Tips for Meatless Healthy Eating

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

At the start of this year, I finally took the plunge and decided to completely cut meat (but not yet fish) out of my diet.  I barely ate it any more anyway because of the various problems I've had with meat and my IBS - the only thing I'd maybe have once a month was chicken, and that was just because Chris wanted it.  Since then, I haven't missed it and I've also been eating much healthier and thinking a little bit more carefully about what I put into my body because I'm now lacking some of the usual, easier sources of essential nutrients.

Meat consumption has been in the news a little in the past few years, namely because the average Brit is eating too much of it, and eating too much of it isn't good for your health.  The easiest way to deal with that is to just not eat it as often and I've seen plenty of sources recommend having one day per week with a vegetarian main meal.  Apparently about one in eight people in the UK are now vegetarian, but in spite of this, the majority of people seem to think that vegetarian food is either horribly boring salads and boiled greens, or over-the-top indulgent dishes that are about 90% cheese.  Even the people who manage to see past this myth still struggle to think of healthy, meatless meals that they'll enjoy.  And, even when you can think of delicious, nutritious meatless meals, sometimes eating them regularly can increase your weekly grocery bills rather a lot; something that not everyone can afford to do.

So, I thought I'd share some ideas and tricks that have been useful for me!  We've been trying to scrimp and save so although some things we use may be a little more on the expensive side, the majority of meals we cook are pretty affordable, filling and good for you - all without any meat and often without any animal products at all.

Find a good protein substitute that you really enjoy, and use the hell out of it.  This is probably the tip that has helped me the most, especially as someone who eats no meat and so needs to keep an eye on her protein consumption.  There is a wide variety of food out there that is high in protein and is also filling and cheap; chickpeas, beans and lentils are all rich in protein so will keep you fuller for longer, and they're also incredibly versatile.  Find one that you enjoy, and experiment with using it in as many different dishes in place of meat as you can.  Make chilli with just beans, try a shepherd's pie with lentils, make a stew with chickpeas as well as veg.  Lentils are my new love affair and a little goes a long way with those babies.  The recommended portions are as little as 35g (uncooked) and even that seems rather a lot when mixed with other things.  And I'm someone who normally eats +50% to double the recommended portion size...  Anywho, once you find one or two key ingredients that you like, you'll have an enjoyable base to start using instead of meat that is cheaper and lower in fat but still high in protein.

Make use of 'fake' meat alternatives if your dietary and ethical requirements allow for it.  In addition to brands like Quorn and Linda McCartney, most major supermarkets also now offer their own affordable vegetarian substitute range.  Many of these are cheaper and healthier than actually buying meat - the 'bolognese' sauces I've made using Quorn and various supermarket own brand vegetarian minces have worked out much cheaper per portion than if I was using beef, and they're also much lower in saturated fats and although they're filling, they don't give you that 'heavy' feeling of fullness you can get from eating a red meat dish.  Among other things, there are also convincingly flavoured sausages, hot dogs and Southern Fried 'chicken' bites that you could swap into a meal every now and again, and there are faux-chicken pieces and other things you could sneak into pies.  The only downside to many of these is that not all of them are vegan, and most of them contain palm oil, so if you are avoiding palm oil for ethical reasons or if you don't eat any animal products, you'll have to check the ingredients lists on these carefully before you buy them.

One pot dishes are a cheapskate's best friend!  Long before I went pescatarian I was a lover of the humble one pot meal, and now is no different.  Tossing loads of different things into a big pot, leaving it to do its thing for a while and then freezing all your leftovers is a very economical both when it comes to money and time, and you can do plenty of interesting vegetarian one dish suppers.  Just this week, I threw a bunch of leftover vegetables that needed using up into a pot with a tin of plum tomatoes, chickpeas, a sprinkle of lentils and some oregano, basil, red wine vinegar and tomato purée and the result was an incredibly easy, tasty stew-like meal that lasted for a couple of dinners and lunches. All you need are vegetables, pulses and a few key seasonings and you can just whack everything in and let it do its thing with minimal intervention, and boom you've got a simple, healthy vegetarian meal.

Experiment with different cuisines for more interesting dishes.  Sometimes, our native cuisines aren't the most inspiring when it comes to meat-free meals.  The UK, for example, is a meat-and-two-veg nation and most of our historical and cultural meals feature meat as the focal point that the dish is built around, with vegetables and starch-y food as sides; vegetables don't generally take centre stage in our traditional dishes, they're usually just (sometimes much maligned) accompaniments.  So, check out some other country's dishes instead!  I'm really into vegetarian Indian cooking right now, for example.  Even if you can't find any other nations that have specifically vegetarian meals that spark your interest, you can still take flavours and ideas from other cuisines and use them to spice up your every day meals, like using Thai-inspired flavours such as lemon grass, peanuts and coriander to give life to an otherwise boring vegetable stir fry, or something like coconut milk, tamarind and turmeric to turn a plain chickpea stew or soup into a Keralan inspired curry.

So there you have it, a handful of simple tips to help you figure out a few meat-free meals you can nom every now and again.  I'm planning on blogging a little bit more about food, recipes and veg-/pescatarian healthy living in the future, so if this is something you're interested in then keep an eye out for more.

What are some of your favourite meat-free meals?

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