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How to Eat Less Meat



For the sake of the health of the planet and our family (not to mention the pocketbook), we are always looking for ways to lower our meat consumption. Here are some methods that have worked for my family.

Use meat as a seasoning rather than a main dish.

I could eat vegetarian (vegan would be much tougher) if I really wanted to. I could do it. But the truth is, I like a little meat. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the taste of meat while consuming less of it is to use meat as a seasoning rather than the main attraction of a meal. A perfect example is my delicious hearty lentil soup. This filling soup is mostly lentils and vegetables, but the few ounces of bacon plus chicken broth make this a very flavorful and hearty soup.

Learn from world cuisines.

I don't believe in fake meat or meat substitutes. Those have zero appeal to me. I prefer to learn from those cuisines that feature delicious and filling meatless or low-meat meals as a matter of course. Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Italian all come to mind. Pretty much every world cuisine has at least a few amazing dishes that fit the bill, and some cuisines are almost entirely meatless or low meat.

Bump up the veggies; dial down the meat.

This is an old trick of every frugal soul. Whenever I make a recipe, I just bump up the number of veggies called for and use less meat. If a recipe calls for 1 1/4 pound or 1 1/2 pound meat, I'll use just a pound. If it calls for half an onion, I use a whole one; 2 carrots, I'll use 3 or 4; and so on. Just be sure to adjust the amount of liquid and seasonings to account for additional vegetables.

The Big Salad

We are lucky to live in a place where fresh salad greens are available year-round at the farmers market. My husband and I have gotten into the habit of having a big salad almost every night with dinner (note that one serving of greens is 3 oz. or about 2 cups packed tight which makes a pretty substantial salad). By eating our salads first, we effortlessly increase our veggie intake, while decreasing our portion size of the main dish, which often contains meat. To make your salad deliciously enticing, add nuts, a strongly flavored cheese such as parmesan or goat cheese, and seasonal veggies or fruits (a few of my favorites: tomatoes, strawberries, persimmons, kiwi, and halved grapes). During the winter months when little else is available we often use apples. Also consider using homemade dressing. It's so much better and worth the effort if you eat salad regularly. I love the basic vinaigrette recipe from my tried-and-true America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Takes about 5 minutes to make, has several delicious variants, and lasts all week.

Rarely eat meals where a slab of meat is the main attraction.

I occasionally make a salmon fillet, meatballs, or turkey burger for dinner, but much less often than I used to. When I make meatballs, we go through nearly a pound of ground turkey in a single meal. When I make a stew with a pound of meat in it, or tacos with a seasoned ground beef and vegetable mixture, that pound of meat easily stretches to 3 or 4 meals.

Buy the good stuff.

When you pay more for meat, you naturally use less of it. And are also loathe to waste it. Since I started buying only organic chicken and local grass-fed beef, I am very careful about how it gets used. Conversely, when you eat less meat, you can afford the good stuff.

Eat less.

Americans eat 300 more calories per day than folks a couple of decades ago. And not because we are expending any more calories. So those extra calories are just making us fat. By eating smaller portions of meals that feature meat, you can reduce your meat intake without changing a single other thing! Using smaller plates and bowls is an easy way to trick yourself into eating less (this simple technique works even when you know that you tend to eat less with smaller dishes).

Currently about half of our meals are meatless, and I estimate that we consume on average less than two pounds of meat per week. 

How much meat does your family consume in a week?
How do you eat less meat?

Related Posts

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10 Ways Omnivore’s Dilemma Changed My Life
How I Shop for Food
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Lentil Cheese Loaf/ Vegetarian Meatloaf (Meatless Monday)Hummus from Dried Beans in 5 Minutes


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14 comments:

  1. great tips! We eat a lot of meat, but we are more paleo than anything :)

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  2. I love the tip to not make the slab of meat the main attraction, but more as a garnish.

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  3. We hardly eat any meat. I'm vegan, but my husband is an omnivore. He usually just eats what I'm cooking, but when he grills or we order in, he usually gets meat. I'd say he does that 1-2 times a week.

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  4. I don't think I need to eat less meat (I am paleo) but I can surely use more veggies!

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    1. I'm interested to know how much of the typical paleo diet is meat (by volume). I'll have to read more about it. I know you, Tiffany, are conscientious about eating grass-fed beef, etc. --- is that a part of paleo too, to seek out better meat options?

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  5. I've been all over the board on eating habits. But, I couldn't go with one form or another. I need a variety. Meat, seafood, and veggies. My body doesn't do well without one without the other. Having said, I eat mostly veggies and try not to eat meat as a main meal. One thing I am trying to cut out is grains...except rice. I need rice. Great tips Betsy!

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  6. Funny, I have an article with exactly this format!
    http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org/2009/09/04/7-ways-to-eat-less-meat/
    Some of my strategies are the same, but some are different. The one thing that made the biggest difference for us was giving up meat for Lent, back in 2002. That short period of learning what else we could eat made a permanent difference in how often we choose meat.

    These days, my family averages about one fish meal per week, and we don't cook poultry or red meat at home. Normally each of us will eat poultry 1-4 times a month and red meat once a month or less, as guests or in restaurants. But during this pregnancy I've become deficient in iron and B12, so I am eating turkey twice a week and even beef a few times recently, because the iron in meat is supposed to be more absorbable and it does seem to improve my energy level.
    ---'Becca

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Love your ideas, Becca -- and, yes, lots of overlap. I also plan meals around what is in season at the farmers market, partly b/c my meat is always in the freezer anyway and not really subject to seasonal fluctuations. Congrats on your pregnancy! I crave beef (and eggs) when I'm pregnant too. Always important to listen to your body (unless it's screaming for processed sugar, I suppose).

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  7. Thanks for the great suggestions! We've been eating this way for over a year now, and it's made a huge difference in both our diet and our budget.

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  8. DH and I both grew up on the meat, potato and veg menu; the only variety was casseroles--casseroles that were loaded which cheese (and nothing else was identifiable). Thankfully we broke out of that cycle. Some of the things we do to consume less meat are 1. mix ground meat with bread crumbs or rice when making meatballs or stuffed cabbage/peppers etc. 2. shred poultry for a "pile" of meat that isn't really a pile. 3, mix cooked shredded chicken with mashed potatoes & make croquettes. 4. make modern casseroles (which are more layered style baked dishes and much lighter on the cheese) that you can actually taste the individual foods and enjoy the textures and the way they compliment each other & 5. use marinara sauces (meatless) for all sides or for main dishes that include cheese (like the kosher rule that forbids meat & dairy in the same meal).
    I like your idea of upping the vegetables while at the same time reducing the meat. This way you get a huge plate that smells of meat.

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    1. These are great ideas, Charlene. Thank you for sharing them!

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  9. My daughters and I could happily eat meat or fish only once or twice a week. My husband cannot. If I make macaroni cheese it has to have some bacon bits .....
    Still he is gradually learning that meals do not need to be a slab of meat and two veg. However, he is extremely fussy (and rightly so) about where his meat comes from, and as a keen fisherman he won't touch farmed salmon (have to agree with him there, it has improved over the years but is still pretty dreadful compared to fresh line caught) He is an adventurous cook and consumer so that helps too. He even tried my kimchi and declared it rather good!

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    1. My husband used to be much more that way. After watching Forks & Knives, he's pushing harder than I am to reduce meat! The power of the media...

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