If you’ve followed One Mama’s Daily Drama for any amount of time, or at least read my weekly menu plan on Mondays, you know that we don’t eat a lot of meat. It is a personal choice made for several reasons. Having a culinary degree, I get asked food questions all the time by friends and family. The one I hear most often though, is “If you don’t eat meat, what do you eat?” It comes from relatives who grew up on a farm and are used to seeing several pounds of meat on the dinner table. It comes from friends whose kids – or husbands – are picky eaters who don’t like vegetables in general. It comes from strangers who think my family is abnormally thin. (Yes, strangers comment on everyone’s weight frequently. Is that normal?)
If you’re trying to make the switch to less meat, figuring out where to start can be the hardest part. I though it would be helpful to share my family’s choices.
History of Meatless Monday
Meatless Monday started during World War I and II when rationing was necessary. It was part of the government campaign that encouraged victory gardens and invented food stamps, and had nothing to do with health or vegetarianism. Once meat was plentiful again, nobody gave it a second though until 2003. Celebrities like Paul McCartney jumped on the bandwagon to promote the environmental and ethical concerns. The trend just kind of spread from there. Now lots of families eat meatless at least one day per week. And restaurants, schools, and businesses at least offer meatless options.
Why we skip the meat
My family eats what someone decided to call a flexitarian diet. It’s a play on flexible-vegetarian. A vegetarian never eats meat, but will eat animal products like butter and cheese. (A vegan eats no animal products at all.) We eat meat – mostly chicken breasts and ground beef – just not as much as the average American family. This is a choice we made a few years ago for a combination of reasons.
Meat is expensive. It’s hard to argue with that. Prices vary by region and the cut of meat, but rarely do I see anything less than $4 per pound. Mostly I find beef and chicken in the $8 to $15 per pound range. Right now, meat is about 20 percent of our weekly grocery budget. If I spent more on meat, I’d have to spend less on something else. If you are trying to cut back your grocery budget, just eating a meatless meal one day per week will make a difference.
Meat is kind of gross. I won’t get into details, but you know what I mean. We often sit down to a meal with meat and Lil’ Wheezy(7) reminds us that meat is muscles and people have muscles too. Of course there are ethical ways of raising and processing meat, but those options are more expensive. We have gotten beef and pork from a family farm in the past. The farmer’s market also has ranchers selling meat. Still, that takes me back to #1: meat is expensive.
Meat is not essential. You do not need meat to live. Of course, some meat is pretty tasty, which is why I wouldn’t give it up altogether. But there is nothing in meat that you cannot get from eating something else. If you eat a variety of other foods, you’ll get enough protein, iron and fat. And there are so many other tasty foods out there that it can be fun to come up with new recipes.
How to start a meatless day
If you would like to cut back on the amount of meat you are eating, start small. Pick one day per week – Monday if you like alliteration – and look for meatless recipes to make. You can increase it to however many days you like. Or decrease it to just once every-other week. The only rule is to do what works for you.
Get the rest of the family involved. Everyone is more likely to eat something when they put in the time making it. Ask them to suggest recipes too. We get a few cookbooks at the library every week and I have a bookshelf full at home. I regularly hand a child a cookbook and tell them to pick out a dinner. We have tried some really good things this way that I might not have considered on my own.
Try and try again. If your family hates a recipe, scrap it and try something else. If it was almost good, figure out how to make it better. When we try new recipes at my house, I always ask everyone to tell me what they do and don’t like about it. Sniffles(9) used to refuse anything remotely tomato. By talking about our meals, we figured out that she just doesn’t like giant chunks of tomato. If I chop them really small, she’s happy to eat them.
What to eat
Like any diet plan, it’s easy to say what not to eat. Friends and relatives who want to change their eating habits tell me they don’t know what to cook. If you have a hard time finding appealing meatless recipes, try just cutting back on the quantity you include. It really takes a different way of looking at food. I think of meat more as an ingredient.
When I was a kid, my dinner plate more or less looked the same every night. One hunk of meat and two sides, a vegetable and a starch. Now I cook a lot of one-pot meals that include meat, but cut up into small pieces. When we include meat in a meal, it is usually about a pound for the four of us. After eating this way for years, a plate with a whole chicken breast or steak on it just doesn’t look appetizing. Bonus: one-pot meals take less clean up afterwards.
For specific recipe ideas, read my weekly menu plan Monday post. Subscribe via the email form on the right and it will go right to your inbox. You can also find recipes on my meatless meals Pinterest board. I try to add a few new ideas every week.
I’m curious, how much meat does your family eat? Are you trying to eating less?