‘Meatless Mondays’ might lead to healthier diets all week long

Panini recipe includes portobellos, eggplant and roasted red peppers


“Planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” according to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

But for those who are not ready to give up meat entirely, adopting “Meatless Mondays” might be the thin end of the wedge, the start we need to adopt healthier food choices, says Liz Dempsey, a dietetic intern at Michigan State University who is working a rotation with Hillary Bisnett, director of the Ecology Center’s “Healthy Food in Health Care” initiative this year.

Bisnett has worked with a number of dietetics students over the past few years. “We host several students working on their rotations from dietetics programs throughout the state each year.  They work with us on the Healthy Food initiative to give them some insight into sustainable food systems and civic dietetics,” Bisnett said. “They also help us spread the word about our efforts and broaden our impact when they go on to their professional careers.”

“The key to a vegetarian diet is to focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds,” Dempsey said. By eating a varied diet, it is easy for vegetarians to get all the necessary nutrients your body needs.”

The recipe Dempsey recommends this month for panini sandwiches is a great example of including a variety of foods in a vegetarian meal. Maybe you’ll want to try it next Monday?

(If you do try the recipe, will you let us know how it turned out?  We’d like to run photos on our web site.)

Recipe: Portobello, Eggplant and Roasted Red Pepper Panini  



  • 2 red bell peppers 
  • 4 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 cup fat-free balsamic vinaigrette
  • 4 (1/2 inch thick) slices eggplant, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 slices focaccia bread
  • 1/4 cup fat free ranch dressing
  • 4 thin slices Swiss cheese OR 4 thin slices Asiago cheese


  1. Preheat the oven's broiler and set the oven rack at about 6 inches from the heat source. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Cut the peppers in half from top to bottom; remove the stem, seeds, and ribs, then place the peppers cut sides down onto the prepared baking sheet.
  3. Cook under the preheated broiler until the skin of the peppers has blackened and blistered, about 5 minutes. Place the blackened peppers into a bowl, and tightly seal with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to steam as they cool, about 20 minutes. Once cool, remove the skins and discard. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. Place the portobello mushroom caps into a re-sealable plastic bag, and pour in the balsamic vinaigrette. Squeeze out excess air, and seal. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
  5. The following day, preheat an electric double sided grill (such as George Foreman grill). Sprinkle the eggplant slices with garlic powder and onion powder.
  6. Remove the portobello mushrooms from the marinade, and discard the remaining marinade. Cook on the preheated grill until tender 4 to 5 minutes. Cook the eggplant slices on the preheated grill until tender 4 to 5 minutes. Remove, set onto a plate, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
  7. To assemble the sandwiches, spread each slice of focaccia with ranch dressing. Place a slice of cheese on each piece of bread. Place the eggplant slices, roasted peppers, and a portobello mushroom onto four of the slices of bread. Top with the remaining bread.
  8. Spray the double sided grill with cooking spray, and cook the sandwiches until the cheese has melted, the sandwiches are hot in the center, and the bread is golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
  9. TIP: Prepare the peppers and mushrooms on Sunday and refrigerate overnight for an easier Monday night dinner or lunch. 


EcoLink — January 2012 Ecolink
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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