Do you care about animals, the planet, and the health of your body? Then it may be time to add more meatless meals to your diet. The benefits of eating less meat are extensive and, even on their own, each of them proves pretty persuasive for inspiring a meat-free—or at least meat-light—lifestyle. Long gone are the days of sad tasteless tofu dinners and lonely bowls of beans and rice. Today, food companies are betting big on plant-based meat alternatives, and it’s never been easier to cook up a huge array of satisfying meatless meals on the menu.
Regardless of your reasons for cutting back on meat, we’re here to get you inspired with a quick look at the benefits of eating less meat—plus some of our favorite easy meatless meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
3 Big Benefits of Not Eating Meat
Choosing to eat less meat is one of the easiest changes you can make to better your health and make a positive impact on the environment. It’s also a great way to be kinder to our animal friends, many of whom suffer at the hands of industrial farming.
Important to keep in mind is that you don’t have to go all-or-nothing with your meat consumption. If you’re not sure if a meat-free lifestyle is right for you—or if you’re just not ready to cut the cord completely—then it’s perfectly okay to start small and just commit to eating a little less meat in your week. And the less meat you eat, the bigger the benefits, including these three great reasons to go at least partially meat-free.
1. It’s Great for Your Overall Health
Incorporating more meatless protein sources into your diet decreases your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, boosts the good bacteria in your gut, and may lower your risk of cancer. It’s also strongly associated with maintaining a healthier weight.
2. It’s an Effective Way to Reduce Animal Cruelty
Many meat eaters maintain an “ignorance is bliss” attitude about how their food goes from farm to plate. However, the more you learn about the realities of industrial farming, the more inclined you might be to reduce your meat consumption and limit the consumer demand driving such cruel practices.
3. It’s a Lot Better for the Planet
It takes a lot of energy to raise and harvest animals and transport meat to grocery stores. Add to that the fact that livestock is a main source of nitrous oxide and methane emissions, and it becomes clear just how impactful a reduced meat diet could be for the environment.
Benefits of Vegetarianism
A vegetarian is someone who does not eat any meat, though they do still eat animal by-products like milk, eggs, and cheese.
The benefits of vegetarianism are the same as those listed above, just more pronounced since less meat equals bigger benefits. In countries where vegetarian diets are most popular, researchers have also found lower rates of osteoporosis; a result they suspect of fewer animal products forcing calcium out of the body.
Benefits of Veganism
Vegans don’t eat any meat or any animal by-products. This is the most strict of the meat-free diets, but potentially also the healthiest, so long as you still make sure to eat lots of meatless protein sources. That’s because there are some additional benefits of veganism that go beyond what you can gain from a meat-reduced or vegetarian diet. These include a decrease in asthma symptoms and other positive effects that happen when you remove meat-induced inflammation from the body.
Start Easy With Meatless Mondays
There’s no rule that says you have to go from eating meat to being a full vegetarian or vegan overnight. You don’t even have to ever become a full vegetarian or vegan if that’s not a lifestyle that’s sustainable for you. Instead, consider taking small steps toward decreasing your consumption of meat, starting perhaps with Meatless Mondays.
Meatless Monday is an international campaign that was started in 2003 by public health advocate Sid Lerner in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The idea was that encouraging people to skip meat just one day per week could offer a more approachable introduction into a reduced-meat diet.
Join in by designating your own Mondays (or any other set day of the week) as a meat-free day. You might surprise yourself with how easy and enjoyable it is.
What Are the Benefits of Meatless Mondays?
Sometimes the best way to make a positive change in your life is to start small. Meatless Mondays do just that, by setting aside just one day per week that you have to stick to a plant-based diet. The benefits of going this route are two-fold: one, it’s a lot less overwhelming than cutting out all meat at once; and two, you ensure that you get at least some of the health advantages that come with a reduced meat diet.
Meat Alternatives That Pack a Lot of Protein
A common question that people ask when they go meatless is how to get protein without meat. And fortunately, there’s no shortage of meat replacements to eat in its place. Any of these ingredients can be used for easy meatless meals, and they can also be used as creative substitutes for meat ingredients in recipes—for example, using silken tofu instead of sour cream or cooked lentils instead of ground beef.
