You don't have to sacrifice health and flavor during this season!
As another Lenten season begins, many Filipinos will be fasting and giving up certain foods, habits, or activities in the Catholic tradition of repentance and renewal. The 40 days until Easter usually call for meat-free meals on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays, and depending on your practice, even some fasting and abstinence of your favorite indulgences.
Yes, I get that Lent is a time of reflection, preparation, and sacrifice, but please remember that Lent is not an extension of your weight loss or fad diet! Lent is not about giving up your favorite foods to be disciplined so you can lose weight, and should bring you closer to God, not to diet culture. Sacrifice, giving, prayer, and acts of charity in other ways can be just as meaningful and powerful, without damaging your relationship with food or your body.
Skipping meat calls for a little more creativity in the pork-, beef-, and chicken-heavy Filipino diet. Not to mention you do still want to meet your protein requirements to stay healthy and feel good. Here are a few meat-free meal ideas if you are observing Lent, or even just cutting back on meat in general.
Sinigang with Shrimp:
I love a bowl of sinigang with eggplant, okra, kangkong, and gabi, it takes me back to my childhood! I love how easy it is to add lots of veggies, and shrimp is a source of iron and vitamin B12 for the production of red blood cells, which keeps us energized. These are especially important nutrients if you’re skipping meat. Shrimp also has selenium, which is important for immune health and thyroid function. Don’t forget your rice to make it a balanced meal!
Tofu Chop Suey
A simple stir fry is a really quick and easy way to add a variety of veggies into your everyday diet, and goes well with a little tofu. Tofu tends to get a bad rep, maybe because it lacks a little in the flavor and texture department compared to meat. But swapping meat for a plant-based option a few times a week can have big health benefits, especially for heart health and decreasing cancer risk. As an added bonus, tofu is high in minerals like calcium and iron that many people don’t get enough of. Add in some mushrooms, pechay, bean sprouts, cabbage, snow peas, broccoli, baby corn, carrots, or bell peppers (if you’re emptying out your fridge, this is the dish for you), and season well with a little soy or oyster sauce to make it flavorful. Throw in some noodles to make it a full meal.
Sometimes I feel like the egg is the best part of the dish anyway, so why not make adobo with just eggs for Lent? Eggs are usually linked to cholesterol issues, but in the majority of people are not shown to raise the “bad” cholesterol, and can raise the “good” cholesterol. They are also high in many important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I usually use a low sodium soy sauce and water it down when I make adobo to keep it heart healthy. Serve with a side of fresh spring rolls or sautéed kangkong and a big bowl of brown garlic rice. So yummy!
Ginisang Monggo with Malunggay
Beans are often overlooked as a protein source, but are actually incredibly nutritious. They are high in fiber, with benefits for heart health, blood sugar control, and super-trendy-right-now gut health. Beans also have a lot of folate, a vitamin with many functions from DNA synthesis to red blood cell production, and even the production of neurotransmitters which is connected to good mood. Folate is often recommended for pregnant women as it is key for proper fetal development. When paired with malunggay, you get a huge range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep you feeling great.
Monggo | Instagram: @crisibanez
Plant-Based Burgers or Tacos
There are now a ton of plant-based options for patties, and even ground “meat” for foods like tacos. You can also experiment with making your own patties with foods like chickpeas, black beans, or lentils which pack protein as well. A whole wheat tortilla or burger bun will also help you get in a little extra protein, fiber, and more vitamins and minerals than a regular wheat version. Serve your burger with some air-fried potato chips and a side salad, or chop some cabbage, lettuce, cilantro, corn and diced tomatoes into your tacos.
Sisig doesn’t have to be an unhealthy dish, and I’ve had this delicious version many times! Fatty fish like bangus has omega-3 fats which can help to lower your “bad” cholesterol, triglyceride levels, reduce inflammation and so is great for heart health, and it is still heart month! Omega-3’s also have a role in brain health and good mood, one of my favorite benefits of nutrition. Throw together some garlic, ginger, chili and onions now that they’re back on the market (yay!), and serve sizzling with a bowl of rice and a veggie side of your choice. Don’t forget your calamansi, for an extra kick of acidity and vitamin C.
Bangus Sisig | Instagram: @cnbaldonado
If you’re a pasta fan, you have to try making lentil bolognese. It is similar to your traditional meat sauce, but you sub in lentils instead. They still give that chunky, chewy texture, with a ton of fiber. The high vitamin C content of tomatoes will help you absorb the iron from the lentils too. Serve with whole wheat pasta to make it a complete protein, and you can even make zucchini “noodles” to go with your pasta for an extra boost of veggies. Lentils also have a ton of potassium, which counter the effects of sodium, and can help to lower blood pressure.
Chella Po, MS, RD is a New York City-trained US registered dietitian who can be found on Instagram as @betterbeing.ph. She uses science to back up her professional advice for clients seeking to create a sustainable, healthy diet without counting calories, restrictive plans, or stress! Contact her for a free discovery call today.