I mentioned in my meal plan this week that I’m trying to include more vegetarian and fish dishes into our diet. Eating less meat is becoming quite fashionable right now. It seems like everyone is going vegetarian or vegan these days. And while there is a backlash about this fad (how do you know if someone is a vegan? Oh don’t worry, they’ll bloody tell you!), the hipsters might actually be on to something. I don’t tend to do things just because everyone else is, but I’ve been trying to cut down on our meat consumption for a year or so now. It turns out there’s more to eating less meat than just being on trend.
vegan or nothing?
Anything that tells you to cut out a whole food group just isn’t for me. I like variety in my diet and try to avoid putting restrictions on things, as that leads to binging. It’s important to get your nutrients from a wide range of sources too.
I always assumed you were either vegetarian/vegan, or you weren’t. My family definitely fall into the aren’t category. I’ve written recently about my tips on getting kids to eat vegetables, but couldn’t imagine the hell of getting my kids (or Hubs!) to eat a plant-only diet. That sort of lifestyle just isn’t practical for us. I don’t think I would enjoy it either.
It wasn’t until I read Michael Pollan’s book In Defence of Food last year that I realised you could be somewhere in the middle. The book really made me stop and rethink how I see food. I’ve always remembered it’s main message – eat (real) food, not too much, mainly plants.
Since then I’ve made changes to the way we eat. The main one is that I’ve tried to make sure we eat more fish. I also try to have at least one meat-free day a week. It’s not a massive change, in fact it’s been quite easy, but the benefits are huge.
the benefits of eating less meat
- it’s good for the animals I’ve been shocked by documentaries showing what some animals go through. Living with a big family on a modest budget, we do tend to buy cheaper meat. But cheap meat is often blamed for the worst animal treatment. So by eating less meat, we are in a very small way reducing the demand for it. It also means we have more money when we do buy meat, meaning we can make more ethical choices.
- it’s good for the people Earlier this year I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. It exposes the harm the worldwide demand for cheap food is causing. What struck me most was the harm it does to the people employed in the meat packing industry. While the book is quite old now (though still as relevant) something tells me people are still paid a pittance for very dangerous, hard and unpleasant work.
- it’s good for you There are studies linking meat to things like cancer and heart disease. While the jury is still out on how concrete that link is, it can’t hurt to be cautious. If you reduce your meat intake, you need to replace it with other things – more vegetables, pulses or seafood. That adds variety into your diet, meaning a wider range of nutrients and vitamins. Eating less meat forces you to try new recipes and be a bit more adventurous in the kitchen, which is always fun!
- it’s good for your bank balance I can do a weekly shop for a family of five for under £70. I couldn’t do that if we were eating meat seven days a week. Compare a bag of lentils to a packet of chicken breasts and the saving is massive!
- it’s good for the planet Farming for the meat industry contributes over 50% of greenhouse gases. Farming for plant-based food contributes a lot less. Climate change is something we can all help to reduce. Eating less meat can be one way to do that.
simple ways to start eating less meat
Most of us grew up eating meat and two veg for dinner, and still do the same now we have our own families. It can seem like a big leap to change that. I remember seeing #meatfreemonday a few years ago, and seeing it as such a challenge. But you don’t have to make drastic changes – small tweaks can be all it takes.
- have at least one meat-free day a week It doesn’t need to be a Monday! Just make it a routine part of your week. Before you know it, you might have so many veggie dishes you love that you end up eating more than one a week.
- mix lentils with your mince If you’re making a lasagna, chilli or bolognaise, try using half the amount of mince you usually would. Then pad out the meal using lentils. I thought this was a strange tactic at first, but when I tried it I was totally converted! You can also use mushrooms, beans or rice too.
- make veggie versions of family favourites You don’t need to start eating tofu (I personally am not a fan!) just because you’re eating less meat. Try a bean chilli or vegetable curry. Look at what your family loves to eat, and see if you can switch the meat for something else.
- but don’t be scared to try alternatives Get curious, and try things like Quorn, tofu or vegetarian sausages. A lot of these products can be similar to meat, and that might soften the blow!
- change your mindset Don’t see it as missing out on meat, but as a chance to try some awesome new foods. Make it a special part of your week. Buy new vegetables, grains or beans that you’ve never tried before. If you’re at a restaurant, try a vegetarian dish you wouldn’t make at home. Take a chance on that weird sounding recipe you always flick past in your trusty recipe book. Have fun with it.
Just writing this has made me realise that I could be doing a lot more to reduce our meat intake. Who knows, maybe I’ll aim for two meat-free days a week from now on?
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