Going Vegan? 5 Ways to Eat Less Meat on the Way to Meatless
green and lean
Plant-based eating is gaining momentum in the food world for many reasons. Some choose a diet sans meat, dairy, and animal products for ethical reasons; others, for health purposes; and still more because eating a plant-based diet can be a tasty, healthy, and fulfilling way to feed yourself and your family.
Both vegetarian and vegan eaters tend to have better overall health than omnivores, and according to a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegans “tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease.” Going vegetarian or vegan has many health benefits. It can also benefit you in the kitchen if you’re looking to expand your recipe repertoire.
If you’re considering cutting back or if you’re thinking of eliminating meat and animal products altogether, these tips can help you eat less meat as you work your way to eating no meat. Cutting meat from your diet isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. In fact, it can be quite delicious and make for many fun adventures in the kitchen.
1) Go meatless one day per week.
Whether you pick Meatless Monday or another day on the calendar, challenge yourself to eat no meat one day per week. That includes all three meals and snacks. If you’re already eating vegetarian one day per week, bump that number up to three. Build yourself up to eating five days a week, and then the jump to eating no meat every day is a breeze.
2) Eat vegan before dinner.
Mark Bittman’s VB6: Vegan Before 6 has a strong following in vegan-curious eaters and those looking for a compromise between going all-vegan and retaining some of their omnivore ways. The premise of Bittman’s book is to encourage people to eat a “flexitarian” diet that allows animal products only at dinnertime.
Adopt this challenge in your own life by eating plant-based meals at both breakfast and lunch. Make snacks vegan, too. Whether you decide to stay in the flexitarian mode or make the leap to all-vegan eating, this structure can help you transition in a way that feels fun and not restrictive.
3) Skip the meat substitutes.
If you replace a beef steak with a tofu steak, you’ll know you’re not eating what you really want. Just skip meat substitutes when you’re first making the switch. Instead, look for all new dishes that are creative and special, something that doesn’t feel like a meat “alternative.”
Rely on hearty whole grains and filling legumes to “beef” up dishes like soups, stews, and more. Sprinkle chickpeas, nuts, and roasted vegetables on top of salads. Use black bean patties or meaty portobello mushrooms in sandwiches at weekend barbecues.
4) Try family favorites, sans meat.
If Tuesday night is taco night at your house, it can be still, even when you’re removing meat from the table. You just have to rely on different fillings. Instead of ground beef, use black beans. Season the beans with the same spice mix you’d use to season the beef, and the flavors will match perfectly. Instead of chicken, opt for roasted cauliflower. Roast the cauliflower in a high-temp oven so the charred parts create the same crunch of crispy grilled chicken.
The same goes for other family favorites like spaghetti and lasagna. Look for a veggie-heavy bolognese recipe, and switch your classic red sauce lasagna for a butternut squash-spinach lasagna with creamy béchamel sauce. Black bean enchiladas are a great meatless alternative to beef or chicken enchiladas, and a three-bean chili will win the hearts of many meat lovers.
5) Explore ethnic cuisines.
Asian, African, Mediterranean—the options are limitless. Even better news? Many of these cuisines routinely focus on plant-based eating. In fact, meat is rarely used in some of these cuisine traditions. In addition to working meat out of your daily meal rotation, you’ll be working in a world of new tastes and food adventures.
Coconut curry is a classic with roasted vegetables. Tikka masala typically uses chicken, but our tofu option is packed with the same warm and spicy flavors. Even Shepherd’s Pie is just fine without meat (our vegetarian version uses lentils). Moussaka is a classic Greek dish that traditionally uses ground meat, but meatless versions use chewy, filling grains like bulgur or farro.
Will I eat enough protein if I eat vegan?
Absolutely. It’s a myth that skipping meat will keep you from getting enough protein in your day. The fact is, most Americans get more than enough protein every day, so eliminating meat won’t keep you from reaching your goal. Even if you fall a few grams short, you won’t see any negative consequences.
Protein-rich plant-based foods include nuts, nut butters, black beans, quinoa, and chickpeas. (That includes hummus.) If you’re eating vegetarian instead of vegan, eggs are a great protein source, too. Fill your diet with these protein sources and plenty of fiber to help you feel full longer.
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