You definitely don’t need to be a vegan or even a vegetarian to enjoy the countless health benefits of increasing the amount of meatless meals you consume. And eating meatless can be so much more exciting than serving up an iceberg salad and calling it dinner. It doesn’t need to be complicated either – some of the ideas in this post take literally five minutes to prepare!
In general, meatless meals get a bad rap because they’re often centered around meat substitutes that attempt to masquerade as chicken, fish, pork, or beef. But foods that are naturally vegan nuts, seeds, beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables are so incredibly delicious and nutritious in their own right that there is really no need to try and trick yourself into eating them by pretending they are meat. Whether or not you are a fan of meat substitutes made from tofu, tempeh, or seitan, you can easily incorporate more meatless meals into your weekly menu rotation beyond processed meat subs.
My first recommendation to anyone who is trying to eat less meat in general is to not start out by simply replacing meat in your favorite recipe with a vegan meat substitute, which could just set you up for disappointment when you expect one thing and get another. Instead, begin by thinking of it as an opportunity to expand your culinary horizons by exploring completely new-to-you recipes and looking at vegetables in a different light. So many people never venture further from preparing vegetables in mainstream ways, such as steamed, roasted, or as part of a side salad. But when you change your perspective and look at vegetables as the main event, it opens up a brand new array of possibilities.
Here are 10 Easy and Delicious Ways to Add More Meatless Meals to Your Diet
1. Start out by listing your favorite meals or recipes that are already meatless. A variety of soups and stews, salads, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, vegetable curries, and pasta with tomato sauce are all examples of popular dishes that are meatless by default.
2. Add a meatless protein source such as black beans, chickpeas, or tofu to your favorite side dish or salad to turn it into a main meal. One of my favorite meatless meals when I’m in a hurry or need to use up leftover vegetables is to make up a stir fry by simply sautéing the vegetables with a cup of beans, adding a little soy sauce or any bottled stir-fry sauce, and serving it over rice, noodles, or even spaghetti squash.
If you’ve never tried spaghetti squash before, here is my foolproof recipe: How To Cook Spaghetti Squash.
3. Try taking one of your favorite meat-based recipes and creating it with your favorite beans or vegetables instead. Or, if you’re not ready to jump right in, try replacing just half of the meat in the dish the first time. Each time you make the dish, you can increase the beans or veggies and decrease the meat just a little bit more. Think Kung Pao Eggplant, Mushroom Stroganoff, Sweet Potato Tacos, Lentil Sloppy Joes, Buffalo Chickpea Chili, or Sesame Ginger Cauliflower.
4. Explore ethnic restaurants and recipes, which often offer a wide variety of meatless options. Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, and Indian restaurants will usually be especially vegetarian-friendly; and Italian, Chinese, and Mexican cuisines are also all rich in meatless offerings. You might just find a new favorite dish you never would have thought to try before!
5. Commit at first to one fully meatless day per week. You don’t have to give up meat completely overnight, and you can still enjoy the health benefits of consuming less saturated fat, cholesterol, and more fiber and vitamins even if you decide to never give up eating meat entirely. The best part about eating more meatless meals is that it’s not an all-or-nothing adventure and you can go at your own pace.
6. Every so often, why not shake it up by having breakfast for dinner? Many breakfast foods such as blueberry pancakes, avocado toast, cereal with sliced banana and strawberries, fruit smoothies, or a piping-hot bowl of oatmeal are naturally meatless, and who says you can’t eat them for dinner? It can be an exciting way to change your normal routine.
7. Browse the cookbook section of the library or invest in a new vegetarian cookbook from the book store. Or simply spend a few minutes searching Google or Pinterest for meatless recipes. One of the great things about finding new recipes online is that many of the bigger websites and food blogs will have a comment section, so you can see what other readers have thought of the recipe before you decide to try it out for yourself.
8. Remember that not every mal has to be complicated and fancy. Any time you’re feeling uninspired, just keep it simple by roasting a sweet potato or baked potato and serving it with any leftovers you have in the fridge. Some of my favorite toppings to make a meal from a sweet potato include stuffing it with refried beans, corn and salsa or piling leftover roasted vegetables on top and finishing it off with a spoonful of hummus or tahini.
9. Keep a few frozen meals on hand for those days when you are feeling really uninspired or have zero time to make something new. These can be pre-packaged frozen meals from the store OR meals you have made in advance and frozen yourself. My all-time favorite meal to freeze is vegetarian chili. Roasted red peppers and brussels sprouts also freeze quite well.
10. Keep an open mind, and have fun experimenting. Some crazy-sounding recipes or ideas are shockingly tasty! For example, cauliflower pizza crust. I initially wrote the idea off as one of those things that just couldn’t possibly be good. But I kept seeing more and more people rave about it, and so finally the curiosity was too much and I had to try… and you know what? The results were fantastic!
If you want to try it: Cauliflower Pizza Crust
Adding more meatless meals to your diet can be a great way to get in some extra vegetable servings and added nutrition. And if you keep the above tips in mind, eating meatless can be both exciting and surprisingly easy to do!
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