How to eat less meat

There's been a glut of vegetarian questions lately…

(Edit: Well there WAS a glut of questions, back in freakin' May 2008 when I started writing this entry. Slackarse! I'm determined to finish today!)

… You've shacked up with one, you want to be one, you want to be a part-time one, or you just want to beat gas prices and find out if you can propel yourself to the office with your very own wind power.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to eat less/no meat – economical, ethical, environmental – your questions were about how to put that desire into practice:

  • how do I change my diet?
  • how do I make non-meat meals tasty and satisfying?
  • what do I do with all those beans? 
  • what about the FARTING?

As always I can only offer my own experiences and hope you might find something helpful there. Also, in the eons that have passed since I started this entry, I've noticed lots of bloggers talking about decreasing their meat consumption – so if anyone out there has some tips, feel free to join in!

I grew up on a farm where it was blasphemy not to eat meat every night. There was always half a cow in our freezer at least. I only knew one vegetarian, the lovely Carrie. We gave her a lot of hell about it at school. There was a range of vegetarian products in Australia that were all called Not-something. Not Burgers. Not Bacon. Not Dogs. Every time the poor girl grilled one up for lunch we'd all cackle, "How's your Not Burger?… NOT BAD?"

My meat consumption decreased sharply when I moved to Scotland, firstly for financial reasons. Then I hooked up with Vegetarian Gareth and when I moved in with him, he insisted I shouldn't change my diet on his account. But I found it more practical to cook one meal and enjoyed the culinary challenge. I also liked how vegetarian cooking usually resulted in less skanky pots to clean!

These days I treat meat and fish like I do chocolate  – they're Sometimes foods. I go for the best quality I can afford and try to be mindful of sustainability and origin and all that stuff.

So here's the step-by-step meat-reducing process I went through:

1. Adapting old meaty recipes
Back when I first shacked up with Dr G, I started by taking my old standard meat recipes and finding veggie substitutes. This meant lots of beans and lentils. Mostly from cans (with no added sugar or salt) because I couldn't be bothered soaking dried ones and our unreliable stove meant you'd have to stand beside it for hours making sure the little beans didn't stick to the pot.

Some favourites:

  • Canned green or brown lentils – great sub for minced beef in spaghetti bol. Once you add some herbs, vegetable stock and wine and simmer for a good while, it gets nice and rich and you don't miss the beef.
  • Borlotti beans – these ones are the ones they use in baked beans. I love them for bean burgers – just mash up a tin of beans, add some fresh herbs, some chopped onion, maybe some pesto, or some nuts and seeds, roll into balls, oven bake or pan fry. Ace.
  • Butter beans – Dr G makes this great butterbean mash – just sautee an onion, add the butterbeans and a dash of Tabasco then squash with a stab blender. Sometimes he adds chopped herbs or a sprinkle of cheese.

2. Dabbling with meat substitutes
I went through a phase of trying lots of vegetarian products, particularly Quorn. What is Quorn? It's mycoprotein… fungi sort of thing, flavoured and formed into various shapes – sausages, burgers, mince. Like the Not range back in Oz. I tried it all, baby. It's quite tasty, but the Quorn "bacon" did me in… it tasted nothing like bacon and it had the most creepy texture. I decided I'd rather have some REAL bacon every now and then instead of a pretender.

3. Getting big and bold with flavours
Once I got bored with faux meat I thought about flavoursome ingredients that would jazz up plain veggies and beans. Olives, capers, sundried tomatoes, chilies, feta cheese, lemon, lime. Lots of fresh herbs too. Trying new spices with weird names. It's lovely how a sprinkle of this and that can make a vegetable sing.

4. Putting the veg centre stage
For a couple of years we got a vegetable box delivery. For £10 per fortnight all sorts of weirdo veggies would show up on our doorstep. This forced me to get more imaginative and build the meals around the vegetable, whereas in the old days it revolved around the meat. I found Leith's Vegetarian Bible and the Riverford Organics recipe pages great for those "What the HELL do I do with this leafy thing?" moments.

5. Finding some new old standards
I was cool with the veggie thing once I had a couple of recipes for that worked every time and pleased a crowd. I always trot out Sophie's Comforting Butternut Squash Dal that I have linked to 27 times before. Sooo soothing and filling and tasty, it would never occur to you that meat was "missing". Plus if you do the spicy onion garnish and yogurt and naan bread, it looks like you've gone to lots of fuss. Hehe.

