Influencers might be deep into their Veganuary (vegan during January), making you reconsider your carnivorous diet.
Whether it’s vegetarian or vegan, the plant-based diet is more than just a trend. While vegetarianism or veganism may be a worthy goal, it’s not right for everyone. If giving up meat and/or dairy completely is too extreme for your lifestyle or food preferences, consider becoming a “meat-lite” eater.
Essentially, that means shifting your diet to a more plant-based way of eating — also considered flexitarian or semi-vegetarian. Whatever you call it, it’s a boon to your health. “Any displacement of meat from the diet by plant foods would likely result in lower saturated fat intake and higher fiber intake,” says Kristine Duncan, MS, RDN, of Veg Girl RD in Bellingham, Washington. “These kinds of changes are recommended by the American Heart Association to fight cardiovascular disease risk,” she says.
Of course, plant-based doesn’t mean you’re only eating beans and tofu, tempeh and seitan (though, those are delicious and it certainly could mean you do). It’s just that the meat-lite moniker tends to be less intimidating. It may mean serving a smaller portion of chicken on your plate, making lentil tacos one night, using half the sausage in pasta or aiming to eat more vegetarian lunches. “Sudden elimination or extreme dietary changes are physically and mentally challenging. Even beginning with one meal a day is a step in the right direction,” says Gabby Geerts, a registered dietitian at Green Chef. Here are some brilliant ideas to get started:
BEGIN WITH BREAKFAST
In many ways, the morning meal is the easiest way to start meat-lite eating. Smoothies, oatmeal, Greek yogurt parfaits and whole-grain pancakes are all nutritious ways to start your day. “Breakfast might be an easier meal to overhaul than dinner at first,” says Duncan.
If you typically pick up a breakfast sandwich on your way to work, the fix is simple: Just remove the meat, adds Geerts. “The egg and cheese already contain adequate protein — 10–15 grams — and nutritionally, the bacon/sausage provides unnecessary sodium and saturated fat,” she says.
HALVE YOUR PORTION
You may have noticed how much bigger cuts of meat have become at the grocery store. There’s no reason to put a 6- or 8-ounce chicken breast on your plate just because it came that way. Instead, cut it in half, and split it with a friend or family member. “If you just ate 3 ounces, you should absolutely fill that empty spot on your plate with something else,” says Duncan. Maybe that’s a whole grain; better yet, she says, double your vegetable serving. For instance, if you’re roasting green beans, throw asparagus on the sheet pan and take an extra-large serving, she adds.
MAKE IT MIXED
Rather than a plate that’s distinctly protein-starch-vegetable, cook mixed dishes, says Duncan. “You’ll miss the meat if it’s typically the centerpiece, but you’ll hardly notice if instead you make a hearty chili with less ground meat and more beans and bell peppers,” she says. Another idea, suggests Duncan: Tacos can be filled with a mixture of half ground meat and half soy crumbles or half meat and half beans. One plus to halving the meat in a recipe, “it would be cheaper — you’d only need to buy a half-pound of ground turkey instead of a whole pound,” she says.
CUT IT UP
“Cutting meat into small pieces can deceive our minds into thinking we’ve consumed more,” says Geerts. She suggests topping a leafy green- or grain-based salad with a variety of veggies, fruits and nuts. Then, chop your chicken into small pieces and toss everything together. Bacon is great for this, too. The result: Meat in every bite, but not much.
PREP A MEATLESS LUNCH
“Meat-lite” takes your entire day into account, not just each meal. So, if you’re planning meat mains for dinner during the week, try vegetarian lunches. Make a batch of lentil or minestrone soup and pack the leftovers in containers for lunches, says Duncan. Bowls with cooked whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, farro), veggies, chickpeas and sauce (tahini, peanut) are other packable, make-ahead options, she says. Geerts recommends making a cold salad, like tabbouleh (a mix of bulgur, mint, onion, tomato and parsley topped with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper) for a combination of satiating and satisfying protein, fat and fiber.
VEG-IFY YOUR PIZZA
Unless your usual order is “meat lovers,” a pizza can be a great toe-dip into meat-lite eating. It’s easily made veggie-centric by choosing one meat topping and a variety of veggies (as many as you want!), says Duncan. Let your taste dictate here, but mushroom, eggplant and artichokes are typically heartier options if you’re missing meat.