Over the past few years, my family has transitioned to eating less meat. For various reasons: we know a diet filled with plants offers many health benefits compared to one that is heavy in (especially processed) meat. We know animals are often abused in a broken and unrelenting food system. We know animal farming and production, particularly of beef, is a big contributor to climate change. And as far as environmental impact goes, eating less meat is one of the easier ways to make a change as an individual.
This isn’t about going vegan or eating vegetarian. At least not for me. I have friends who fall into both of those categories and I applaud them. For me personally, the thought of never eating carnitas tacos or a bowl of slow-cooked beef bourguignon ever again sounds devastating. I think about this as making intentional choices on when and where I’m cooking and consuming meat.
As a part of our health and wellness series, I thought I’d write up what this looks like for me. Please know: I am no expert. I’m just a concerned mom/woman/citizen/consumer doing what she can for herself and her household. I’ve included some resources at the bottom of this post to people who know far more than I do. You’ll also find links to a few of my favorite meatless recipes.
Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan.
I’ve always been a die-hard meal planner. Admittedly, as I write this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a bit trickier right now. Too often I’ve gone to the store lately, list in hand, only to find bare shelves. However, getting a meal plan down is the first step for me to get food on the table each week. Meal planning helps me create a grocery list which helps me avoid unnecessary purchases at the store and also helps my sanity. (The more I can eliminate the “I don’t know what to make for dinner and it’s 5:00!” drama, the better.)
I meal plan one week at a time. It helps me create a snapshot for the week. As far as our meat consumption is concerned, I try to have 2-4 meatless meals a week. These often look like pastas, soups, or bean-based dishes. I try to have no more than one meal each week with red meat. (We typically eat beef 2-3 times a month.) The rest of our meals usually have pork or chicken.
Think of meat as a side.
When we do eat meat, I rarely make the meat-starch-vegetable combo so many of us grew up seeing, either in our own homes or on TV. More often it’s in a curry, a soup, a pasta, or even using meat for its flavor more than anything else (hello, bacon).
It helps to remember that a single serving of meat is 3 ounces, which is about the size of your palm. Depending on their age, it’s even less for kids. If we’re really eating a single serving of meat, something else has to take its place. It could be the rice in a rice bowl, a side salad, or extra veggies in place of meat.
Use less than a recipe calls for.
Recipes often call for more meat than we need, especially when you factor in that 3-ounce serving size! Particularly in recipes like soups, pastas, stir-fries, etc., I use less without sacrificing meat entirely. Most pasta recipes call for a pound of sausage or chicken: I usually use half a pound (and freeze the other half for later use). If I’m making fajitas I amp up the amount of peppers and onions and use less chicken. (And don’t forget the guac!)
Cook one cut of meat and use it all week.
Some weeks I buy a single piece of meat, such as a pork shoulder or beef roast, and use it all week for different recipes. For example: shredded pork can be made one night and used in pulled pork sandwiches the first night, tacos the next, soup the third, etc.
We’re also a house that utilizes leftover. Leftovers = lunch in our house! My husband always works from home and I’m home most days. When I worked in an office I brought my own lunch every day. Honestly if for some reason we don’t have leftovers, I’m at a loss for what to do!
Buy organic and/or local when you can.
When we do consume meat, I try to buy organic and/or local. I like to grab meat from the farmer’s market in the summertime and otherwise look for organic meat in the store. When you’re eating less meat, it can be easier to put your dollars toward meat that is better for you, for the environment, and for the animals themselves.
This is a bit of a lifestyle change. Like all changes, it takes time. I’ve been slowly moving to a more meatless diet for a few years now. I think small steps are the best place to start. Begin by replacing one meal a week with something meatless or replacing a beef-based meal with a different animal protein.
As promised, here are some resources:
“The Meat-Lover’s Guide to Eating Less Meat” The New York Times
“Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered” The New York Times
“How to eat less meat without driving yourself nuts” MarketWatch
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (Really all of his books are fantastic!)
“Steak” Ugly Delicious season 2 episode 3
And some of my favorite meatless (or almost!) recipes:
Creamy Braised White Beans (Super easy and delicious on some bread slathered with garlic butter!)
Black Bean Quesadillas (Don’t forget the chips and guac!)
Oven Risotto with Garlic Roasted Mushrooms and Arugula (Feels like a restaurant meal.)
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon (My kids will even eat this as long as there is bread for dipping!)
Spring Asparagus Pancetta Hash (Omit the pancetta or sub with a couple of pieces of bacon and top with a fried egg.)