I'd also be lost without Delia Smith's vegetarian shepherds pie. It is the Friends For Lunch standard – although I make it with about 75% less butter than Delia. It's one of those dishes that make you sigh, "Ahh… lentils rule". It showed me that the beans and lentils can be flavoursome in their own right. They are such great "carriers" for other flavours. It's a very adaptable recipe – I like it with sweet potato or butternut or parsnip mash instead of plain potato. I also swap out the goats cheese coz Dr G is freaked out by goats cheese (I just asked him again why he hates it and he said, "URRGH! Coz it just tastes of goats." Righto then.)

6. Devouring food blogs
There's no better way of getting ideas than from snooping at what other people do. Here are some of my favourite food blogs that are either vegetarian or just have some great vegetable recipes:

Oh yeah… the farting. Your body does adjust! I've eaten beans for lunch every day this week and I've not issued a single trumpet. My colleagues will be pleased to know that.

Further reading:

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38 thoughts on “How to eat less meat

  1. I just glanced at the Delia recipe. In America, peeling Swedes is frowned upon. I suppose it’s okay in Scotland as revenge for all that Viking pillaging?

  2. Great post! DH needs to go more veggie. He’s got a family history of heart health issues. If he’s gonna make the change, it’s going to be up to me. Because if I don’t feed him, he eats all fast food. Thanks for the recipe links.

  3. Ooooh Shauna. I am positively drooling (as a former super-strict vegetarian of more than two decades and destined to return).

    Could I recommend Claudia Roden? She is a fabulous Middle Eastern food writer – this BBC link is a good start but it’s worth looking at her books on a dedicated website, if the recipes below take your fancy:

    link to bbc.co.uk

    Claudia’s books have lots and lots of veggie-friendly recipes.

    On the Italian side, Marcella Hazan does both but her meat recipes CAN be adapted.

    link to dolcevita.com

    Thanks for getting me excited about food again!

  4. Arghhh!!! I’m seriously afraid of recipes that take two pages of print…or more than 4 ingredients. Plus I’m having to look up swedes and celeriac….oh and mace. This better be to die for and not to die from. Hehe

  5. I’ll always be a meat eater but I have made a couple of Portobello “hamburgers” this year and I have to say those would be easy to eat more often as a meat substitute.

  6. Rebecca – The thing about Delia is she craps on for seventeen paragraphs and makes thing sound more complex and intimidating than they really are! You could boil that particular recipe down to:

    1. sautee some vegies, add some spices, chuck in some beans (i used canned rather than her faffing)
    2. open tin of tomatoes, drain
    2. boil then mash some potatoes
    3. chuck bean mix in a dish, put tomatoes on top
    4. cover that with the spuds
    5. bake til golden and yum 🙂

    Mrs L – I’ve always wanted to read Claudia Roden, she sounds rockin!

  7. Rebecca – The thing about Delia is she craps on for seventeen paragraphs and makes thing sound more complex and intimidating than they really are! You could boil that particular recipe down to:

    1. sautee some vegies, add some spices, chuck in some beans (i used canned rather than her faffing)
    2. open tin of tomatoes, drain
    2. boil then mash some potatoes
    3. chuck bean mix in a dish, put tomatoes on top
    4. cover that with the spuds
    5. bake til golden and yum 🙂

    Mrs L – I’ve always wanted to read Claudia Roden, she sounds rockin!

  8. I was a vegetarian for 5 years, and the things you can do with tofu is amazing, I really need to get back to more vegetarian options. Too bad I was a poor grad student at the time so I couldn’t make the really great recipes!

  9. Thanks for the inspiration with vegetarian meals. I was vegetarian for a few years in my twenties and while I now eat protein–my body seems to do better with it–I’m always interested in more and better vegetarian recipes because I’m constantly working on upping the number of veggies I consume.

    Just wanted you to know too that your blog and book has been an inspiration for me as I’m on my own journey to blast the lard out of my life. Thanks for writing.

  10. This a timely entry for me! Being married to a ‘meat head’ is hard work. A friend was given a fab food book at Christmas which I’ve bought -Leon: Ingredients and Recipes which offers a way ahead to healthy compromise. I know we could buy endless cook/food books that remain unused, but this is truly inspirational and satisfying (literally and in terms of an enjoyable bed time book)!!

