We recently had an open thread about our 2020 food resolutions, but today we thought we’d talk specifically about how to eat less meat — certainly a doable New Year’s resolution. I’ve been a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) since middle school, and although I’m certainly not a clean-eating, perfectly-balanced-diet-achieving, jackfruit-loving vegetarian poster girl, I have some tips and products to share.
Are you trying to eat less meat for health, environmental, and/or ethical reasons? What is your advice for readers who are trying to do the same?
Here are my six easiest strategies to help you eat less meat:
Use meat substitutes in a meat-centered recipes you already like to make
When you cook your favorite pasta dishes, stir-fries, soups and stews, chili, etc., try switching out the animal products for veggie protein options, like beans, tofu, lentils, seitan, tempeh, jackfruit, “beef” crumbles, etc. Vegetarian Times has a helpful ingredient substitution guide, and The Kitchn even has a flow chart to help you choose a meat alternative.
These substitutes can either be on the whole foods side of things or “I want something meat-like” alternatives; my husband (who is decidedly not a vegetarian) often uses Gardein’s Beefless Tips or Wegmans’ Meatless Beef-Style Crumbles instead of beef in meals he makes.
How to eat less meat (and still feel full)
Readers just had a great threadjack on how to eat less meat and still feel full, so let’s discuss. If you’re worried about not feeling full after you eat a meatless meal, review the nutrition stats of the recipes you try to confirm that you won’t be hungry half an hour after eating dinner. Protein, fiber, and healthy fats are key here.
At my house, we frequently make recipes that use either black beans or chickpeas as a foundation, due to their fiber and protein content. Make sure the meals you make have lots of flavor, too, or you’ll just want to go back to your tried-and-true meaty favorites. Here are a few recipes I like that fit the bill:
- “Moroccan” chickpeas: I substitute a can of tomatoes with green chiles for the can of tomatoes, and I serve this dish over couscous.
- Grilled polenta with black beans and tomatoes: I suggest decreasing the olive oil to 2 T.
- Linguine with zucchini and chickpeas
Try a vegetarian meal kit service
My family hasn’t tried any meal kits yet, vegetarian or otherwise — but a few good options are Purple Carrot (dinners start at $9.99/serving), Hello Fresh’s vegetarian plan (meals start at $7.49), and Green Chef’s “plant-powered” plan (meals start at $9.99). (HungryRoot is more groceries now but also has a ton of vegetarian options.) Readers, which vegetarian meal kits would you recommend — or not recommend?
Talk to your doctor about whether you might need supplements
If you start eating less meat and don’t feel good physically, you won’t want to stick with it, of course. So if you’re going to go vegetarian (or vegan), or just eat less meat, make sure you’re getting enough iron, protein, and B12.
Even if you’re not interested in logging your food long term, consider using an app like MyFitnessPal to enter all the food you eat in, say, a week so that you can check on your macros and nutrients. I take a daily B12 supplement, and my level tested fine at my last physical.
Keep some vegetarian convenience foods on hand
Sure, they’re not the ideal choice for everyday eating, but when you’re starting to cut down your meat consumption it’s a good idea to to have some on hand for when you don’t have time or energy to cook from scratch. You can eat them alone or use them in simple recipes, as mentioned in tip #1.
A few products readers have recommended are Field Roast seitan sausages, Upton’s chorizo seitan crumbles, and Trader Joe’s frozen entrees. Some of my favorites in this category are Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex Veggie Burgers, Amy’s Kitchen’s Indian Golden Lentil Soup (I add rice) and tomato/broccoli/pesto pizza (Trader Joe’s has a dupe), and Gardein’s Fishless Filets. (Tip: When applicable, always use the oven directions and not the microwave ones, for a better texture.)
Find a local restaurant with great vegetarian options
I don’t live in a big city, so I won’t bother sharing my local picks here (although if you live in Rochester, NY, hit me up), but when I was in NYC last year, I had an amazing lunch at by CHLOE., a counter-service vegan restaurant that also has non-NYC locations.
To find vegan/vegetarian restaurants in your area, you can filter search results in Yelp or OpenTable or visit HappyCow or The Vegetarian Resource Group. Readers, please chime in to recommend vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants in your cities!
What easy ways have you found to eat less meat? What are your favorite meat substitutes, both those that are designed to be “meat-like,” e.g., Impossible Burger, and those that are “natural,” e.g., beans?
Stock photo (tofu bowls) via Stencil / Ella Olsson — recipe here.
Add textured vegetable protein (TVP) to chili and marinara. It looks like flakes and kinda gross when you rehyrate it, but when added to stews, pasta sauces, chili, etc. it doesn’t taste like anything but has a great meaty texture and a good amount of protein.
I like adding a bit of TVP to farro when I cook it, and then using that farro in bowls or salads – easy way to get a bit of extra protein.
I loathe the Impossible Burger; I haven’t eaten meat in over twenty years, and something that is designed to have the look, taste, and texture of meat turns my stomach.
Meat substitutes work best when the meat is not very high quality, e.g., burger crumbles, chicken strips, chicken nuggets.
