Ten Tips For Meat Free Eating
Cutting meat from your diet? Here are ten tips to help
Many years ago, I ran a health food store and even all that time ago, I was often asked to advise people who had decided to eat no - or less - meat.
All these years later, even more people are deciding to cut meat from their diet for a variety of good reasons. And there are many good reasons for doing so; health, weight, concern about the environment, expense, animal rights, distrust of the meat industry ... and more.
Your reasoning might be a combination of several of those factors.The good news is that it's easy to cut out (or cut down on) the meat that you and your family consume.
There is a wealth of fabulous, natural ingredients and many meat-free meals are simple and easy to prepare.Here are ten tips which I hope will be useful to you. If you have additional tips -or questions - please add them in the comments section below.
Graphics © BritFlorida
There are no rules
The only rules are those you make for yourself.
For example, we don't eat meat or fish but we do eat eggs and dairy. This may or may not be your choice but there is no right and no wrong.
You are in control of your diet and your lifestyle. For this reason, avoid listening to criticism. There may be meat eaters who tell you that your decision is wrong. There may be strict vegetarians who urge you to cut out all animal products. Do what's right for you.
And if you 'lapse', don't worry. No-one's keeping a score. If you're faced with a tuna melt that you can't resist (my own weakness sometimes) that's fine. There are no vegetarian police watching you.
Consider the meat free meals you already eat
My customers at the health food store were often surprised when I said this. But the chances are good that you already eat some meals without meat.
Many people, for instance, rarely eat meat at breakfast. So that's one daily meal taken care of...
Often, for lunch, we have a selection of cheeses with lovely crusty bread, fruit and salad. This is really just an extension of the cheese/salad sandwich that many people grab for lunch. Add a lovely tomato (or other vegetable) soup.
Many people, even those who eat meat, regularly order vegetarian dishes when dining in Italian restaurants - a lovely Pizza Margherita, Fettuccine Alfredo or that lovely Penne alla Vodka. You can recreate these at home easily.
Consider world cuisine
Most of us have been brought up with an abundance of food available to us. But in other less wealthy countries, wonderful recipes have been developed over the years that avoid expensive or unobtainable ingredients.
Your voyage into the world of meat-free eating can be an adventure that leads you to discover so many different recipes and meal ideas.
My favourite recipe book, for example, is below and I highly recommend it. I draw mainly on Italian, Indian and Chinese foods. After all, we've been used to them for all our lives. But with a great cookbook at your side, it's fascinating to delve into the cuisines of other countries from time to time.
This is my go-to cookbook whenever I need inspiration or ideas.Apart from the wonderful recipes, it is the most comprehensive recipe book I have ever seen, with so many tips and words of advice.
I'm on copy number two and yet it gets so much use, its pages already have some rather interesting stains! Absolutely delicious recipes though.
Try to avoid commercial meat substitutes
If you're accustomed to a certain food, and then try a substitute, it's almost inevitably a disappointment.
Some commercial foods, spicy bean burgers for example, can be pretty good but don't expect them to be like meaty hamburgers.
There are so many wonderful foods available to us that substitutes shouldn't be necessary. Furthermore, if you're eating meat free because of your concern about additives, be sure to check the ingredients on the packaging.
Two great ingredients to use in the place of meat are luscious mushrooms and tasty eggplant. Take lasagna for example. Using these two vegetables in place of the meat creates a lovely delicious and filling meal.
It's not all vegetables
Sometimes, when people know that we are a vegetarian household, I've had the comment 'oh, I could never eat just vegetables'. Well, neither do we.
In fact, a common question at my health food store was 'what do vegetarians eat?'
Often, this was asked by mothers whose teenage son or daughter had just declared themselves meat free. My answer? 'Oh, pies, casseroles, pizza, pasta dishes, rice, quiches...'
You see, meat free meals are perfectly 'normal' really. What some people have difficulty with is that they are used to having a solid lump of something (a chop or salmon fillet) and accompanying vegetables. But when you decide to eat meat free,so many exciting opportunities are open to you.
Yes, I use convenience foods to speed up cooking
There are many meals that I make in fifteen minutes or less and some of those use convenience foods. (If you have a can of tomatoes, pasta and herbs in your pantry, and cheese in the fridge, you can make dinner in no time).
I'm also keen on using high quality frozen or ready-prepared dough and pastry. With dough and the aforementioned tomatoes, cheese and herbs plus a few olives and other bits and pieces, a 'takeout' pizza is possible in ten minutes.
Look too for excellent quality ready-made sauces.I don't bother with tomato sauces for pasta because they are so easy to make but commercial curry sauces definitely have a place in my kitchen.
No unusual ingredients or equipment are required
If you came into my house now and poked around in my pantry and refrigerator, you'd find no bizarre or unusual ingredients.
All my shopping is done at the regular grocery store. The same applies to the utensils and equipment. In fact, I think that the most 'exotic' pieces of equipment I have in my kitchen are the garlic press and the pizza wheel!
Sure, if you have a blender that's a real bonus and you can make delicious, healthy soups and sauces in no time at all. I've cooked delicious (and quick) vegetarian meals in RVs, boats and on campsites. Don't let anyone tell you that eating without meat or fish means that you'll spend more time in the kitchen. That is absolutely not the case.
Dining out is so much easier for vegetarians (of all varieties) these days. No longer do we have the one dreaded 'vegetarian option (usually a not-very-tasty vegetable lasagna).
Chefs today create a variety of wonderful meat free meals.I'm reluctant to tell servers 'I'm vegetarian' because they often say that 'the chef will prepare something special' which is often just a plate of roasted vegetables or an uninspired salad.
It's easier to say 'I don't eat meat or fish'.Over the years,I've found that Italian restaurants are always a good bet as are Indian - closely followed by Chinese. Mexican restaurants can be excellent too but we avoid the more traditional French or American establishments unless they've been recommended as meat free-friendly.
Treat yourself to quality
Even if you are just cutting down on meat and not giving it up entirely, you'll be saving tons of money.
Direct some of this towards delicious treats. We always, for example, have some special cheese in the refrigerator -something to savour.
Experiment with organic foods which, despite the fact that they don't have preservatives, tend to last longer and are certainly far more tasty.The price difference decreases too,as time goes on - organic food is no longer an expensive luxury.Try lunching on an unusual cheese variety, with superior crackers, fresh fruit and a good quality bottled chutney or relish and and you'll be enjoying a luxury cheese plate that would cost a fortune in a restaurant or from room service.
Most of all, have fun with your meals. Eating meat free isn't a hardship - quite the opposite.
The advantages are immense and you'll enjoy your food more than ever before. Your body and your bank balance will thank you.
Treat your new way of eating as an exciting new adventure. Enjoy your own way of eating whether it's simply embracing meat free Monday or going the whole way and eating no animal products at all - or anywhere in between.
Experiment with exciting new foods. Now that you're saving from the butchery counter, enjoy some special delicacies. Savour your food and see your new way of eating as a fascinating new hobby. Relax, enjoy and reap the rewards.
© 2014 Jackie Jackson