, the Chipotle Black Bean Lasagna recipe below is similar to one I’ve served many times over the years that’s a nod to my mother’s 1960’s  Christmas Eve Lasagna, and no one would know it’s vegetarian!

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It’s my way of updating a tradition by keeping the great taste but making a healthier choice for my family and me. Plus the added benefit is that plant-based proteins don’t have the hazards associated with raw meat, so there’s less to worry about when preparing them!

For a quick and easy swap, I use MorningStar Farms® veggie cuisine instead of animal meat. This company produces some of my favorite vegetarian-friendly and ready-to-eat frozen veggie cuisine options. I keep them in my freezer at all times – especially their Corn Dogs – yum!

I shop for my MorningStar Farms veggie cuisine in the frozen food aisle at Walmart. Check it out on your next shopping trip; I think you’ll be surprised at all of the comfort foods available in a vegetarian-friendly and plant-based products!

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I used to make this my Mom’s Christmas Eve Lasagna with MorningStar Farms Meal Starters® Sausage-Style Recipe Crumbles® and fresh mint; it was terrific! But, the product was discontinued – bummer! Thankfully MorningStar Farms has additional options available like their Chipotle Black Bean Crumbles™ which are packed with 8g of protein per serving, and they’re flavored with a blend of bold spices that make them perfect for any Mexican-style meal, but they also can be used in unexpected ways like my lasagna. It’s an excellent alternative, and it gives me the chance to add a little brightness to the recipe by using it straight from the package or to up the spiciness by adding red pepper flakes.

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MorningStar Farms® Crumbles™ are available in several varieties so there’s one that’s perfect as a plant-based replacement in any traditional recipe you may have. Probably the most versatile is the MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Crumbles™. They can be used in nearly any conventional recipe in place of ground beef to add the same texture and flavor as the animal version but with up to 75% less fat! Because Crumbles are precooked, they can be added later in the cooking process and just need to be warmed to be ready to serve!

Chipotle Black Bean Vegetarian Lasagna
A vegetarian lasagna that anyone will love! Keep the heat low or spice it up - it's your choice!
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Type: Main Dish
Yield: 13x9 pan
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped onions (white or yellow)
  • 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 2 pkg MORNINGSTAR FARMS Chipotle Black Bean Crumbles™
  • 2 Tbs water
  • 48 oz prepared marinara sauce (6 cups)
  • 9 oz Oven-ready, no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 32 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves, finely chopped, divided (about 1 cup)
  • 5 oz grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 12 oz fresh mozzarella sliced thinly
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Prepare a 13x9" glass baking dish with non-stick spray
  4. In a large Dutch Oven (or similar pan, over medium heat, warm the oil. Once hot, add the garlic and onions and saute just until the onion turns translucent and not browned (about 3 minutes).
  5. Add the frozen MORNINGSTAR FARMS CHIPOTLE BLACK BEAN CRUMBLES and water. Stir gently until heated through (about 5 minutes).
  6. Stir in the prepared sauce and remove from heat. (Optional: add 1 tsp red pepper flakes for added heat.)
  8. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, basil (reserve 1 Tbls), parmesan (reserve 1 Tbls), egg yolks, salt, and pepper. (Optional: add 1 tsp red pepper flakes for added heat.)
  10. Spread ⅓ of the "meat" sauce in the bottom of the prepared pan.
  11. Top with 3 - 4 noodles placed side by side (don't overlap & break if necessary to fit the pan).
  12. Spread ⅓ of the ricotta cheese mixture on the noodles
  13. Top with ⅓ of the sliced mozzarella.
  14. Repeat for two more layers.
  15. Place the baking pan on a baking sheet with a rim to catch any spillover (line the pan with aluminum foil or a Silpat mat for quick cleanup).
  16. Make a cover for the lasagna by lightly spraying cooking spray on a piece of aluminum foil.
  17. Cover the lasagna and bake for 60 minutes.
  18. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 20 minutes or until it's lightly browned and bubbly and the lasagna has raised evenly out of the pan.
  19. Remove the lasagna from the oven and sprinkle with reserved basil and parmesan cheese.
  20. Allow the lasagna to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
  21. Refrigerate any leftovers

The Way It Was – It’s Not Always The Best

Things change, and there are parts of our 1960’s holiday celebration I loved, but I appreciate how we’ve grown as a society. It’s now commonplace to inquire if someone has dietary needs.  We recognize that people are individuals and it’s okay to make sure there’s something wonderful for everyone to enjoy at the table. This vegetarian is especially glad for that!

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How have your holiday traditions changed over the years? Do you provide options for vegetarians and others with special diets?

Learn More About the MorningStar Farms products and how to incorporate them into your daily meals via their website. Plus, connect with them via social media on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. 

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