  11. When I first started going out with my husband about 9 years ago he was a vegetarian and I was a meat eater. When we moved in together I was 19 years old and I hardly ever cooked meat so, going vegetarian seemed the thing to do, and I did for about a year… but I missed meat and ended up eating it when we went out to eat on occasion. Over the years he and I have sort of drifted towards eachother on the question of whether to eat meat or not. I cook and eat a lot of vegetarian food because it tends to be less expensive, and we eat meat in small amounts. I do better eating a little meat when I am nursing or pregnant (we have two daughters), without it I feel kind of tired and lousy. And my husband says that he feels like he can take it or leave it, but he loves my cooking too much to turn his nose up at it, and also, his work (he is an engineer and works on ships dropping scientific instruments to the ocean floor) makes it very difficult to be a vegetarian and eat a healthy diet when he is on a ship. Anyway… thanks for the post! I think it is important to know that even if you grew up with meat on the table at every meal, you don’t have to live that way just out of habit… some of my favorite foods are vegetarian… lot of the time you just don’t need the meat!

  12. Thanks for the link!
    I’m not veggie but tend to eat vegetarian meals 3 or 4 nights of the week. It is often cheaper and it is often healthier but, to be honest, I just cook like that ’cause I really like vegetarian food. The Ottolenghi series you linked to is definitely one of my favourites. 🙂

  13. I’ve gradually changed from my good Yorkshire upbringing of meat for dinner every day to just eating meat once every week or two. It’s just a better way to eat on all counts; nutritionally, environmentally and financially.

    Last year was when I really decided to cut down on the meat dramatically and I’ve found thinking what to eat for dinner easy enough but it has definitely taken a bit more effort to think of lunches to take to work that aren’t all cheese based. Having a good store cupboard of different grains and canned beans as well as those big flavours you mention means that I can usually improvise something for lunch. Even if it looks a bit odd.

    Now obviously the aforementioned butternut squash dal is the best veggie recipe ever but our other standby is Smitten Kitchen’s Huevos Rancheros link to smittenkitchen.com And er, tortellini with tomato sauce and spinach but that’s not really exciting enough to mention.

    p.s we wrote a comment on your Bert post but it got swallowed up by your spam machine. The gist of it was that me and my cat (also a Bert) send you a big hug

  14. Love this post! Being a student I generally don’t eat meat at home anymore; I’ll eat it when I’m going out or at the parents place. It’s fun to try new things as substitutions; I still need to try tofu and quorn though!

    Maybe you could give me some suggestions- I really like potatoes but I’m not sure what to pair them with in a meal. Normally I would eat meat with potatoes and have greens on the side. But when I don’t have meat in the house, I’m not sure what else “goes” with potatoes. What do you do?

  15. Loved this, as I’m trying to do the same thing at my place. I will have to try some of these recipes.

    What I love about your blog is that the comments are always fun to read (you don’t have the loonies that PQ gets).

  16. Also I always imagine someone milking the goat and that puts me off.

    Yes, I do realise that cows’ milk comes from much the same sort of place.

    So sorry about your dog. How animals do wind themselves around our hearts.

  17. Nice post! Reducing animal produce is so much healthier.

    We’ve skipped the “substitute” phase and fallen into fresh whole foods (fruit, vegetables, brown rice, oatmeal, legumes) and we’re loving it. I particularly enjoy our large varied dinner salads – we go to bed feeling satisfied, but light.

    Our policy is to not eat animal products at home, but not fret about it in social situations. They call it flexitarianism and as labels go, that’s one I can live with.

  18. It all sound delish! Only one problem, my kids and DH cannot stand beans – any beans. My 3 year old really practices her gag reflex every time I try to introduce beans – but she just loves vegetables. As for my 6 y/o son, if it is not bread, or came from a drive through, it is not tasty food. So, he pretty much forces down everything I put on the table 🙁

  19. HI

    1. I really quite like the Quorn bangers. They are not at all like the yummy meaty gourmet sausages you can get now but they really remind me of the cheap processed sausages we had in NZ when I was growing up – and you probably had in Aus. Grillers I think they were called. there were ones that had cheese all through them that oozed out when you ate them. Yum! I just wish the Quorn ones had the oozy cheese thing going on! Oh – and I’m about to start another Slimming World membership (I’ve found it more successful than other slimming groups in the past) and quorn sausages are free on green.

