Forget PSLs. Nothing screams fall like warm comfort food, as far as we’re concerned. Usually they involve a decent amount of meat—but they don’t have to.
There is a growing movement to adopt a plant-forward style of eating: Whether it’s for health or environmental concerns, ethics, or cost, one thing is for sure: “Everyone can benefit from eating more plants without having to become a full-fledged vegetarian or vegan,” says Emily Navarro, RDN.
Meat is after all, a great source of protein and other important nutrients that can be hard to get enough of from plants alone: zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron for example. But as with almost any food, you don’t want to overdo it.
Try these easy, veggie-forward spins that transform some of our favorite fall recipes into healthy comfort food. It’s an easy way to add more plant-forward meals to your weekly menu:
The Classic Dish: Meatloaf
The Veggie Spin: Replace up to half of the ground meat in recipes with mushrooms. Mushrooms enhance, and can even improve the flavor of meat-based dishes thanks to their umami (aka savory) flavor and ability to retain moisture in place of meat, according to a study from the Culinary Institute of America.
Plus, using mushrooms helps reduce calories, fat, and sodium while adding nutrients like vitamin D—the only natural, non-animal source of the “sunshine” vitamin. The body needs vitamin D to maintain overall health and notably, to build strong bones. It does so by helping the body absorb calcium (one of the bone’s main building blogs) from food and supplements. People who get too little vitamin D may develop soft, thin, and brittle bones, a condition known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
Vitamin D is important to the body in many other ways as well. Muscles need it to move, for example, nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Vitamin D is found in cells throughout the body.
Freshly Chef Tip: For this healthy meatloaf recipe, sauté or roast finely chopped mushrooms to intensify their flavors before adding to your regular meatloaf recipe. Crimini and white button mushrooms are widely available and typically more affordable, though any fresh mushroom variety will do.
The Classic Dish: Shepherd’s Pie
The Veggie Spin: Use eggplant in place of some or all of the meat in this traditionally lamb-filled dish. Eggplant has a meaty texture and also tends to take on the flavors of other seasonings in the dish. It’s an easy way to make sure your healthy shepherd’s pie tastes like the real thing and not a less-flavorful substitute.
Anthocyanins, antioxidants that support heart health, give eggplants their purple color – but you need to leave the skin on to reap the benefits. Sauté chopped eggplant in a Dutch oven with other ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and herbs, before topping with potatoes.
Freshly Chef Tip: To make the transformation from heavy meal to healthy comfort food complete, replace the mashed white potatoes with sweet potatoes to add color, more vitamin A, and extra fiber.
The Classic Dish: Sloppy Joe’s
The Veggie Spin: Swap out the majority of meat in a classic recipe for lentils, or use a 50/50 blend. Ounce for ounce, lentils are cheaper than beef and available both raw and canned – which can save time cooking! They’re also high in protein, (9g per ½ cup cooked) and fiber—which beef lacks—making your healthy Sloppy Joe’s even more filling than the original.
Freshly Chef Tip: Serve sloppy Joe’s open-face to cut carbs from the bun, or better yet – serve over a baked potato with a side of broccoli.
The Classic Dish: Spaghetti and Meatballs
The Veggie Spin: There’s nothing more comforting, right? Instead of making your meatballs with beef, lend turkey meatballs with cooked quinoa, a protein-packed seed. A cup has 8g of protein and 5g of fiber.
Plus, quinoa is a good source of iron and zinc—minerals that non-meat eaters might not get enough of. White quinoa blends well with turkey and chicken, while red quinoa is a perfect match for beef.
Freshly Chef Tip: The classic comfort food made healthy version of this dish is quite simple. Serve meatballs over a bed of veggie noodles, like zucchini or butternut squash, instead of regular pasta to save on calories and carbs.
Try our new Turkey and Mushroom Meatloaf, which is made with a mix of meat and veggies and a side of Cauliflower Mash.