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Do you sell a lot of salads at the beginning of the week? Do your T-bones go unordered until Tuesday? Then your patrons may be part of the Meatless Monday movement — and you can join them for fun and profit.

When I was presenting my talk on improving kids' menus in the Healthy Pavilion at the International Restaurant Show in New York City in March, I had the honor of turning the microphone over to my good friend Cherry Dumaual of Meatless Mondays. She filled us in on how the movement — yes, it's that big — is spreading across the country. Restaurants from Hollywood to the Hamptons are on board already, along with hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, and big-name chefs including those at Canyon Ranch, Gianfranco Minuz, Executive Chef, Locanda del Lago, Santa Monica, Calif., and Joseph Fortunato, Chef, Extra Virgin, New York City. Even AARP features a Meatless Monday recipe on its website each week.

What's the big deal about not eating meat one day a week? Catholics have been doing it on Fridays for centuries, and Hindus don't eat meat at all. But apparently the rest of us have been taking up the slack big-time.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman lays out the case for less meat in his book "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating." He shows that Americans are eating 40 percent more meat than we did in 1950 — up to about 200 pounds per person per year, or 8 ounces every day. The global average for meat consumption is closer to 3 ounces per day, by the way.

Bittman then looks at the environmental, economic and both individual and public health costs of our meat-rich diet — and what he sees isn't pretty. He figures that if Americans cut their meat consumption to the global average, it would go a long way toward at least slowing some of the 21st century's most pressing problems.

Bittman's solution was to go "vegan before 6," eating no animal products until dinner, then shifting his overall diet heavily toward vegetables and whole grains. Meatless Monday is another way, and since we are consuming nearly twice as many of our daily calories in restaurants as we did in 1970, it makes sense that diners are looking to their favorite eateries for a little help.

While diners can see some personal benefits — like weight loss — from a Meatless Monday regime, restaurants can see some real bottom-line benefits. First of all, you may not have to do anything more complicated or expensive than highlighting existing meat-free dishes on your menu.

If you want to expand your MM offerings, look at existing dishes that work with or without meat: pasta sauce without the sausage, for example. That can actually save you the cost of the most expensive ingredient in the recipe, too.

And if you really want to go whole hog — or whole grain, as it were — the Meatless Monday website offers a complete program for the commercial kitchen, including recipe ideas and webinars for foodservice professionals.

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Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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