Do you want to eat less meat but don’t know where to start?
How do you change something that has been a way of life since you were young?
Unfortunately our global meat consumption is still on the rise and America leads the way by eating four times as much meat as the rest of the world. However, as we become more conscious about our health, the environment and ethics, eating less meat seems much more appealing. Especially when the benefits of eating less meat are backed up by science!
Approximately 8 million adults in the U.S do not consume meat and one-half of vegetarians are vegans which equates to approximately 3.7 million U.S adults.
The plant-based movement has pressured the food and restaurant industry to offer more vegetarian and vegan dishes. In 2018, the demand for plant-based foods increased to 20% compared with a much smaller 8% in 2017. Furthermore, a study showed that 37% of Americans often or always eat vegetarian meals when dining out.
So you are not alone!
The amazing thing about this movement is that most of us have grown up eating meat. So the collection of our struggles (the cravings, accidental slip-ups, failure) and our success (of creating our first plant-based dish, eating one less day of meat, eating less meat overall or eliminating it altogether) will resonate across the community.
What is even more amazing is that food is created by people of different cultures, experiences and tastes. To be able to put this all together to contribute to a plant-based world, I love it. I think that’s a serious case of humanity bonding over a problem and finding a solution to it.
Firstly, I want to thank you for considering to eat less meat. It’s the first step to a hard but rewarding journey that will benefit so many people and things in the world.
Below are 5 ways to eat less meat that has worked for me, my friends and family and my clients.
But wait! Before this, write down a meat diary. This is an effective way to personalise your meatless endeavours and you can look back on it to see how far you have progressed!
- What type of meat do you eat? Processed vs unprocessed meat, red meat vs white meat, beef vs pork vs chicken vs lamb vs seafood vs others
- How many meat days do you have per week? Do you have any meatless days?
- How much meat do you eat? You can quantify it by the number of meals containing meat you have each day, how big are the portions, what type of food/dish do you eat? (e.g. steak, skewers, mince in pasta, slices)
Doing this will already kick-start your goal of eating less meat before you have even done these 5 things!
1. Eliminate processed meat
Ok… maybe I jumped the gun too early! The only reason why I recommend eliminating processed meats is because it is classified as a class 1 carcinogen. There is strong evidence to substantiate these claims. It has been linked to colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer. It also has high amounts of salts that can be bad for people with high blood pressure. So if you want to eat less meat, start off with eating less processed meat.
Having said that, I know eliminating it can be hard. Even for people who don’t eat much red meat or meat in general, processed meats are convenient and super tasty. This is why they are such a popular choice with children for school lunches.
Start replacing your processed meats in favour of other meats or plant-based options instead. Deli-style meats have become immensely popular with the rise of the platter and cheese boards. Spruce up some colour by adding vegetables and fruits instead to the plate. Try to omit the ham in your sandwich and opt for tuna or chicken instead, or even better, try plant-based meats or vegetables.
2. Reduce the portion size of your meat
For every 50 grams portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18%.
For every 100 gram portion of red meat eaten daily, the risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17%. Although the evidence backing this statement is not as strong as for processed meats, you can still reduce your portion sizes for other health and environmental benefits.
Personally, I feel that these scientific statements should be enough to deter people from eating meat. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the confounding consequences of colorectal cancer on patients and their families while I was on my surgical term. I’ve been able to scrub in to help the surgeons in theatre and I’ll never forget seeing my first tumour.
Gradually reduce the portion size of your meat on your meat days. It could be a tenth, an eighth, a quarter or half. Every bit helps! You can substitute in a plant-based option such as mashed potatoes to cover the quarter of meat you just reduced.
3. Use meat as a side-dish and build your meals around plants, not meat
Instead of choosing a meat dish and planning your sides and salads around the meat, do it the other way around.
Choose a plant-based dish or protein as your main and pick out a smaller meat choice. I like to choose two vegetables or one plant-based protein and base my meals around them.
Chicken skewers, small slices of beef or pork dumplings are easy choices as they make great entrees or side-dishes and offers minimal meat content with great flavour.
4. Be a flexitarian
When I started my transition into a plant-based diet, I called myself a flexitarian. This would often instigate jokes, laughter and incredulous comments due to the nature of the word. A flexi-what? But for some reason, the vibe was always positive. It invited friends and family to ask me what the heck is a flexitarian and if they knew, a small discussion on plant-based and veganism would ensue. This topic is something I love to talk about, but with friends and family, I risk becoming overbearing and condescending. So I really liked to introduce the topic in that sense.
My goal as a flexitarian was to make sure I ate plant-based meals at home – 100% of the time. All the other times, I could be less than 100%. If I ordered take-away, dined out with friends or ate at a party or social gathering, I could be less than 100%. This worked really well to satisfy my cravings but also allowed me to resist my temptations and become mentally strong.
As I became used to eating plant-based foods at home, I started to crave different plant-based options. I wanted to try other people’s plant-based creations and interpretations. I sub-consciously started to seek out vegetarian and vegan options when I dined out. It happened quite naturally. Even when I started to do this, I still considered myself as a flexitarian. There was a chance that I was going to slip-up and I didn’t want to put unnecessary pressure on myself. Eventually I started to become fully plant-based.
This strategy also works to introduce your new diet and lifestyle to your friends and family. I know a lot of people say “you do you, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks”. This is true… to an extent. We don’t like to admit it, but we all care about what our closest family and friends think. Plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets are not without its own critics. This strategy will help you slowly introduce your values to your closest ones without being too forceful and also invites them to be non-judgemental and curious.
5. Learn how to cook vegetables and plant-based meals better
When you learn how to do something well, you end up enjoying it more. As is the case for cooking vegetables and plant-based meals.
From my experience, a lot of people who want to eat less meat say that they don’t know what vegetarian or vegan meals to cook. This was my problem too. We grow up eating meat so we learn how to cook meat. So learning to cook with plant-based foods can seem effortful and daunting.
A common misconception of a plant-based diet is fresh, raw veggies with little to no flavouring. In fact, plant-based cooking often utilise a lot of herbs and spices to further enhance the taste of the vegetables. Furthermore, vegetarian and vegan meals are not entirely built upon vegetables. Grains, beans, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds provide endless amounts of flavour and texture. We often consider fruit as a snack or dessert. But did you know that it can act as a meat substitute too?
Learning how to cook vegetables and plant-based meals is easier than ever. Type in ‘vegetarian recipes’ and you’ll get 1,830,000,000 results. You also learn as you go. When my Mum taught me how to make vegan fish sauce, I found out how the first half of the recipe could also lead me to creating a beautiful soup broth!
I was a meat-eater for a longer period of time than I am plant-based. However, I was a terrible cook back then. Even though I was relatively OK with consuming meat back then, I struggled with handling the flesh of an animal. However, my cooking skills have dramatically improved when I became plant-based.
The reason? I felt good eating my food. I was more equipped, emotionally and mentally, handling a broccoli compared to a piece of chicken breast. I also knew that if I was to sustain this lifestyle for my benefit and others, I would have to take charge and learn more about what I was doing.