Going meatless on certain days of the week does not have to be the end of your days for having meat. You may even like doing it because it might be saving you money. However you may be wondering that if I cut out animal products from my diet, then what would I eat? Or, isn’t it taking away good things from my diet? In fact, it is quite the opposite and instead of just subtracting animal products once or twice a week from your diet, you are also adding nutrient dense foods to your meals such as more whole grains, plant based proteins, vegetables and fruits. Usually when people have meals like steak with potatoes, they have minimal amounts of vegetables added to the side of the plate. Incorporating a day or two each week where you have the potatoes, but take out the steak, you also would have to add more nutrient dense calories from vegetables to your plate in place of the meat. In certain ways it enables you to have healthier eating habits without realizing it at first. So lets look at a list breakdown of some of benefits and ways to reduce meat during the week.
- Increase of Nutrients in the diet and reducing risk for health issues
Americans generally eat on average more than enough protein they need, so taking away animal products once or twice a week and getting adequate amounts of protein from legumes, beans, tempeh, or tofu is just as equal of a substitute. Our fiber recommendations are usually also never met by many meat eaters, and a gradual intake of beans and vegetables will also increase vitamins such as B6, manganese, potassium and folic acid. All of this sounds like some great stuff…because it is especially helpful with reducing cardiovascular issues such as high cholesterol or heart disease. Focusing on a lifestyle/diet regimen such as the Mediterranean diet that reduces meat and increases good fats, fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, and whole grains has been shown to reduce our risk of things like heart disease, stroke, and other conditions.
2. Saving You Money!
Let’s face it- meat can get expensive, especially when you have a family. Meat products usually cost more per pound and a sample menu for the day of a meat eater can cost a few dollars more per person than a vegan. During a sample day a typical vegan menu saved $3.50. I know, that honestly might not sound like that much but it can add up each day, and when you are on a budget it can help save hundreds a year possibly. Even cheap cuts of beef can be $3-$4 a pound, whereas dried beans can be less than $1 a pound, and even tofu is usually less than $2 a pound. Buying more vegetables or beans and legumes can seem expensive when you are on a very low budget, but there are tricks to use. You can bulk up on frozen veggies and dried bean bags instead of canned ones, since those are more pricey.
3. Reducing Carbon Emissions, Fuel and Water use
The production of meat compared to plant based crops creates a lot more greenhouse gas emissions thus increasing a persons carbon footprint. With different groups of foods eaten, a level of carbon intensity is let out per kilocalorie. Beef and lamb are at the highest level of grams of carbon dioxide equivalents to kilocalories of the food eaten at 14.1 gram CO2e/kcal. Sounds a bit science heavy, but in laymens terms it just means that they have a bigger output of carbon emissions than vegetables which only have 2.8g CO2e/kcal. Livestock also need a vastly larger amount of water to survive and continue to use them for production. People might originally think that vegetables and crops need tons of water to produce but this isn’t the case. In fact a person who is eating completely animal free (a vegan), actually can indirectly consume about 600 gallons of water less than a meat eater thus conserving water. More fossil fuels are also used to produce meat compared to having grain crops, and ironically grains are given for livestock to eat. This can in turn waste more grain products that people can instead be eating.
4. It creates more flexibility in your diet: Be a flexitarian
So you may be wondering, what on Earth is a flexitarian? Well the word flex comes from flexible, and people who identify as flexitarians are basically just flexible with their meat consumption. Technically flexitarians are those who have a diet that is mainly plant based on most days, but also incorporate animal products on occasion. How often they have meat is up to the person and their preferences. Some might have animal products just once a week, whereas other flexitarians may have small portions of meat a few times a week. It is a great compromise for those who want to cut down on meat for things such as health conditions, but for those who also can’t get away entirely from eating animal products. It is kind of like being a vegan with the added benefits. You can reap the benefits of wanting nutrients from animal products, reduce risk of health conditions or symptoms, help to lose weight and be flexible with your family.
Ways to reduce meat during the week
- Try bean soups on the weekend and have leftovers for the next days lunch. Minestrone, split pea, lentil, etc. are all great alternatives filled with fiber that keeps you satisfied and full.
- Incorporate more seafood and fish if you can’t get away from having a type of animal product. It has Omega-3 fatty acids that red meats don’t and is more heart healthy in return.
- If you are into trying out tofu, tempeh or other vegan meat products you can simply replace it into stir frys with a colorful array of vegetables and whole grains on the side like brown rice, quinoa or bulgur. Roasting or grilling tofu also can give it a smoky almost meat like flavor and crisp texture as well.
- Try to meal plan before each week so you can have an idea of the meatless day you will have and know exactly what you will make. Building your meals around the vegetables instead of the meat can help you see ideas more clearly. If you like ethnic dishes, many Indian recipes are vegetarian and packed with spices. Using a recipe you make all the time and instead just taking the meat out of the equation can work as well.
- Once you may get used to having one meatless day during the week and possibly want to have another meatless day, you can start to cut meat portions in half; or if you have to buy larger portions of meat, you can freeze portions of meat and save for another time. This can help with budgeting as well.