A chef and cookbook author who transitioned from robust carnivore to really healthy eater tells us how we can eat less meat, too
As I wrote in the introduction to my first book, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, my life began with steak. I’ve got a photo of myself from 1967, parked in a high chair, enjoying a steak bone, my mother’s idea of a teething ring.
Like most Americans, I ate meat at nearly every meal for decades. These days, I still eat meat, but I’ve lessened my grip on the bone, both for health and environmental reasons. Here are some of the tips that helped me and my meat-loving husband make the eat-less-meat transition.
1. Take baby steps rather than a huge leap. Go easy, take it slow. Rather than completely break up with meat, take one day off, along the lines of Meatless Monday. Taking it in increments feels more doable, yet creates a “new normal.” Who knows, maybe one meatless day will lead to two, or three? But if you’re not quite ready for a completely meatless meal, be kind to yourself and adjust accordingly. Start wherever you are. Consider a smaller portion of that chop or roast, or try meat as a garnish or flavor accent rather than the centerpiece.
2. Let Mother Nature be your meatless guide. There’s no easier way to get excited about vegetables than to prepare them when they are at their seasonal peak. First stop for inspiration: your neighborhood farmers’ market or farm stand, often the site of cooking demos.
3. Eat faux meat products in moderation; explore the high-protein world of beans and whole grains. For some, the soy and wheat-based sausages, burgers and franks are a gateway into meatless eating. But many of these products are highly processed and high in sodium. Besides, why pretend you’re eating meat on a meatless day? If you’re concerned about getting enough protein, chew on this: one cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams, one ounce—just one tablespoon—of pumpkin seeds has nine grams, one large egg has six grams, 3/4 cup of cooked quinoa, eight grams. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily allowance for protein for women is 46 grams.
4. Get into the kitchen. Although there are more vegetarian and vegan grab-and-go options than ever, the surefire way to eating meatlessly (and sticking to it) is by home cooking. In preparing your own meals—even the simplest salad or a bowl of beans and rice—you take control and know exactly what’s in your food. (Plus, there are leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch!)
5. Speaking of cooking, this is my mantra: Delicious first, meatless second. Omnivores love to give their teeth a workout and chew. Texture is central to the pleasure of eating meat. And so is umami, that mouth-coating sensation and lingering finish that happens when we eat meat and makes us want to smack our lips and say, “Wow, that’s delicious.” Turns out that the plant world is loaded with umami-rich ingredients, including molasses, mushrooms, mustard, roasted vegetables, olives, smoked paprika and soy sauce, which create layers of flavor and dispel the notion that vegetarian food is “rabbit food.”