Meat-LESS Meal Planning for Carnivores

“You’re kidding?”  That was the response I received the first time I suggested we try following a ‘Meatless Monday’ meal plan.  No amount of feminine charms could convince or seduce my husband into getting on board.  It became a mute subject.  

Like many, my husband enjoys eating meat and poultry.  He doesn’t order the 20oz porterhouse at the fancy steak restaurant.  But, he does expect to see some form of meat or poultry on the dinner table most, if not every, night.  It’s how he grew up.  It’s what he expects.  It’s how he likes it.

For several years, I was frustrated and dreamed my husband would change his mind.  I hoped that he would have one of those enlightening moments when he ‘realized ‘ all the benefits of knocking meat out of a few meals each week.  It never happened.  But, then I began thinking differently.  

Once I decided to adapt my own ideas, I was able to create some solutions that work for our family.  Essentially, the goal is to eat more plants.  Well, there are many ways to accomplish that!  

Instead of focussing on the removal of meat, what if we focused more on the inclusion of plants?!  Brainstorming ideas was all about finding creative (and very small) changes that I could make in our meals that collectively would accomplish the goal… without overhauling our menu.  

Elimination sounds pretty drastic to meat lovers.  Avoid the tension.  Don’t create an unpleasant mealtime.  Meat-LESS meal planning for ‘meat-lovers’ is all about adapting ideas to fit your family.   

Plant-based diets do have some amazing benefits and according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are appropriate for all stages in the life cycle, including pregnancy, infancy, lactation, childhood, older adults and even athletes.  But they do emphasize being well-planned out so we don’t miss out on important nutrients.  Research shows that plant-based diets reduce the risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • hypertension
  • Some cancers

Those following a plant-based diet also tend to have lower LDL cholesterol and better control of serum glucose (blood sugar).  This doesn’t mean that eating meat is bad or harmful- there are actually many benefits.  Those following a plant-based diet can eat meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs or other animal products, but their sole focus is to incorporate a variety of produce, nuts, seeds, and legumes.  Remember that your diet is your own and doesn’t need to follow any definition in a diet book!

But if your suggestion was vetoed, as was mine, it might be helpful to remove the labels (ie. vegetarian, vegan, etc) and instead, refocus on eating a diet rich in vegetables and other plants.  

Here are some modified approaches to the Meatless Monday concept that works for our family and may work for yours too…


Cook ‘Less’ Meat

Cooking less meat doesn’t mean you have to eliminate meat.  If your family wants to see meat or poultry on the table, then serve it, but simply serve a smaller portion.  Understandably, you might get some comments if you only serve half a roast chicken when everyone is used to seeing a whole bird!  But, there are dozens of ways to cook less without it looking like less!  This is not about a measly portion or serving less food- just less meat.  

Here are a few examples:

  • Stir-fry- Chop up half the chicken you would typically use and replace with some edamame (packed with protein) beans and an abundance of colorful veggies.  Make the stir-fry look appetizing, colorful and bountiful on the table!
  • Spaghetti- Brown half the amount of beef to stir into the spaghetti sauce.  Add an array of veggies to the marinara sauce or even cooked lentils, which will ‘look’ like meat.
  • Tacos- Combine a half portion of ground beef or ground poultry with a can of black beans along with your taco spice blend.  
  • Burgers- Try out these Half Veggie Burgers from the Good and Cheap cookbook that combine ground beef, lentils (or other beans), peppers and spices to please everyone on burger night!


Swap Meat & Poultry for Fish

Fish is an amazing source of high-quality protein!  It is naturally low in saturated fat, which makes it a heart-healthy food.  And, certain types of fish contain a specific type of healthy fat, omega-3 fatty acids, that are essential to your body.  These healthy fats help reduce inflammation, improve brain function, lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.  Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are particularly high in omega-3 fats.

Why not swap out your typical meat or poultry meal with an extra fish meal on Mondays?  If your family isn’t eating fish twice a week already, this is just another creative solution to try.  Here are some of my favorite recipes:

This Tangy Tuna Salad is one of my favorite lunch recipes!


Highlight the Veggies

Sometimes we focus too much on what not to eat instead of what to eat.  If family members are hesitant to slash the meat once a week, why not take the approach of highlighting the veggies?

Ask each family member to chime in on their favorite veggie dish and then rotate through these recipes.  Make the veggies the star!  If you want to implement more plant-based meals, you have to begin by making the veggies yummy and delicious so that the meat isn’t missed.  

Grilled Zucchini With Feta & Mint

Use Mondays as the opportunity to talk about why veggies are good for our bodies and ask family members for suggestions about how to include more at meals.  Allow your kids and spouse to contribute ideas so that you don’t get overwhelmed trying to figure out clever ways to convince them to buy in.  

Don’t make this harder than it is!  


Don’t Surprise with ‘Scary’ Meat Alternatives

Let’s be real- tofu doesn’t really ‘taste’ like chicken.  It can be cooked a variety of ways that are quite tasty but don’t pretend or disguise it, especially to family members that have indicated they are not interested in trying it.  

However, you can prepare an alternate option to go along with the meal.  This allows family members to choose whether they want to try a meat-less option. For instance, the dinner might include sauteed tofu AND chicken so that family members can decide if they want to try one or both at the meal.  You can also use this opportunity to teach kids how to respectfully accept or decline foods that are unfamiliar to them, as they will encounter such foods at other people’s homes and gatherings.

Tempeh is one of my favorite meatless alternatives because it has a meaty texture instead of a soft texture like tofu.  My daughter eats it almost every time it is offered!

Salad with Tempeh & Edamame


Amp Up the Beans and Legumes

These undervalued little guys are loaded with fiber, iron, potassium, folate and more!  Beans are inexpensive (canned and especially dried) and provide an excellent way to boost nutrition and replace protein at the meal.  Most beans have 6-9 grams of protein per ½ cup serving and edamame beans (one of my 7 MUST HAVE freezer staples) boast about 10 grams.

Remember, meatless meals does not mean protein-less meals.  You want to include healthy protein in each meal and healthy snack (these are some ideas.)  By replacing some of the meat or poultry with beans, edamame, lentils or peas, you can maintain the nutritional value of the meal and it will be filling.  

In this chili recipe, 1 pound of ground beef is combined with several cans of beans to make 10 servings!  That is only about 1.5 ounces of beef per serving, but I promise, you won’t feel deprived!

Hearty Beef & Bean Pumpkin Chili

If you and your family are ready to try out some delicious meatless meals, these are a few of my favorites!


Last Thoughts

Don’t get discouraged if your family doesn’t want to get on board with a Meat-free meal.  Many weeks, I choose to eat several meat-free lunches because it’s what I want to do for my body.  However, the concept of eating (and enjoying!) more plants is also something I want to model for my kids.  Choose one of these strategies to encourage the consumption of more veggies.  Begin with just 1 small tweak to the meal plan.  They might adapt quicker than you think!

If you want some help adopting a meat-less meal plan, check out my Anti-Inflammatory Meal Plans that follow this approach emphasizing 75% plants and 25% high-quality animal protein!

TRUTH: And look! I have given you the seed-bearing plants throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.  –Genesis 1:29 (TLB)

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