There are a lot of controversial nutrition topics out there that could be argued for days, but this isn’t one of them. Whether you’re a proponent for a vegetarian/vegan diet or not, there’s no question that making your diet more plant-based is definitely a good idea. The good news is, it doesn’t mean you have to go from eating bacon-wrapped chicken stuffed with pork to eating quinoa, kale, and salads for every meal. It’s about the small changes. Even if you grew up on meat and potatoes, it’s totally possible to adopt healthier eating habits that are more plant-focused. Umm, hello from a girl raised on steak and burgers in Indiana.
Why get on the plant-based “bandwagon”? (Get ready for a ton of links to recent studies and articles.) For starters, it can improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, help with weight loss, reduce your risk for cancer, dementia, etc. etc. Even in kids. Bottom line: It’s healthier. But there are other reasons, too. Eating more plants over animal products can be cheaper. Subbing in whole grains, veggies, and legumes also means added fiber. Which keeps you fuller longer. Which means you don’t have to eat as much and there’s more to go around. Need another reason? It’s better for the environment. Surprisingly, about a third of the Earth’s land is dedicated to livestock and livestock feed, but nearly 100x more plant-based food can be produced for human consumption per acre than meat for human consumption. And animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all transportation. Crazy, huh?
Alright, so how do we get there? Here are 10 ways to switch out animal products for plant:
- Trade meat for beans or legumes.
- Taco Tuesday? Try black beans instead of ground beef. You could even mix in brown rice and add some taco seasoning.
- For chili and soups, chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans make great alternatives for chicken, ground beef, or pork.
- Instead of using a pound of ground beef in your spaghetti sauce, trade out half (or all) of it for lentils. Lentils add a meaty texture and give you the protein you’d otherwise be missing.
- Follow the MyPlate rule. 50% of your plate should be fruits/veggies, 25% should be grains (whole grains), and 25% should be protein. Most Americans are nowhere near this, so thinking in those proportions would almost certainly be an improvement for you.
- Throw fruit or veggies in it. Whatever it is. Then throw in some more. More recipes than you realize can easily be revitalized by adding in more fruit/vegetables, which also stretches the meal to feed more people (or allow more leftovers).
- Spaghetti and meatballs on the menu? Before heating up the sauce, toss some onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant in the skillet first. Mix into the sauce, and voila.
- Those tacos I just told you to sub beans in for meat? Throw in a ton of veggies, too, like greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, onion, peppers, avocado… the options are endless.
- Yogurt: add blueberries or raspberries. Cereal: add strawberries or peaches. Oatmeal: add apples or bananas. See how easy that is?
- Try tofu. I know I know I knooooow. You’re crinkling your nose right now, aren’t you? If you’ve tried it more than a couple of times, there’s a good chance you’ve tasted how NOT to prepare it at least once. If you haven’t tried it, quit hatin’ and give it a shot. Here’s the key: press and drain it. Check out this article for how to avoid making tofu taste gross. And this recipe, or this one, or this one can get you started.
- Try out some new recipes. Even the best of us get into recipe ruts, and if your go-to menu items are meat focused, maybe it’s time to do some browsing. Enter the majesty of Pinterest. Search out a couple of simple vegetarian recipes that look appetizing to try next week. Incorporating just a handful of new animal-free recipes in your lineup can make really add up long-term and make a huge impact. Here are a few to get you started: BBQ Cauliflower and Chickpea Tacos, Edamame Fried Rice, Kale & Blackbean Burritos, Slow Cooker Barley Risotto, Eggplant & Zucchini Parmesan. (You can also follow me on Pinterest, where I often post vegetarian/vegan options.)