Moms are forever trying to sneak healthier foods onto the family table.
They'll drown veggies in goopy cheese, ranch dressing or marinara sauce. They'll deny the existence of lima beans in the Shepherd's pie. They'll build sculptures with toothpicks and cauliflower florets.
The people behind the worldwide Meatless Monday movement have a different strategy: Why not reduce the amount of saturated fats in your family's diet honestly and with the expectation that it's only one day of the week?
Eliminating the fats in meat just that one day can result in a reduced risk for cancers, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, researchers and advocates say. And who knows – maybe you'll all learn to like the change.
"Monday is, in itself, a natural prompt, says Tami O'Neill, project associate for the nonprofit Meatless Monday campaign. Preparing a meatless dish at the start of each work week is like regularly re-launching a New Year's resolution.
Meatless Monday founder Sid Lerner used his Madison Avenue adman experience to launch the campaign in 2003. He snagged the catchy name from President Herbert Hoover, who, as U.S. food administrator during World War I, created Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday as rationing tools.
Lerner recruited the help of Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health and other universities to spread the word across the country. But the effort took off in 2009 with a social media push and the launch of a similar program in the United Kingdom backed by pop icon and vegetarian activist Paul McCartney.
The Rollin' Oats Café in Tampa actively promotes Meatless Mondays on its Twitter feed, offering up recipes and mentioning meat-free items regularly available at the café inside the natural foods market.
People who want a cleaner diet and improved digestive system can benefit a lot from reducing their meat intake, says Brent McKee, executive chef for the Rollin' Oats cafes in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Taking the time to go meatless can open their eyes to nonmeat protein sources, such as tempeh, tofu and seitan.
"People are educating themselves in new directions and are trying healthier eating," McKee says.
A 2011 survey conducted by the campaign found that about half of all Americans had heard the term "Meatless Monday." But only 25 percent were actually trying to go meatless each week, O'Neill says.
Tampa mom Brandie Puls, a Rollin' Oats regular, says she has tried – unsuccessfully – to sneak soy and other meat alternatives into meals for her two teenage sons. Motivated by the catchy campaign name, she might try again.
Perhaps she should have focused on making meals the boys already like, just without meat, she says. Rice and beans or pizza would be an easy change.
The biggest misconception about Meatless Monday is that it's designed to convert people to vegetarian eating. Instead, it can be a way to gradually use more plant-strong, nutrient-dense and healthy-fat foods, says Curtis Whitwam, healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods Tampa.
"I always encourage (cooks) to crowd out the unhealthy foods," he says. Meat then becomes an accessory and not the centerpiece of a meal, he says.
McKee says Asian and Indian foods, which use protein-rich beans, vegetables and spices liberally, are popular alternatives for Meatless Monday. But those who still want meat-like textures can use crunchy tempeh or seitan, which has a boiled chicken or flank steak-like consistency.
"They can be manipulated to taste however we want," he says.
Today, there's a Meatless Monday presence in 22 countries. And O'Neill says 200 different food bloggers write each Monday about meatless foods, often featuring recipes on their blogs and Facebook feeds.
More than 13,500 people follow the campaign on Twitter, which uses the #meatlessmonday hash tag to share recipes and commentary. Some vegetarians use the opportunity to advocate against slaughterhouses and animal butchery. And, of course, as is always the case online, there are those who joke around with the phrase, implying sexual innuendo.
The people promoting the initiative say they consider any mention of Meatless Monday an opportunity to get the word out about healthful eating.
"We want them to have their meat and eat healthy too," O'Neill says. "We want people to know they have the option."