6 “Under the Radar” Ways to Lighten Up on the Meat
Every body has its own unique requirements for the type and amount of protein needed to feel its best.
Many people (myself and my family included) enjoy and feel good with some amount of animal protein in our diet.
What is true, though, about the majority of us in western culture, is that we tend to eat too much meat. We have crafted every meal of the day around meat.
While this may not be true for you, (because I don’t know your diet), most of us could benefit from lightening up the amount of meat we eat.
Here are 4 great benefits to eating less meat, then 6 simple ways to make that shift in your family’s diet.
Eating Less Meat…
Brings More Good Stuff In
- When we eat less meat, we make more room for other beneficial foods– like vegetables and whole grains to become a bigger part of our diet. This can increase the variation of foods we eat, which benefits us nutritionally and aesthetically.
Saves You Money
- Meat is expensive. It is often the most expensive part of our meals, and by reducing the amount we consume, we will be saving money.
- For my family, we have decided to only purchase meat from a family farmer that we know practices ethical treatment of their livestock. This aligns with our morals on the proper treatment of living things, and provides us with meat that has an extremely high quality of nutrients.
- Because this meat costs more per pound, we make up that cost in our budget by eating less of it on a weekly basis.
Is Environmentally Sound
- Eating less meat is a sustainable way to nourish my family. In a nut shell, raising animals for food requires a whole lot more resources than raising plants for food. By lessening our load of meat, we are also lessening the ecological burden our diet has on the earth.
Benefits Your Health
Most of us will feel better when we begin consuming less meat, and many will experience positive health benefits because of this switch as well.
It is well documented that a diet high in vegetables and whole grains, can help prevent or reverse heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Meat is a heavy food to consume in large amounts so the burden it has on our digestive system and energy levels may be alleviated if we replace it with lighter, healthier options like fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, or whole grains.
If you, like me, feed a family that has come to expect meat at most (if not all) meals, here are 6 ways that I have been able to make the shift away from meat without erupting a family revolt. 🙂
1. Begin to rotate more “already acceptable” meatless meals into your weeks
Most of us already enjoy vegetarian meals without thinking of it that way.
Think of dishes like spaghetti with a chunky vegetable sauce, vegetarian chili, pizza with veggie toppings (like mushroom, black olives or spinach), vegetable lasagna, baked eggplant parmagiana.
Begin to rotate these kinds of meals into your weeks and you family won’t blink an eye.
2. Spread the meat around
When I do prepare a meat based meal, I rarely serve a large piece of meat as the main component any longer.
Instead I have switched to meals that I can dilute meat into like soups and stews or stirfries and simmer sauces. In all of these dishes, the amount of meat you are eating isn’t “obvious”.
For example, if I am making a chinese-style stirfry or a soup, I’ll up the veggie component and cut up one chicken breast for the whole dish.
Right now we are a family of two adults, a toddler and an infant. We rarely finish a whole meal for dinner and almost always get one or two lunches out of it as well.
That means that one chicken breast was now spread across two adult dinners and 4-6 adult lunches. Not a bad meat to meal ratio– and no one feels deprived ( it was still a chicken chowder soup or a chinese chicken stirfy!)
A helpful hint is to shred meat when possible or at least cut it in smaller pieces.
3. Shift meat from centerstage to a side show
Another angle is to begin to serve meat-based appetizers, salads or sides to a vegetarian main meal.
If my main course is spicy minestrone soup, I may serve a chicken quesadilla along with it, spreading the chicken sparsly.
I’ve been making meatloaf in muffin tins since my son began eating finger foods, and I sometimes will serve a mini meatloaf as an appetizer to a meatless meal.
Salads can be topped with shredded chicken.
4. Beef-up vegetarian meals
A nice way to transition into serving more vegetarian meals altogether is to add a bit of meat to a new vegetarian dish.
I often made a spinach pesto pasta with tomatoes as a side dish to a meat-based meal. Recently I began serving the pasta dish as the main meal, but would top it with some sauteed sausage to give it a bit of heartiness.
A bit of ham, sausage, shredded chicken or ground beef can often be added into vegetarian meals at first if you want to get them into the rotation but need to incorporate some meat in your week.
5. Veg-out meaty meals
Likewise, taking a meat-based meal and increasing the vegetable or grain content also spreads the meat farther.
I add equal parts meat and grains (oatmeal, kasha, or millet) to my meatloaf and meatballs.
Beef stews are loaded with potatoes and vegetables in my house.
Meat-based spaghetti sauces come with hearty amounts of mushrooms and spinach.
6. Increase meaty flavorings
Sometimes all a meal needs is to feel like what we are used to. I utilize spices and seasonings often to give meals a hearty flavor.
One of my favorite ways to do this is with hickory liquid smoke. This is a concentrated liquid seasoning that tastes like what smokey bacon does for a dish— I use it in any recipe that calls for bacon (since I rarely, if ever, have that in the house), or ones that traditionally use a bit of ham, like lentil or split pea soups.
(*Note- a little goes a long way with liquid smoke- I use about a 1/4 teaspoon in most dishes.)
Mushrooms, especially portabellos, can add a texture to meals that mimics meat.
Sausage is seasoned with rosemary, sage, marjoram, basil and garlic-try using these spices in dishes to give the flavors associated with sausage.
Finally, if you do choose to move your family in the direction of less meat, don’t necessarily announce your intention. I’m not trying to promote secrecy in your marriage 🙂 — but start to make some shifts and just observe how it goes.
In my experience, the shift was hardly noticed– and often the feedback I got was compliments on the new dishes I was serving. But honor your family’s needs…they will help guide you to know what the right balance is.
Upon reflection, do you feel your family may benefit from consuming less meat? Which of these suggestions seem most appealing to try? Do you have other ways you reduce meat or increase veggies and whole grains into your family’s diet?