People give up meat for all kinds of reasons — to improve their health, help the environment, and protect animals. Regular meat eaters can find it challenging to quit those juicy burgers and chicken wings, but with a little planning and patience, it's possible to shift to a meatless diet. Here are some tips on creating healthier eating habits without meat.
A Gradual Transition
Some people can successfully alter their diets right away, but it's usually easier to make changes slowly. Those wanting to transition to a meatless diet can start by cutting meat for a week or two and then move toward eliminating it for longer periods.
Another approach is to quit one type of meat at a time. For example, red meat can be replaced with poultry. A month later, chicken can be swapped out for fish. It takes time to break habits, especially if meat has always been a dinner-plate staple.
Meat as a Side Dish
Small changes can help taste buds get used to a meatless diet. Regular meat eaters may find it useful to focus on meat as a side dish, building meals around whole grains and vegetables. Meat can be added as an accompaniment if necessary and eventually phased out.
Grain bowls are an excellent way to rethink meals. These versatile bowls can be customized with a base of quinoa, brown rice, or bulgur and topped with any combination of raw or roasted veggies, leafy greens, and flavorful sauces.
Vegetarian Versions of Comfort Foods
The taste and texture of alternative protein sources can take some getting used to, but familiar dishes can smooth the way. Creamy butter chickpeas can stand in for traditional butter chicken. Chili can be made with lentils or plant-based crumbles instead of ground beef — even a half-and-half mixture is a good start. Mushrooms are meaty and flavorful and can be as comforting as beef in a mushroom bourguignon.
New Foods and Cooking Styles
Lentils and beans are touted as replacements for meat, but they aren't the only options for vegetarians. Meatless diets are a chance to discover a variety of protein sources, such as whole grains, nuts, nut butters, seeds, tofu, tempeh, and sprouted-grain breads. Cooks can experiment with spices, recipes, and different cooking styles, such as Middle Eastern, Asian, and Mexican.
Meatless diets are easily derailed when people are too tired to figure out what to cook, but a little advanced planning makes dinners easier and ensures healthy ingredients are on hand. Some people like to do meal prep on the weekends so that cooked grains, roasted veggies, and sauces are ready to go during the workweek. Meal planning also ensures all nutritional bases are covered.