6 Strategies for Reducing Meat in Your Diet

creamy pasta bake dish replaces meat

Stacy Spensley / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

These hacks can make a major dietary transition less intimidating and ultimately more successful.

Eating habits are a tough thing to change. From the time we’re babies, whatever our parents choose to feed us affects our taste buds and preferences. We learn to love certain flavors and dislike others, and often these aren’t good for us. The evolutionary urge to binge on salt, sugar, and fat – nutrients that were once rare but now exist in abundance – is difficult to overcome, as is the tendency to eat meat when it’s cheap and widely available.

Increasing numbers of people, however, are consciously choosing to rethink their diets for environmental and ethical reasons. Reducing meat or cutting it out completely is becoming more normal. You can see it in the number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants opening in every town, the expansion of healthy school meal programs, Meatless Monday campaigns, and salad bars in cafeterias. Documentary films like Forks Over Knives and Cowspiracy have got people thinking about plant-based eating.

If you’re wanting to do this but feel overwhelmed by such a change, do not fear! There are ways to make it easier, less daunting, and more successful in the long run. I’ve gathered the following list of ‘hacks’ from The Reducetarian Solution, a collection of essays that examines the many benefits of reducing meat in one’s diet. These ones stood out for me and have certainly helped in my personal journey toward significant dietary meat reduction.

1. Stick with what’s comfortable.

There are countless meat-free options available involving ‘exotic’ ingredients like seitan, tofu, Quorn, and tempeh (not to mention cultured meats and possibly insects), but if you’re new to the world of meatless eating, these might seem intimidating, or even unappetizing. Focus instead on making meatless version of favorite, familiar foods. For example, try bean chili, veggie lasagna, bean-and-rice-filled burritos, lentil soup, and salads topped with nuts.

2. Start small and build gradually.

It’s not all or nothing. You’d be setting yourself up for failure if you went from a faithful carnivore to vegan overnight. Build up to your goal slowly in order to ensure lasting success. Start with one meatless meal a week and work up to more. Try always ordering vegetarian when you go out to eat, or do it the other way around, allowing yourself meat only when you’re at a restaurant. The more vegan/vegetarian food you incorporate into your diet, the easier it will get.

3. Slow down and listen to your body.

This suggestion comes from Elisa Museles in an essay called “Listen to your body.” She explains that many of us eat for the wrong reasons, filling our bodies steadily because we’re bored, tired, stressed, or because the clock says it’s dinner time:

“How will you know whether your body can handle less animal protein at every meal if you’re multitasking and rushing? How will you notice if you’re satisfied when you eat your meals standing up, while reading your texts?”

She wants you to take the time to hear listen to what your body is telling you. Sit at the table, chew slowly, put down your fork. Pay attention to the aftermath, i.e. Are you energized or lethargic? Does your gut feel good or uncomfortable? Are you still hungry or full? What’s your mood and how are your cravings? Pay attention to these details and you’ll find yourself making food choices to get the outcome you want.

4. Focus on what you’re gaining, not what you’re losing.

If you’ve spent years giving meat a central position on your dinner plate, then it will seem scary to think of removing it. It requires a completely different approach to meal preparation. I know because I’ve been through this. I used to cook meat every day and loved it, but as I’ve delved into more plant-based eating, I’ve discovered countless glorious replacements. Now I get excited about beautiful heritage beans and pans of oven-roasted vegetables. No longer does it seem like I’m missing out, but rather that I’ve discovered a new world I knew little about.

5. Understand that your body’s needs will change.

Another wise suggestion from Museles: “The food that works for today’s long-distance run might not work next week when you’re battling a cold. The meals that energized you while you were pregnant might make you feel slow and groggy when you’re chasing toddlers.”

In other words, be flexible. Listen to your body and your cravings (within reason), as they are trying to tell you something. For example, I’ve noticed that I crave animal protein much more in the winter than I do in summer, when I’m happy to subsist mostly on salads and fruit. Make “feeling your best” more important than fulfilling expectations of what you should be eating.

6. Seek support.

Community makes everything easier. Find friends or coworkers that follow plant-based, reducetarian diets. See if local vegan restaurants offer cooking classes. Look for Facebook groups or blogs where you can connect with similar-minded individuals. As Nick Cooney writes, “At heart we’re all a bunch of copycats,” so surrounding yourself with people who follow the same habits will be a recipe for success.

Note: Be sure to consult your doctor or health care provider when implementing a major dietary change.