It’s no secret that our current meat-eating habits aren’t sustainable. From inhumane factory farms to increased carbon emissions, more and more people are realizing that eating less meat is a necessary life change. But if you haven’t figured out how to cut down on meat consumption for good, you’re not alone!
Some people swear that giving up meat immediately and completely is the only path to success. This is actually how I stopped eating red meat, and it was surprisingly effective.
However, that was only a small part of my diet to begin with. Becoming a vegetarian overnight takes a whole lot more energy and willpower. Trying to make a huge low impact living change in a single day is a recipe for disaster.
Instead of the “cold turkey” method (pardon the pun) , use these clever tricks to gradually cut back on meat.
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Make meatless versions of easy meals
Rainbow salad bowls and sushi bento boxes may be delicious and Instagrammable. But they also take a fair bit of time to prep. And when it comes to sticking with new routines, easy is the name of the game.
When you’re first starting out, skip the complicated plant based meals and opt for simple meatless dishes. Tacos, stir frys, and pastas are all easy to convert into meatless entrees.
Some of my go-to meatless meals are black bean fajita bowls, tofu stir fry, and penne pasta with roasted veggies and marinara sauce.
Embrace meal prepping
Meal prep is all the rage these days. There are even entire cookbooks and social media channels dedicated to batch cooking and storing a week’s worth of food.
Meal prepping seems intimidating, especially if you don’t spend much time in the kitchen to begin with. But you don’t have to spend your entire Sunday dicing veggies and layering mason jar salads to cut down on meat consumption.
Start with unfussy, big volume foods like soups and stews. They’re easy to freeze and can be portioned out in freezer-safe silicone bags or microwaveable mason jars.
From there, expand your repertoire of meatless meal prep kits. Bean fajitas, grain-based salads, curries, and tofu bowls can be assembled quickly from their prepped components. Plus, their ingredients keep well in the fridge, so you can get all of your slicing, chopping, and roasting done in a single session.
Let veggies play a starring role
Thanksgiving turkey, beef wellington, lamb lollipops… Meat traditionally plays the starring role in our entrees. But who says it has to stay that way?
There are plenty of gorgeous vegetables that can be dinnertime showstoppers. Beautifully roasted artichokes, stuffed zucchini flowers, and baked squash bowls are visually appealing and meat free.
Using a range of colors in a dish is another tried and true way to make veggies exciting. Add multi-colored peppers to your soups and stir frys. Toss berries on top of your spinach salad. And get creative with carrots, radishes, and herbs to create stunning rainbow bowls.
P.S: If you’re trying to adopt a more eco-friendly mindset, I highly recommend picking up one of these books about sustainability!
Incorporate savory ingredients
One of the biggest challenges of not cooking with meat is the loss of savory flavors. Things like animal fat and the Maillard reaction of browning give meaty dishes their rich, hearty taste, which we associate with feelings of fullness.
So are we doomed to a life of insipid, unfilling meals without meat? Not at all!
Savory flavors are effortless to create–if you know where to look. And your first stop is the international aisle.
Japanese miso paste and Worcestershire sauce are my go-to for adding depth to soups. Miso is a fermented soybean paste that comes in literally hundreds of varieties, with flavors ranging from sweet to salty to nutty. Like miso, Worcestershire is also a fermented sauce, and its vinegar/anchovy/veggie blend works wonders in marinades, stews, and on meat substitutes like tempeh.
Other savory vegetarian ingredients include pan-roasted vegetables (especially mushrooms, shallots, and onions), nutritional yeast, and olives.
Get creative with other protein sources
Before I became a flexitarian, I shied away from alternative proteins. I had a bad experience with tofu as a teenager, and I never cared for the taste of vegan meat substitutes.
If this sounds like you, I have a few solutions for your protein conundrums.
First, it’s very possible that you’ll enjoy tofu and meat substitutes when they’re prepared the right way. Once I discovered the magic of oven-roasted tofu, I was hooked. My husband legitimately thought he was eating chicken until I enlightened him.
Second, there are dozens of protein sources aside from meat. Lentils, chickpeas, most beans, quinoa, dairy, nuts… These ingredients are protein-rich, filling, and super versatile.
Finally, embrace the egg. Seriously, you can add eggs to almost anything (or eat them by themselves)! Slice boiled eggs for salad, plop a poached one into instant ramen, add a fried egg to your sandwich–the possibilities are endless!
Save me for later!
Think like a vegetarian
This is my favorite trick for avoiding meat at restaurants.
Instead of looking at the whole menu for the tastiest-sounding option, I scan for the vegetarian meals first. If I find a meat-free entree that I like, I order it without reading the rest of the menu.
This little strategy keeps me from feeling meat FOMO and encourages me to try new plant-based dishes. Sometimes I’ll get inspired to recreate the meal at home, and it becomes a new dish in our rotation.
Try volume eating
If you’re worried that plant-based meals will leave you feeling hungry two hours later, consider volume eating. This method involves eating large quantities of low-density foods (i.e. greens, vegetables, and things with high water content) to leave you satiated.
Loading up your plate with veggies, eating side salads, and consuming liquidy foods like soup are all ways to fill up without meat. That being said, this should never be a replacement for eating your recommended daily calories and nutrition.
Cutting back on meat is a lot easier with a few tricks up your sleeve. For more low impact living tips, join my mailing list below!