Every person’s diet needs are unique. But some of us may benefit from lessening the amount of meat we eat, especially in the summer months, when fresh fruits and vegetables are in abundance.

Beyond health or ethical issues, less meat in your diet may also help your pocketbook.

Meat is expensive.

From a budget standpoint, reducing meat allows you to spend your dollars on other foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and beans and stretch the food budget.

For my family, we’ve decided to only purchase meat from a family farmer that we know practices ethical treatment of their livestock or from certified humanely treated and organic meat from the supermarket.  This aligns with our ethical beliefs on the proper treatment of living things, and provides us with meat that has an extremely high quality of nutrients.

When we choose meats that are organic and from grain fed and pastured animals, they are (rightfully) more expensive, so eating less of meat allows us to recoup the cost difference.

If you, like me, feed a family that has come to expect meat at most (if not all) meals, here are 6 ways to lessen the emphasis on meat in your weekly menu 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 olive 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, two toddlers 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 stirfry!)

A helpful hint is to shred meat when possible or at least cut it in smaller pieces.

3.  Shift meat from center stage 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.

This also allows you to cater to the meat needs/preferences of different members of the family.  Some may have no problem eating less meat, others will feel strongly that they don’t want less meat in their diet.

If you need to satisfy different food preferences in the same meal:  go flexitarian! Once I began learning how to prepare excellent vegetarian or vegan meals, I could add meat in proportions that fit each person’s needs.  Many vegetarian/vegan dishes work just fine with added meat on top or on the side.

For example, 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 hardiness.

Ham, sausage, shredded chicken or ground beef can be added into vegetarian meals.

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 hardy 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 hardy flavor.  Some 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?