When you say no to meat and dairy, you might feel like your meal options just got a lot slimmer. I know when I used to eat meals based on the Standard American Diet (SAD), meat always took the main role and vegetables were just in the supporting cast.
To be honest, sometimes they weren’t even in the cast at all.
Remember, you’re talking to the girl who ate at least two Johnsonville Stadium-Style brats a day each summer from ages 16-22. And yes, they may have once been listed as an interest on Facebook. Don’t judge.
Luckily, I’ve found so many great-tasting alternatives to meat and dairy that I never feel like I’m “not getting enough” when I eat this way.
five easy ways to reduce meat and dairy
1. Break away from butter. You should be able to find vegan alternatives, like Earth Balance, in the butter section of your grocery store. It works great for baking, cooking and to spread on your cinnamon raisin toast.
If you want to get a little more adventurous, also consider avocados to substitute for butter when baking. Swap out half of the butter in your recipe for avocado and you’ll be reducing the saturated fats and replacing with heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats instead. The portions should stay about equal, so ½ cup butter = ½ cup avocado. I’ve yet to try this, so please let me know if you do!
2. Give meat a makeover. So, how about we all stop thinking of meat as our main source of protein? There are so many other tasty options out there, and I’m not just talkin’ tofu.
- Lentils are full of protein, making it a vegetarian staple and much less expensive than buying meat every week. Try my Ethiopian Lentils & Sweet Potatoes on a cold or rainy night. The spices are so warming and will make your kitchen smell amazing. Lentils are also great in soups and as a base for a vegetarian meatloaf.
- Quinoa is a complete source of protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. A popular meal featuring quinoa is the Buddha bowl. This easy and quick meal contains a grain base (quinoa works great, as well as millet or buckwheat), then add any combination of veggies you want, plus diced avocado, salt, cayenne pepper and a splash of olive oil. You can really do anything with this recipe, so feel free to play around with the grains, spices and vegetables. You can make a bunch ahead of time and they’re also perfect for packed lunches.
- Nuts and nut butter are great for snacking and adding protein to your breakfast foods, like oatmeal, toast or smoothies. Experiment with the kinds of nut butter you buy. There’s the traditional peanut butter, but also consider almond, hazelnut, cashew and even sunflower seed!
Many newbie vegetarians fall into the trap of eating way too many soy-based foods. While it’s fine to indulge once in a while, some people believe that meat replacers like tofu, tempeh and seitan are still considered processed foods. There are also arguments on the healthiness of soy, but I believe that as long as you eat any of these in moderation, you are fine.
I’m a big fan of veggie burgers myself, but I’ve found that many of these burgers are actually made with anything but vegetables!
Above all, your vegetable burger should have vegetables listed as the first few ingredients. Whether shopping for veggie burgers or other meat alternatives, just remember to read your labels and go with the product that doesn’t offer a laundry list of names you can’t pronounce.
3. Eat a variety of vegetables. Finding new ways to eat vegetables – and new vegetables to eat – makes it so much easier when you’re reducing your meat and dairy intake. Here are a few ideas to try when your normal broccoli and carrots routine starts to get a little dull.
- Kale chips may sound strange, but they are seriously yummy and full of nutritional goodness. They’re especially high in calcium, along with their other dark green veggie friends. My friend Olivia has a great recipe for kale chips on her blog, and the recipe may just be named for yours truly. I suggest you try it out!
- Make your root vegetable into a fry. Sweet potato fries are a popular option, but also consider turnip and parsnip fries. You’ll need to keep the skins on and cut into fry slices. Add a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika, then bake in the oven at 400F until crispy (about 20 minutes). Delish!
- Turn zucchini into noodles. If you have a spiral slicer, you can easily use it to form your vegetable into the perfect noodle shape. If you don’t have one on hand, just use the julienne blade of a mandolin or a vegetable peeler to form a ribbon. No matter the shape, they’re great on salads, as a sandwich topping, or sautéed with toasted walnuts.
4. Replace your eggs. If you’re looking for a more traditional breakfast egg substitute, try tofu. You can use it in quiche, scrambled “eggs” and frittatas. You can also buy egg replacers, like Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer or Energ-G Egg Replacer. These replacements, as well as the alternatives listed below, are best when used for baking only.
- For one egg, whisk 1 tbsp of ground flax seed + 3 tbsp of water. Stir together until it’s thick and gelatinous.
- For one egg, whisk 2 tbsp of chia seeds + ½ cup cold water.
- For one egg, blend ¼ cup silken tofu plus other liquid ingredients for baked goods that are a bit heavier, like pancakes or brownies.
5. Cut the cheese (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Confession: this is the hardest dairy item for me to give up entirely. While I haven’t tried any of the faux cheeses on the market and I can’t comment on those, I have found that nutritional yeast works wonders as a parmesan replacement. I’ve used it on many pasta dishes and salads. I’ve also heard it tastes amazing on popcorn.
6. Don’t forget dessert. Yes, dessert does exist when dairy’s not involved – and it’s still just as decadent! There are all kinds of non-dairy ice creams on the market, so take your pick. I’m not a big fan of rice or soy-based ice creams, but coconut ice cream is seriously amazing. It’s rich, creamy and you won’t even miss the dairy. If you’re dealing with crazy chocolate cravings, try chocomole. Some say it tastes like a chocolate pudding, but I think it tastes more like chocolate mousse. (Guess who’s not a pudding fan?) Seriously though, this stuff is spectacular.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and enjoy!
- 1 ripe avocado, pitted
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 6-10 dates (Instead of dates, feel free to use stevia, agave syrup or raw sugar to taste.)
Now if you’ve made it through this far, I hope it’s encouraged you to think about reducing meat and dairy from your everyday eating. If you’re like the old me, my challenge to you is to incorporate vegetarian or vegan meals once a week for a full day. Try taking part in the Meatless Mondays campaign, a non-profit initiative associated with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
If you aren’t quite as heavy on the meat and dairy, why not take it one step further? Try eating vegetarian or vegan all-day for at least three times a week. Or better yet, see if you can make it a full week…and then let me know if you do!