In my first post on this subject (see Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction), I gave a simple overview of what a whole foods plant-based diet is, and some of the key steps involved in a transition to such a diet. Based on our family’s experience in this transition phase, we have found the following simple steps below helpful:
Step 1: Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies
Step 2: Switch to Whole-Grain Options
Step 3: Choose Smart Snacks
Step 4: Increase Beans & Other Legumes
Step 5: Try New Plant-Based Foods & Recipes!
In this post, let’s look at the first step.
STEP #1: HALVE THE MEAT & DOUBLE THE VEGGIES
This is an obvious initial step. But it takes some forethought. If you’ve been so used to having meat as the main entrée for every lunch and dinner, how do you really make the switch?
Well, it first takes a change in mindset. If you’ve been viewing meat as a key source of protein, you will likely be worried about what to replace it with. But be assured that in western developed countries such as America, one’s intake of protein is generally more than adequate and usually exceeds the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) protein recommendations. In general it is estimated that the average person needs only about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So halving the meat won’t suddenly cause you to have an inadequate overall protein intake. You will likely still be getting enough on a daily basis. Also don’t forget that vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grain products provide protein too, so you will still be getting protein from these sources. For example, one avocado provides approximately 4.6 grams of protein, a cup of chopped boiled broccoli provides about 3.7 grams of protein and a cup of cooked black beans gives 15 grams of protein!
Here’s an easy way to reduce the portion of meat used in recipes. Does the recipe call for 6 ounces of ground meat? Use 3 ounces. Another way to do this is to just increase the amount of vegetables used in the recipe, which is easy to do for meals such as stir-fries and casseroles. For instance, does the recipe call for one chicken breast and a chopped bell pepper? Simply cook two or three bell peppers with the one chicken breast, then eat it over more meals. That way, the amount of animal protein per serving is much reduced. This works well for a variety of dishes such as stir-fries, casserole/lasagna dishes, pasta sauces and soups.
Here are 5 other SUPER simple ways to cut down on the animal protein intake and increase vegetables:
Increase the ratio of vegetable dishes to meat dishes on the dinner table
One method of doing this is to ensure that there are always at least 2 veggie dishes and only one meat-based dish at lunch or dinner. Vegetable side dishes could be a salad, stir-fry, roasted vegetables side dish, steamed or roasted winter root vegetables, or even vegetable kabobs.
Reduce or replace ground meat in a recipe
I’ve found that the ground beef, chicken, turkey, pork or other meat called for in a recipe can be easily reduced (to even a quarter of the recipe!) and the dish powered up with vegetables, without losing the taste of the dish. In some cases, I’ve even substituted some of the meat I removed from the recipe with lentils or beans instead, with good results. For example, one could add veggies and reduce the ground meat or eggs in a dish (e.g., adding onions, carrots and bell peppers to a traditional scrambled egg and tomato dish).
Reduce meat to once a day
Stick to just having an animal based protein source at dinner, or just at lunch, instead of having it for every meal over the course of a day.
Reduce meat to a few times a week
Have meat at a meal a few times a week, instead of every day. Just as some have a ‘Meatless Monday’ vegetarian dinner once a week, you could aim to have an animal based protein source on certain set days of the week, making it more the exception rather than the norm. Or just go for a ‘Meat Monday’ instead!
Try a weekly vegetarian slow cooker recipe
One easy way to eat a more plant-based meal especially during busy weeknights, is to cook a big vault of a bean-based slower cooker meal once a week (to last 3-4 days). So the first part of the week you could prepare a greater variety of meals. In the latter half of the week, prepare a main entrée using the slow cooker and then serve vegetable sides to go with this main vegetarian entrée over the rest of the week, along with a grain staple like rice, couscous, quinoa, barley or whole grain pasta. By the middle of the week you’re probably already feeling drained from work and cooking anyway, so why spend more time than necessary in the kitchen? Just whip up a slow cooker meal!
Some of you must be wondering: why do I say increase the veggies and not fruit? Of course fruits should also be increased with vegetable intake. But I am focusing more on the veggies because most of us tend to eat more fruits than vegetables on a daily basis anyway. And who can blame us? Fruit is usually sweet!
Of course, if you like, you can cut down on the animal based protein more drastically immediately, but dropping halfway may be a more realistic first step. After you (and your family) are used to the reduced consumption of meat and other animal based protein, then you can slowly transition further off of animal-based protein, while increasing the proportion of other protein-rich plant-based foods such as nuts, beans and other legumes. This method will also help you use up all that meat sitting in your freezer!