Here’s what to stock up on as you go meat-free, including protein-packed ingredients that ensure you can still meet your nutritional needs.
Plant-Based Meat Substitutes
Head to the fridge and freezer aisles of your nearest grocery store to find plant-based meat replacements made from soy, gluten, and other non-animal-based products. Some might fool you entirely, such as Impossible Burger meat and MorningStar chicken patties. Others, like soy curls, aren’t trying to be meat exactly, but they’re just as capable of standing up to sauces and bold flavors.
Protein content will vary depending on the product. If you’re worried about getting enough, check the packaging before you buy and bulk up with additional plant-based protein sources if necessary.
Tofu, or bean curd, is a sponge for flavor and can take on various textures depending on what you want to make. Use silken tofu for sauces and smoothies, soft tofu for frying, medium or medium-firm tofu for searing, and firm or extra-firm tofu for grilling and stir-frying.
Tofu protein content: 8 grams per 100 gram serving
Seitan is a wheat gluten product that takes on a hearty texture when browned in a pan. It’s a fantastic meat replacement, plus a great substitute for tofu if your stomach can’t handle soy.
Seitan protein content: 75 grams per 100 gram serving
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, which gives it a slightly funky taste and a very firm, cookable texture. It’s a popular choice for making vegan bacon and a higher-protein alternative to using tofu in a recipe.
Tempeh protein content: 19 grams per 100 gram serving
Lentils, peas, and beans are all part of the protein-rich legume family, and they’re a quick solution for how to get protein without meat. There are endless ways to enjoy them, but tacos, chilis, curries, and spreads are all worthwhile places to start.
Legumes protein content:
- Lentils: 9 grams per 100 gram serving
- Green peas: 5 grams per 100 gram serving
- Black eyed peas: 8 grams per 100 gram serving
- Black beans: 21.6 grams per 100 gram serving
- Kidney beans: 24 grams per 100 gram serving
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas): 19 grams per 100 gram serving
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Meatless Dinner Ideas
Creamy Vegan Spinach and Mushroom Pasta
“Meaty” mushrooms bulk up this healthy dish that also features creamy white beans and healthy greens. Other simple meatless pastas include pesto lasagna and lentil spaghetti “Bolognese.”
Sheet Pan Cheesy Poblano Corn Enchiladas
You can’t go wrong with these vegetarian enchiladas. Make them to use up your summer farmer’s market haul—or for a soul-warming dish on a cold winter night.
Coconut Crusted Tofu With Sweet Chili Sauce
This vegan recipe is crispy, crunchy, sweet, and spicy and the perfect choice for an easy meatless meal.
Meatless Breakfast Ideas
Three Ingredient Vegan Pancakes
What’s dairy-free, egg-free, and absolutely delicious? These vegan pancakes, made with just three simple ingredients. Coconut whipped cream optional (but is it really?).
Veggie-Filled Vegan Frittata
Eggs are one of the easier things to sub out in vegan cooking and baking. In this breakfast staple, they’re swapped out for silken tofu, which lends a similar texture and a substantial base for various cooked veggies.
Warm Chai Chia Pudding
Chia seeds have loads of protein, making them a wonderful way to start a meat-free day. Boost your morning protein even more by swirling in your favorite nut butter or topping with chopped nuts.
Meatless Lunch Ideas
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
When you need something cozy and satisfying on a busy day, cube a sweet potato and let it roast, then pair with the salad fixings of your choice. Want to make it vegan? Just skip the cheese and use an oil and maple syrup-based salad dressing.
Spiced Veggie Gyros
Other than chickpeas in place of lamb, this recipe has everything that we love in a traditional gyros, including tzatziki (use dairy-free yogurt to make it vegan), fresh herbs, and lots of spiced veggies.
Roasted Cauliflower Burrito Bowls
Everything you want in a burrito bowl, minus the meat. Don’t forget the guac!
Learn More About Why Meatless Meals Matter
Not eating meat is a personal decision, and it’s one that people get to in all sorts of ways. If you’re interested in delving deeper into why it is or isn’t the right choice for you, here’s some reading material on meatless meals to help you out:
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat by Marta Zaraska
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