I grew up in the Midwest. The heartland. The flyover states. However you want to call it.
One staple of my Midwestern upbringing was a (false) belief that a meal was not a meal without a big hunk of meat in the center of the plate.
When I first went vegetarian as a college-aged male in 2007, I really didn’t know what I was going to eat! Now, after almost 8 years at this, I have learned a lot. And sometimes the biggest hurdle to eating less (or ideally no) meat is simply figuring out what else to eat!
There are a few schools of thought that we will discuss:
1. Meat substitutes
3. Beans and Lentils (my personal favorite!)
By far the simplest and easiest way to replace the meat in your diet is to switch to meat substitutes, and in 8 years I certainly have eaten my fair share. And there is good news on this front — in just 8 short years they’ve progressed from barely passing to convincingly similar!
If you are used to cold cuts on sandwiches, try Tofurky instead. If you are a chicken-lover, go with Gardein (this stuff is good!). If you have to have burgers, the closest that I have heard is the Beast Burger by Beyond Meat. They apparently even use a blood analogue so convincing it turns off a lot of long-time vegans! Of course, it has more protein than beef with zero cholesterol and far less saturated fat, so it is infinitely better for you. If you can’t find this burger however, there are plenty of other great veggie burger options to choose from.
One note: for both the environment and the animals, these are an infinitely better choice. For health, you’d still be better served going 100% whole-foods plant-based, but to be sure, these substitutes can be incredibly beneficial as you transition away from a meat-centric diet, and are still much better for you than the animal products!
When I went vegetarian I felt like there were two main camps to choose from: those who ate lots of tofu and those who ate lots of beans. We’ll talk about beans in a second, but many vegans and vegetarians rely heavily on soy and wheat-based protein products.
Tempeh is fermented soybeans (sometimes with other grains as well). It has a firmer texture than tofu, and can be marinated to resemble the smokey flavor of bacon, used in stir-fries, and especially can star in some awesome vegan sandwiches!
Seitan is the isolated gluten from wheat. It is also known as “vital wheat gluten.” Obviously if you have Celiac’s this is not a choice. However for the 97% or more of Americans who are not gluten intolerant, it is a great choice, and can mimic chicken or duck in stir-fries (mock duck is seitan), can be used on pizza, and can bulk up soups.
I eat all three of these products from time to time. My favorite is tempeh sandwiches!
Beans and Lentils
This is the camp I most closely identified with! I absolutely love beans and lentils. They have great protein, and incredible fiber. And they are very versatile!
For breakfasts you could try the traditional Costa Rican breakfast called “Gallo Pinto,” which is rice and black beans sauteed up with some onion, peppers, and a special sauce called Salsa Lizano.
Black beans make a great soup, and can star in spicy chili along with pinto and kidney beans. Chickpeas are phenomenal roasted as a snack, are great in Indian dishes, and can even be used to mimic chicken.
Lentils are real heroes of the vegan plate! I have enjoyed them Ecuadorian style, Indian style, and even have used them to replicate a childhood favorite with Sloppy Lentils! They also make a killer soup.
It’s Easy To Eat Without The Meat
There are so many great ways to go meatless! Use one or all three of these strategies as you transition away from an animal-based diet and toward a healthy, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, sustainable plant-based diet!