Beware of meat substitutes that do not have much protein, e.g., cauliflower ‘steaks’ that are a main dish.
The Impossible Burger reminded me of my childhood – when my parents would go out and leave us frozen dinners for the sitter to heat up. Sirloin “steak”. Some sort of meat like product with weird chewy texture. That is exactly like what the Impossible Burger tasted like to me.
A lot of the veggie burgers I got at Trader’s that taste yummy are just full of potato. Not very healthy.
I love the Impossible Burger! I like meat though, I can see why it would be unappetizing to someone who is a vegetarian because they don’t like meat.
I used tove meat and went vegetarian because I didn’t want to eat dead animals. I just haven’t eaten it since the nineties, so it now turns my stomach.
Rebecca in Dallas
I’m the same way, even when I ate meat I really never liked beef so it is not appetizing to me at all! If I’m in the mood for a burger I like black bean burgers or something similar.
I love making bean and lentil stew type dishes in the winter time. What are good summer bean entrees? I’m thinking ahead to summer beach weekends with large groups when meat entrees are so easy to do.
Black bean/sweet potato burgers are something I enjoy (though I usually cook them on a stovetop and not a grill).
Not super entree-y, but I love cowboy caviar in the summer. You can find a million versions online.
Bean salads are my go to in the summer. NY Times has a lot of recipes (including a chickpea one that tastes similar to potato salad).
Lima beans and lemon for summer! I make a variant of this with a little lemon juice and throw it in a pita pocket with lettuce. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/succotash-of-fresh-corn-lima-beans-tomatoes-and-onion
I’ve been doing pescatarian, so fish but no meat or poultry. We are still doing our Blue Apron boxes (they have an option for seafood but no meat) and have been happy with the variety we’re getting between the fish dishes and the vegetarian options. Ggenerally we have two seafood and one veggie dinner per week but occasionally they have an impossible burger and I think they’re pretty good!
My favorite vegan meal right now is noodles with a turmeric coconut milk sauce and broccoli, bell peppers, and/or whatever other veggie I have around — sorta like this one: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/coconut-rice-noodles-with-ginger-and-turmeric (note the fish sauce isn’t vegan).
anon a mouse
We adopted Meatless Monday several years ago. It’s been a fun journey to try different things, without committing to a fully meatless diet. Several of them (mango-black bean burritos, corn chowder among them) have become staples. Lots of inspiration and recipes on meatlessmonday.com.
I eat mostly pescatarian and we’re exclusively pescatarian at home, but we eat a fair amount of pasta and tortillas, so it isn’t necessarily the healthiest diet.
I take a daily multi-vitamin for reasons unrelated to my mostly-meatless diet, and I noticed a big improvement in my energy level and health when I started that.
Seitan is very easy to make. It’s equal parts water + wheat gluten, mix/knead, boil for an hour. Can add whatever seasoning you want. Making it in the Instant Pot is a game changer, though, I’ll post specific recipe as a comment. I make the full recipe and then keep some in the freezer.
Also love the Gardein beefless tips mentioned. Sautee them in oil per directions, then add some BBQ sauce to coat at the end of cooking.
Seitan IP recipe https://aminoapps.com/c/vegan/page/blog/instant-pot-seitan/D82t_PuLnMp2dj1kK617plXWYbx273P
Thanks gonna give that a try!
With the caveat that I am not even remotely interested in policing what other people eat, and recognize there are as many reasons to eliminate certain foods/food groups/macronutrients as there are people: from a health perspective, I don’t see the point of eliminating something if you’re just going to replace it with processed food.
I have a limited diet due to medical issues, and eat vegan regularly. For me, there’s nothing better than fresh vegetables that aren’t trying to masquerade as something else. My favorite thing lately is avocado with salt, lemon juice, olive oil, and crushed walnuts (or macadamias or pili nuts) wrapped in lettuce. It’s basic AF but so am I. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
As far as meal prep services, Purple Carrot is pretty good as vegetarian options go, but it’s quite limiting if you can’t tolerate gluten or legumes.
Nice to see you Kanye East! People were talking about your site last week or the week before.
Rebecca in Dallas
I agree! The aim should be to eat “plant-based” not just “meat-free.” (I try, but I still do want junk food once in a while!)
Hi Kanye East. Can you talk a little bit more about your diet? I’ve been a vegetarian since 2014 and recently had some health issues that have required me to stick to a FODMAP-like diet (i.e. cut out gluten/dairy/soy/legumes/some fruits & veggies… basically all of my old staples). I’ve added in fish and am thinking about adding back in poultry because I just don’t know what to eat anymore. Help!
I finally got my dinosaur spouse on board for meatless meals and beans and rice as staples. I have to eat gluten free due to celiac and many of the meat substitutes have gluten in them or have lots of mushrooms, a personal no go. So I don’t try substitutes but have made black bean burgers from scratch and no meat chili is a regular thing. I’m often looking at websites for gluten-free meatless meals. I have mostly cut out beef and pork for health reasons and eat lots of fish.