    2. I really recommend the M&S Chickpea Curry recipe you shared with me once. the recipe is for a soup but I always make it as a curry dish to go on rice – I just add 2/3 less stock and I use creamed coconut rather than a can of coconut milk and hey presto – yummy chickpea curry that takes about 15 minutes to do from yay to nay.

    By the way – I hope all your friends and loved ones are OK after the fires…
    XX

  20. Hubby & I are part-time vegetarians. About to make some Spagetti with home-made sauce. I use a vegetarian crumbles in place of the ground beef. I prefer veggie burgers to beef burgers. Try different brands & varieties-I like some but not all. Love some veggie pizza. You can add saute veggies to your frozen cheese pizza before sticking it in the oven. Middle east cuisine offers lots of variety. I love tabouleh in the summer.

    Swedes are rutabaga. Celeriac is another root veggie-also known as celery root. Google is my friend.

    Oh, I’m with Dr G on the goat’s cheese. My problem dates to the time I opened an old can of evaporated goats milk-yuck! Unfortunately, goat’s cheese reminds me of that smell. I love just about any other cheese. Could never be a vegan.

  21. Yuuuuuummmm, goat’s milk products! I love all of ’em. I’ve gotta say, even though I eat a fair bit of vego food, I do love a goat curry or roasted goat leg, too. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.

  22. Okay, I will officially be horrified if someone offers me goat cheese, now. How will I ever try it with the thought of billy in the back of my head?

  23. I remember you mentioning Quorn a while back, DG, and I looked it up on the internet. I was worried about you after that.

  24. We have reduced our meat consumption greatly since we started on our weightloss journey. In fact, I had not had any red meat in months–Friday night we celebrated Valentine’s Day at a fondue restaurant, and the red meat that we ate did not digest well at all!!! 🙁 Makes me think we weren’t meant to eat things like that when our bodies reject it so strongly.

  25. Hey,
    I’m a very occasional meat eater (maybe a few times per year). And I want to stand up for the Notburger- they’re so good! All very processed but better on a BBQ than lots of other things- put it with some guacamole and vegies on nice bread and it’s awesome!

    Also- I’m going to make the squash dal but have a question- is that squash as in funny round yellow vegetable or squash as in pumpkin? Stupid question, I know!

    Very enjoyable to read about other sometimes vegetarians and all the super exciting options!

  26. Thanks for the link – I enjoyed this post with all its wisdom – I am probably one of the lucky vegetarians who never liked the taste of meat so it isn’t a big sacrifice (unless I am forced to eat faux meat) but I did gradually eat less and less meat before going veg – the hardest thing for me was missing out on the meat traditions but I have created my own veg traditions – esp with the help of nut roasts

  27. I am squarely in the meat eating camp, but I’m trying to dabble with the idea that not every meal HAS to have meat in it. I had a lovely vegetarian Indian meal the other night, and then had to follow it up with a handful of jerky. And lamented that it would have been even more lovely with a curried chicken breast with it.

    Someday, I might learn. Until then, bring on the things that cluck, moo, and blow bubbles underwater.

  28. I also strongly recommend any cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey (World Vegetarian is my favorite). Her recipes are generally super-easy, very flavorful, and her writing style is fun to boot.

  29. Hi Shauna, The topic of going at least partially veggo is one that I covered recently on my blog, http://www.spadesandspoons.blogspot.com. Over the last couple of months I have instigated the Quiet Revolution method of introducing my family (consisting of my Feed-the-Man-Meat husband and two children) to regular vegetarian meals, without a single complaint so far! We are now eating 2-3 vegetarian dinners a week.

  30. I am a new vegetarian, having only taken it up in the past 6 months. I am sort of feeling my way around and figuring out what does and does not work for me. I’m currently in the process of losing 200 pounds and have found that the weight is coming off faster the less meat I consume. Grains and Vegetables have really become the center of my diet plan. Couscous is wonderful. I can’t get enough of it. Thankfully veggie burger/chicken products have really improved since they first came out. I adore the Boca burgers. And when I am craving a heavy breakfast I have a couple of veggie corn dogs and that keeps me satisfied.

  31. Thanks for this, it’s handy. At the moment I’m still perfecting vegetarian cooking, so I have to be able to save a disaster. Your big bold flavour idea works well for this. Hommous, grated cheese, fetta cheese or a boiled egg on the side can give a meal a bit of extra oomph. I’m working on the herb and spice combinations too.

  32. I finally tried the squash/lentil dal and good grief it’s tasty. No need for salt or flavoured stock cubes or owt.