Many vegetarians start out the way I did: as 14-year-old girls. Quite a few also end the way I did: with fried chicken. In my case, vegetarianism was a brief fling, weighed down by the earnest food of the post-commune early '70s. When I tried to share sprouted-wheat-soy-lentil loaves and the like, my friends and family always felt there was something (flavor, meat) missing.

Now, eating vegetarian-whether casually or as a committed life choice-is more mainstream than ever. Today's meatless meals are fully fleshed-out, flavorful and family-friendly. There's even a resurgence of the "Meatless Monday" movement that has attracted high-profile supporters, such as Sir Paul McCartney, Chef Mario Batali and the city of San Francisco.

The idea of "Meatless Monday" actually goes back to Herbert Hoover. When he promoted it to help conserve food during World War I, 10 million families signed on. The concept and pledge were resurrected a few years ago by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for a Livable Future. And for good reasons:

  • According to, a Harvard study found that replacing sources of saturated fat (meat, for instance, and full-fat dairy) with foods that are plump with polyunsaturated fat (vegetable oils, nuts, seeds) reduces the risk of heart disease by 19 percent. Related: Slimming Vegetarian Dinners
  • Worldwide meat production accounts for nearly one-fifth of all the greenhouse gases-that's even more than we can blame on cars.

The EatingWell Test Kitchen has been perfecting meatless recipes for years. So now, as much as I still love a nice chicken dinner, with recipes like Sweet Potato Fritters with Smoky Pinto Beans (pictured), I'm finding it easy to go meatless any day of the week.