Fish and plant-based meals provide tasty and healthy alternatives to meat

Looking for ways to rev up your dinner routine and live a little healthier? Often, New Year’s resolutions fail because people take an all-or-nothing approach to getting healthy. In reality, making smaller changes — such as replacing meat for one or two meals a week — can boost your health and become a healthy habit.

Jump to Fish and Plant-Based Recipes

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a diet that includes healthy sources of proteins, including plant-based protein, fish and seafood. According to the AHA, two 3-ounce servings of fish a week provide enormous health benefits. For example, fatty fish like anchovies, herring, mackerel, black cod, salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, whitefish, striped bass and cobia are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Sherri Hoyt, RDN, LD, is an outpatient dietitian at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. Fish and seafood, she says, provide lean protein, are low in saturated fat, and may help to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides, lower the risk of dementia and promote better eye health as we age.

“Patients tell me they don’t know how to prepare fish," Hoyt adds. "Some grocery stores will prepare fish and seafood at no extra cost. Pouched or canned tuna or salmon is an economical way to work in a fish meal and pouched tuna makes a great snack.”

Jessica Stafford, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, says the best cooking techniques for fish include baking, steaming, poaching and grilling.

“Use spices, herbs and lemon juice to add flavor to your fish,” Stafford says.

In addition to fish and seafood, plant-based protein diets have many health benefits, notes Bailey Krause, MS, RD, RDN, an inpatient dietitian at Alton Memorial Hospital. She says choosing to eat less meat can help lower the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type two diabetes and some types of cancer.

“Replace one meat-based protein meal a week with a plant-based protein meal,” Krause says. “Meatless Monday does not mean a meal without protein.”

Plant-based proteins can include beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and quinoa.

“Remember that just because a food is called plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy,” Krause adds. “Many store-bought meat replacements are high in sodium and saturated fats. Be sure to read the nutrition labels.”

The AHA says many vegetables are good sources of protein, including artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, corn, potatoes, peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes and turnip greens.

Stafford says, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a plant-based diet is appropriate for all stages of life including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence and older adulthood.

“Going plant-based is easy,” she says. “Here are some steps to help you add a meatless day into your week or to get started with a plant-based diet.”

Step 1 — Go slow.

  • Pick a few plant-based meals and rotate them into your weekly meal plan. Start with meals you have always enjoyed that just happen to be plant-based such as oatmeal, pasta with marinara sauce or vegetable soup.

Step 2 — Cut down on your meat and processed food intake.

  • Start changing the proportion of plant- and animal-based foods on your plate. Think of meat as a side dish and the plant-based dish as the entree.

  • Get rid of meat and dairy products you don’t like that much anyway.

  • Gradually work on swapping animal-based ingredients with plant-based alternatives in your favorite recipes. Use almond milk in place of cow’s milk, for example.

Step 3 — Go for a plant-based breakfast.

  • It’s an easy way to commit to at least one plant-based meal every day.

Step 4 — Watch your protein.

  • We need about 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight. Most people overdo protein. All plant foods contain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in different proportions. There is plenty of protein in plants to meet your requirements.

  • If you are eating enough calories and focusing on whole foods instead of refined, processed foods, you will meet your protein needs.

Step 5 — Stock up on healthy foods.

  • Keep a variety of fresh, frozen and canned foods in your kitchen, including fruits, vegetables and beans. A variety of grains, oils and spices are helpful too.

Step 6 — Have fun.

  • Focus on the plant-based foods you already like and experiment with new ways to cook and combine them.

  • Try new foods like tofu, jicama and jackfruit.

Does it still seem a little daunting? Hoyt says instead of going completely meatless, simply try for less meat.

“If your chili recipe calls for ground meat and a can of beans, decrease the usual amount of meat by half and add more beans; try using a trio of canned beans — red, white and black. That will add beautiful color to the bowl,” she says. “Mushrooms elicit umami — a savory quality — to meatless dishes. Use those as a transition.”

Hoyt says canned beans are a convenient source of protein. “If you rinse and drain them with cold water, you can lower the sodium by 40%,” she adds.

Remember, start with just one meal per week, whether it’s fish every Friday or a meatless Monday (or any day of the week!). One small change can have big health benefits.

For more information or a consultation, contact the BJC outpatient nutrition counseling services location below that's most convenient for you:

Alton Memorial Hospital — (618) 463-7742

Barnes-Jewish Hospital — (314) 454-8090

Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital — (636) 916-9436

Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital — (314) 996-3140

Christian Hospital — (314) 653-5903

Heart Care Institute of West County — (314) 996-3140

Memorial Hospital Belleville — (618) 257-5386

Missouri Baptist Medical Center — (314) 996-4987

Missouri Baptist Sullivan Hospital — (573) 468-1348

Parkland Health Center — (573) 760-8396

Fish and plant-based recipes
Glazed salmon

Salmon is versatile and is an excellent source of good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids. 


  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1 tsp. onion powder

  • 1 Tbsp. siracha

  • 1 Tbsp. honey

  • 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

  • Juice from ½ a lime

  • 2 salmon fillets

Mix the garlic powder, onion powder, siracha, honey, soy sauce, olive oil and lime juice in a bowl. 

Cut two sheets of aluminum foil twice the size of each of your salmon fillets. Place one fillet in the center of each piece of foil, curl edges up to prevent spillage. Pour your glazed mixture evenly on the two fillets of salmon. Top each fillet with 2 slices of lime. Wrap foil loosely and seal edges. 

Bake packet in oven at 375 degrees F for 12 minutes. Carefully open packets (watch for steam!) to check if fish easily flakes. If the fish is not cooked enough, bake packets another 3-5 minutes. 

