Nearly every day we learn more about the benefits of consuming less meat. Whether for the environment, our health, the animals, or our wallets, a meatless lifestyle is more than a trend; it’s a common way of life. For someone who’s been meatless a long time, eating a meal without animal flesh is not much of a big deal. For someone who’s eaten meat their whole life and suddenly considering meal prep without it, the story is much different.

Before finding plant-based nutrition, I ate more chicken and yogurt as a young girl than I care to admit. In college, I embraced eating fish for health idea and spent way too much of my paycheck on sugar-free yogurts, wild salmon fillets, and canned tuna. Until I was forced to watch a food documentary (Food Inc.) for a nutrition class my senior year in college, it never occurred to me that life could exist without animal protein or flesh on my plate. I’d simply never made the connection.

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After watching that documentary, my life changed forever. I had long been eating a diet full of veggies but never considered a plant-based diet all the way around. Suddenly I was researching health websites, blogs and watching food documentaries to learn more about the benefits of a vegan diet and the truth about our food system. I wasn’t just horrified over the way animals were treated; I was also fuming mad about how I’d been fooled into thinking they were healthy for me and produced in an ethical manner. After (most) of the anger died down, I was filled with more excitement, awareness, and passion than ever.

Understanding how meat destructs the environment, that it leads to cancer and diabetes, and that it is a very cruel industry that’s unnecessary, it just made sense to leave the meat (and yogurt) off my plate. I quickly learned that a plant-based diet doesn’t just benefit my health, the environment and the animals.

I also learned it’s incredibly simple.

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If you come from the land of fried steak, chicken, pork, and burgers like I do, I have good news for you: even if you’ve eaten these foods your whole life and loved them, eating meatless (and vegan) is much easier than you think.

Here’s some ways to eliminate the meat on your plate without feeling one bit of deprivation:

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1. Focus on Filling Veggies

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First, go for really meaty veggies. This isn’t a joke; I promise they exist. Mushrooms, artichokes, and even roasted broccoli and cauliflower add bulk to your meals and provide protein, fiber, and 100 percent satisfaction. Make pizzas with them, roast them and put them on salads and use them anywhere you use meat. Sweet potatoes and winter squash are also perfect salad toppers in place of chicken and when cubed and roasted, they can be added anywhere you’d use meat to bulk up your plate and fill you up. This will also keep you from filling up on processed (technically vegan) foods like granola bars, Oreos and other snacks that don’t offer the same filling or nutritious benefits veggies and greens do.

2. Try Beans and Legumes Next

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Beans and legumes are a turn-off to some people, but they’re actually really tasty when prepared the right way and are important to include in your yummy meatless plan. Add some lentils, chickpeas, green beans, edamame, and any other bean you enjoy to your meals. Get creative with them and use them in fun ways. A chickpea curry, lentil or black bean based veggie burger, Mexican Black Bean Soup, vegan chili, and chickpea ‘tuna’ salad are all ways to enjoy them that really do satisfy the palate. You also won’t believe how full you can be off these foods without one bit of meat at all. White beans and black beans make fantastic burrito stuffers, and adzuki beans come to the rescue for those of you that find beans hard to digest. Even if you get desperate and actually start missing Burger King, we’ve got you covered!

3. Eat a Variety of Meat-Free Dishes

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Don’t limit yourself to veggie burgers and salads alone. You’ll get bored pretty quickly and also be missing out on nutrition and dietary bliss. Try new dishes and ways to use new flavors. Remember that you can add flavor to any vegetable or even tofu for that matter, the same way you used to add flavor to chicken and fish (or beef if you eat it). You don’t need meat for flavor, you just need versatile dishes that can be enjoyed in replacement to meat instead. For instance, you can still enjoy Sloppy Joes, just make them vegan instead (no fake meat included). Rotate different meals and write down the ones you enjoy. Make notes of changes you’d like to make next time and motivators for why you’re going meat-free. Look through cookbooks and recipe sites for a variety of meat-free dishes. Try our 13 Meatless Monday Meals that even newbie plant-based eaters can prepare with ease and enjoyment.

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4. Remember Many Of Your Favorites Are Already Meat-Free

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It can be so intimidating when you’re first eliminating meat, but give yourself a break and remember that many of your favorite foods are actually already vegan. A hot bowl of creamy oatmeal with nut butter and berries, a fruit and green smoothie, a banana and peanut butter sandwich, waffles, peanut butter and jelly, trail mix, baked potatoes, veggie soup, and stuffed sweet potatoes are all naturally vegan. If your favorite meal isn’t meatless, such as a typical southern dish, try replacements like chickpea flour to make a smashing omelet, tempeh to make a savory meaty entree, or even tofu to make a vegan scramble.

5. Stock Up on Essentials

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Creamy non-dairy milks and yogurt products, crazy delicious vegan cheeses (if you’re addicted to cheese), fruits, veggies, leafy greens, whole grains like oats or quinoa and brown or wild rice, beans, legumes, raw nuts and seeds, and even whole food vegan protein powders are essentials that will make all meatless kitchens a success. Think of all the foods you can eat instead of the fact your kitchen no longer houses animal flesh. Even if you’re short on time, you can make easy meals from whole food essentials that require little time or effort.

If you can’t go 100 percent meatless at first, try one, then two, and then three days a week. Challenge yourself to eat more meatless meals day by day and you probably won’t even miss those meat-filled dishes as much as you think. If you do, don’t beat yourself up or lose motivation. Remind yourself of all the benefits you’ll be experiencing without as many animal foods (if any) on your plate.

Keep finding inspiration and if you have any questions or concerns, shoot us an email or leave a comment below. We’d love to hear what you’d like to know about thriving on a meatless diet!

Lead Image Source: 10 Ways to Cook Chickpeas With Global Flavors