Last week in my post on sustainable eating, a recurring theme that emerged in the comments was the cost of sustainably sourced meats. High-quality meat, particularly grass fed beef and organic poultry, cost more than their conventionally raised factory farmed counterparts. If you watch your grocery budget (like I do) and want to eat a more sustainable diet, one of the best ways to do so is eat less meat overall. You’ll have more room in your grocery budget to purchase high-quality meat and reap the health and environmental benefits of a meatless diet without going vegetarian.
There are nutritional concerns that full vegetarians and vegans must attend to, including adequate iron, vitamin B12, and protein intake. However, if you’re still eating meat (just less of it), you do not need to worry as much about these (although still eat nutrient-rich foods containing these, of course). If you are adopting a completely vegetarian/vegan diet or are concerned about protein intake or iron intake, please consult a certified nutritionist or registered dietician.
The question is, how to eat less meat without feeling deprived or affecting your running? Follow these practical and simple tips for how to eat less meat without going fully vegetarian. (I am not a nutritionist, so all of these tips are more practical and anecdotal.)
A Runner’s Guide on How to Eat Less Meat
Reduce Your Meat Portions and Add More Plant-Based Foods
Now when we make pork chops, chicken breasts, or other meats, I try to put some meat away for the next day. Not only does this simple practice reduce the amount of meat you eat, it also stretches your grocery budget – which is important if you are purchasing expensive high-quality meats.
Runners need to make sure they eat enough calories to support their activity, so don’t just reduce your meat portions without adding other nutrient-dense foods in its place. Fill 1/4 of your meal with meat and then add legumes, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, etc. Not only does this decrease the amount of meat you eat—it also increases the amount and variety of vitamins and nutrients at your meal.
You can also reduce your portion of meat at any meal by using meat more as a garnish than the main dish. It’s easy to do this on hearty grain-based meals such as rice bowls, risotto, pizza on a whole wheat crust, and stirfrys. A little beef, pork, chicken, fish, or lamb goes a long way in these dishes!
Explore International Cuisines
Many cultures eat more plant based foods and less meat than the average American diet. So when you’re looking to eat less meat, look to cuisines such as Mediterranean, Indian, or Asian. These cuisines feature hearty and satisfying meals with little to no meat – but with the the vibrant spices and complex flavor combinations you won’t notice. Ingredients such as tahini, halloumi (a Greek cheese), paneer (Indian cheese), chickpeas, lentils, coconut milk, and various whole grains add protein and fat.
Don’t be intimidated about cooking international cuisines at home. Oftentimes, you can find substitutions for obscure ingredients and spices. With Pinterest and a plethora of food and cooking blogs, recipes for international dishes are easily accessible and often adapted to make in your own kitchen. What’s even better, when you make meals such as curries at home, you can control the spiciness more than you can in a restaurant. So be a bit adventurous in your cooking!
Boost the Meaty Taste with Umami
One purchase we’ve made more and more at the grocery store as we try to eat more sustainably? Mushrooms. Mushrooms not only have a similar texture to meat, they also have an incredible meaty flavor thanks to umami.
Umami is one of the five basic tastes and the word means “pleasant savory taste” in Japanese. Meat offers the characteristic complex savory flavor of umami, so when you look to reduce your meat consumption, add other umami foods to your meals.
Umami foods include fish, spinach, mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, garlic/onions, and fermented foods (especially sauerkraut). Not only do these foods provide a substitute or supplement to the meat in your meal; they also contain prebiotics and/or probiotics for better gut health and a variety of vitamins and nutrients.
Designate Certain Meals or Day as Meatless
It’s the notion behind Meatless Monday or Fish Fridays: one day per week without meat will make a significant difference. A particular day of the week designated to eating meatless makes meal planning easier. You don’t have to think about what day to eat vegetarian or come to the end of the week and realize every meal has included meat. We all thrive on routine, so why not make a meatless day a habit?
Even better, you could opt for meatless breakfasts or meatless lunches most days of the week. A few years ago Mark Bittman released his diet book Vegan Before Six, and the concept behind this book (reap the benefits of both veganism and eating meat) is applicable for more sustainable eating. Save meat for dinner most days of the week and you’ll significantly be able to reduce your meat consumption. Just make sure you’re getting enough protein at breakfast and lunch with eggs, dairy, legumes, quinoa, nuts/seeds, and whole grains. For me personally, this method has been most effective in eating less meat.
Meal Plan Around Your Workouts
The night before your long run may not be the best night of the week for a bean-based meatless meal. Pick your days for meatless eating around what works best for your work schedule and training plan. Meatless meals probably work best on rest days or on the nights before easy runs, when you can eat more fibrous foods such as legumes and do not need as much protein for muscle repair. Or, plan on meatless meals without beans or cheese (which can cause GI distress on the run) for the nights before a hard workout.
Don’t Make It Complicated or Stressful
Food loses its joy once it because stressful. There’s already so much in life to stress about that we don’t need to add what we eat to the list. I always say to aim for improvements, not perfection, and this sentiment should apply to sustainable eating. If you miss a meatless day one week, don’t beat yourself up; just try again the next week.
Finding meatless recipes isn’t difficult, either. Pinterest abounds with vegetarian and vegan recipes and Buzzfeed frequently features tantalizing round ups of meatless meals. Vegetarian and vegan food bloggers abound, whether you’re looking for strictly meatless ones or those who balance meatless recipes with meat ones:
Focus on the Benefits
If you reduce your meat consumption with a mindset of deprivation, you will feel miserable (no one wants to be deprived). Rather, focus on the benefits of eating less meat, including all the nutritious foods that will fuel your running such as fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and of course vegetables and fruits. Create meatless meals similar to your preferred meat-based meals to please your palate and avoid the sense of a huge change in your diet. Food, after all, should be enjoyed!
What other tips would you add for eating less meat?
What are some of your favorite food blogs?
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