My neighbors love it that I share our driveway conversations on a blog. They really do. So here’s another good one:

I mentioned recently that our neighbors across the street are vegetarian / vegan; one for health reasons and one for ethical reasons. These two are no slouches in the kitchen, so when neighbor #3, Mike, decided to give up meat for Lent, they were the go-to survival coaches. After 40 days off meat, Mike has lost some weight, looks great and actually has a little glow that really annoys those of us who like a good cheeseburger. He’s looking forward to a cheeseburger, actually, but he also says he’s never going back to eating meat the way he use to. He is now Mostly Meatless Mike. We all wanted to know what he was eating instead of meat, and if it was any good. And I wanted to know what he was eating that was good that I could try in the freeze dryer. Here’s what he had to say about his experience:

First, he used an internet calculator to figure out how many grams of protein per day he should be eating. The calculator came up with 55 grams, and he thought the figure seemed kind of random so he emailed his doctor. The response was USDA recommendations are at least 0.37 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so for Mike the 55 grams was a little low. Then he got together with our vegetarian neighbors to vegetarianize his favorite foods.

For breakfast, Mike’s favorite was quiche muffins with added spinach, mushroom and lowfat shredded cheddar. For lunch he had a big spinach salad with lots of chickpeas and red beans added, and once a week allowed himself a pre-packed faux meat substitute like black bean burger patty. (Mike’s wife uses a juicer, so he actually quit buying packaged black bean patties and started making his own with his wife’s vegetable pulp leftovers.) He also admits to looking forward to peanut butter and jelly days with more enthusiasm than is normal for a 40 year old. For snacks, he went with hummus, cheese and crackers or yogurt and granola. He and his wife are busy and have two young kids, and he was most worried about disrupting dinner prep – especially when someone else was doing the cooking. The family typically rotates through tacos, pizza, spaghetti and burgers for weeknight staples. For taco night, he substituted vegetarian refried beans for meat, they made pizzas with fresh mozzarella, basil, Parmesan and tomatoes, on burger night he either had a grilled cheese or made a chickpea burger, and he replaced the meatballs on spaghetti night with pre-packaged vegetarian meatballs. The dinner changes were so easy to make that everyone adopted them without complaint.

Mike also admits to relying on high protein bars and pre-packaged meat substitutes every once in awhile, but going meatless is a big change and it seemed like being able to eat familiar food or find something fast was a big help. However, now that he’s committed, he’s making his own vegetarian meatballs and his own black bean or chickpea burgers – and he’s branching out to other recipes.

Here are a recipes similar to Mike’s vegetarian quiche cups, meatballs, chickpea and black bean burgers – great freeze drying experiments await!

Vegan meatballs

Black bean burgers

Quiche muffins

Chickpea patties