Serve with brown rice and your favorite veggies for a well-balanced meal.


Healthy Tuna Melts – serves 4

While the classic tuna melt is delicious, this recipe saves calories and offers a healthier twist. 
Per serving: 347 calories, 12 g fat (6 g saturated), 400 mg sodium, 5 g sugar, 21 g protein, 11 g fiber 


  • 1/2 cup canned no-salt-added garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained

  • 2 5-ounce cans chunk white tuna (water packed), drained and broken into chunks

  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese, cut in 1/4-inch cubes

  • 1 stalk celery, chopped

  • 1/4 cup chopped red sweet pepper

  • 2 Tbsp. chopped onion

  • 1/4 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt

  • 2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard

  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh dill weed

  • 4 reduced-calorie wheat hamburger buns or whole-wheat bagel thins

  • Fresh dill weed sprigs


Preheat broiler to high. In a medium bowl, mash garbanzo beans with a fork until nearly smooth. Add tuna, cheese, celery, red pepper and onion; lightly toss. Add yogurt, mustard and the chopped dill; mix well. Spread tuna salad on hamburger buns and place on baking sheet. 

Broil sandwiches 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cheese melts and the bun is toasted around the edges. Garnish with dill sprigs. 

Source: Eat This Not That


Baked Cod with Dilled Avocado Cream

Creamy avocado makes the perfect coating in this simple fish dish. 
Per serving: 189 calories, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 58 mg cholesterol, 233 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 25 g protein 


  • 1 avocado

  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice

  • ½ tsp. garlic powder

  • 2 Tbsp. whole-wheat panko bread crumbs

  • ½ tsp. onion powder

  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

  • ¼ tsp. dill weed

  • 1 pound white fish, such as cod or tilapia, cut into 4 portions

  • ¼ tsp. coarse salt


In a small bowl, mash avocado with a fork. Stir in garlic and onion powders, dill, salt and lemon juice. Set aside. 

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese; set aside. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place fish portions in a baking pan coated with olive oil mist or cooking spray. Spread avocado mixture evenly over each portion, then sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until center easily flakes with a twist of a fork. Makes 4 servings 

Alternate preparation: Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over fish and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake as directed, then top each cooked portion with the avocado mixture.


Crispy Chickpeas

Crispy chickpeas provide fiber and protein and make a crunchy snack or topping for salads and other dishes. 


  • 1 can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans

  • 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • Juice from 1/4 of a small lemon

  • Garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, chili powder, smoked paprika, Cajun seasoning or barbecue seasoning (choose your favorites!)


Rinse and drain 1 can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans. 

Pat chickpeas dry with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. 

Spread seasoned chickpeas evenly on baking sheet. 

Bake in oven at 425 degrees F for 35 minutes or until crispy. 

Eat as a snack or use as a topping for salads.


Homemade Vegetarian Chili

The smoky, complex flavor of this simple vegetarian chili comes from basic pantry ingredients, vegetables and spices! It makes great leftovers, too. Recipe yields 4 large or 6 moderate servings of chili. 


  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 medium red onion, chopped

  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped

  • 2 medium carrots, chopped

  • 2 ribs celery, chopped

  • ½ tsp. salt, divided

  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder*

  • 2 tsp. ground cumin

  • 1 ½ tsp.smoked paprika*

  • 1 tsp. dried oregano

  • 1 large can (28 ounces) or 2 small cans (15 ounces each) diced tomatoes, with their juices

  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained

  • 1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed and drained

  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnishing

  • 1 to 2 tsp. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar or lime juice, to taste

  • Garnishes: chopped cilantro, sliced avocado, tortilla chips, sour cream or crème fraîche, grated cheddar cheese, etc.

  • * Note: If you are sensitive to spice, start with half of the amounts listed and add more to taste as needed.


In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the onion is translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes. 

Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika and oregano. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, about 1 minute. 

Add the diced tomatoes and their juices, the drained black beans and pinto beans, vegetable broth and bay leaf. Stir to combine and let the mixture come to a simmer. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally and reducing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer, for 30 minutes. 

Remove the chili from the heat and discard the bay leaf. For the best texture and flavor, transfer 1 ½ cups of the chili to a blender, making sure to get some of the liquid portion. Securely fasten the lid and blend until smooth (watch out for hot steam), then pour the blended mixture back into the pot. (Or, you can blend the chili briefly with an immersion blender, or mash the chili with a potato masher until it reaches a thicker, more chili-like consistency.) 

Add the chopped cilantro, stir to combine, and then mix in the vinegar, to taste. Add salt to taste, too (up to ¼ teaspoon more at this point). Divide the mixture into individual bowls and serve with garnishes of your choice. This chili will keep well in the refrigerator for about 4 days or you can freeze it for longer-term storage. 

Source: Cookie and Kate


Lentil and Pumpkin Soup

Enjoying a meatless meal at least once a week is a great way to add plant protein and fiber to your eating plan. Lentils cook quickly, too — which adds up to less time in the kitchen for you. Top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of pepitas. 
Per serving: 223 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 388 mg sodium, 29 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 13 g protein 


  • ¼ cup olive oil

  • 6 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 tsp. basil

  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes

  • 6 cups chicken stock

  • 1½ cups green or brown lentils, dry

  • 15-ounce canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

  • Plain, fat free Greek yogurtr

  • Pepitas


In a medium soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. 

Add garlic and sauté 1 minute; stir in basil and pepper flakes. 

Add stock and lentils; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. 

Stir in pumpkin; heat until warmed through. 

Top each serving with dollop of yogurt and sprinkle of pepitas 

Makes 8 servings.

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