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Think Like a Vegetarian

Think Like a Vegetarian

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I have a love/hate relationship with meat. I love how it keeps me satisfied and sustains my husband, a competitive cyclist. To be honest, it has just been easier to eat animal protein because I grew up with it and was used to centering my meals around it. But the more I learn about current industrial animal farming in our society, the more concerned I become. I lament its effects on the environment and water supply, its lack of sustainability, and the cruel and unhealthful way our industrialized meat is raised and harvested. I’m even concerned about the potential cancer risk of the regular consumption of animal products.

So why continue to eat meat, you ask? Good question. My answer is not simple, just like I believe it is for so many other people. It is my conviction that certain individuals do better on a diet consisting of at least some animal protein, while others fare better with all plant-based foods. On a personal level, my weight, energy level, gut symptoms, and food satisfaction are better when animal protein is in my diet. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think through my consumption of meat very carefully.

For one, I opt for 100% grass fed or organic. Second, I minimize the amount of animal protein I eat by treating it more like a garnish than the focus of the meal. I mix in loads of vegetables with every meat dish. My soups and stews are mostly veggies and I add large amounts of grated vegetables to taco meat and meatballs. Third, I eat several all-vegetarian meals per week.

In short I have had to train myself to think like a vegetarian even though I still cook with meat. One of the best tools I found to help me change my thinking was to join a farm where I receive a weekly share of local organic produce during the growing season. Now, instead of centering my meals around meat, I start with the veggies from the farm and go from there. I highly recommend this strategy for not only decreasing the amount of animal protein you eat, but also to maximize the amount of vegetables in your diet, a move that I am absolutely confident will improve your health and help you lose weight.

Here is one of my family’s favorite veggie-centric meat dishes.

Thai Veggie Cabbage Wraps with Chicken – Serves 6


  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin coconut oil
  • 1 pound organic ground chicken
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 cups grated carrots, (about 3 med/large)
  • 2 cups grated zucchini, (about 2 medium)
  • 1 8 ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 large Portobello mushroom caps, stems removed, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 bunch green onions, (about 6) thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons organic low sodium Tamari soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Red Boat Brand Fish Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon organic toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 small purple cabbage
  • 1/4 organic red bell pepper, very thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped no sugar added roasted peanuts

For Sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons Organic Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Organic low sodium Tamari soy sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon chile garlic sauce, or chile flakes


  1. Prep all vegetables: Keep green onions and cilantro separate, but place prepped onion, carrots, zucchini, Portobello, and water chestnuts in one bowl.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add ground chicken and cook, stirring frequently and breaking meat up with a spatula until browned and cooked through. Add grated ginger and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add prepped vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and any water they have given off has cooked off. Stir in green onions and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and fish sauce. Cook, stirring well, until mixture is heated through and most of the liquid has evaporated (about 2-3 minutes more). Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and sesame oil.
  3. Meanwhile, mix sauce: Place 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 3 tablespoons organic Balsamic vinegar in a small glass jar or bowl. Stir in coconut sugar, lime juice and chile garlic sauce.
  4. To make cabbage wraps: If using a large cabbage cut it in half. If using a small cabbage, cut about 1/2” off stem end. Carefully remove leaves, trying not to tear them. If you find it difficult, place the cabbage in the microwave on high power for 1 minute and the leaves will come off a little easier. Place about 1/4 cup veggie mixture into each cabbage leaf. Drizzle very lightly with sauce (it is potent). Top with very thinly sliced red pepper, cilantro leaves and peanuts. Serve immediately.

Julie Wern is a psychologist turned stay-at-home-mom turned health coach and cooking instructor. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and the author of Holcomb Farm CSA’s Simply Fresh blog (http://holcombfarm.org/blog), as well as her new food and lifestyle blog, The Wholesome Gourmande (http://www.thewholesomegourmande.com). It is Julie’s passion to help individuals find their unique path to health without sacrificing joy and pleasure in food. You can find Julie at: http://www.thewholesomegourmande.com or: jwern@comcast.net for comments and inquiries.