Happy New Year! What better time to give up the things you love most than after a month-long eggnog and cookie bender? If you’re reading this, that probably means—at some point during your turkey dinner-induced coma—you decided to swear off meat for good this time. There are a number of reasons why you’d want to give up meat. Maybe you decided that the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is for you. Maybe it skeeves you (which is understandable). Or MAYBE you (or I) just went to the doctor and he told you that bacon triggers your migraines, so now you’re faced with “Sophie’s Choice” and you really don’t know what to do. Well, we’re in this together. Here are some tips for eating less meat in the new year!
1. Do NOT go cold turkey (literally and figuratively). This should go without saying, but quitting anything on the spot is only going to make you want it more. Case in point: One particular evening I was feeling super healthy and ambitious, and I decided it was time to stop eating pasta entirely. Cut to me, exactly 72 hours later, inhaling a bowl of penne straight out of the refrigerator because I am weak and it is so hard to deny your body delicious foods. You need to slowly phase the meat out of your diet. Start by setting a smaller goal for yourself; it’s easier on the mind and the body to commit to, for example, 10 days without meat than to commit to an entire lifetime. You could also cut meats out one at a time. Maybe go a few months just without beef, then cut out pork, then poultry. You’ll feel way more accomplished if you can meet a bunch of smaller goals over time.
2. If you’re taking something out of your diet, you need to replace it with something else. There are a lot of health benefits to eating meat: It’s rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals like zinc and iron. Make sure you’re not depriving your body of these things once you finally cut meat out. Not only is this unhealthy, but it’ll make your cravings for meat way worse (I’m talking Phoebe Buffay pregnant with triplets bad). Do your research and find out how to incorporate all the health benefits of meat into your diet without actually having to eat meat. For example, eggs, chickpeas, and plant proteins like nuts, beans, and grains are amazing sources of protein—and they’re filling. Your goal of eating less meat could be as easy as throwing some chickpeas onto your salad!
3. Plan out your meals in advance. I can’t tell you how many times I was pressed for time or out of food or lazy and just drove myself to get drive-thru chicken nuggets for dinner because I had three dollars and I didn’t know what else to do. Once you’ve figured out how you can replace meat in your diet, find some tasty meatless recipes and do all your grocery shopping for the week accordingly. If you stock up on your favorite substitutes for meat, it’ll be much easier for you to cook a delicious dinner that you won’t feel bad about eating!
4. Consider keeping fish in the rotation. If you’re not opposed to eating fish, keeping it in your diet could go a long way. Not only does it contain a lot of the same proteins and minerals that other meats do, it’s actually a lot healthier for you. In addition to being rich in the same proteins as, for example, a steak, fish has omega 3 fats that seriously reduce your risk for heart disease.
5. Find a loophole. This is especially important if you find yourself eating particularly bland meals and needing the flavor of meat. You’re not weak for feeling this way! I promise there are little tricks for incorporating meat without eating it. You can cook a fatty meat, like bacon or pancetta, and use the fat to flavor your meatless dishes. Or you can incorporate a small amount of bacon or prosciutto as a garnish on one of your favorite soups or pastas (for real, tell me a butternut squash soup with the tiniest bit of bacon doesn’t sound like the most amazing thing in the world). But if that feels too much like cheating, embrace the umami. Umami isn’t just a word that “Chopped” judges say to make you feel stupid; it’s the word we use to describe foods with savory, meaty tastes. I think you know where I’m going with this now. I’m telling you to literally trick your body into thinking it’s eating meat. Incorporating earthy and nutty flavors, especially mushrooms and eggplants, can actually trigger the same responses in your body that eating meat does. Rather than garnishing your pasta with prosciutto, you can use eggplant, miso, or roasted tomatoes.
6. Reward yourself…not necessarily with meat, but you should give yourself something to look forward to as you’re working to change your diet. Maybe treat yourself to your favorite dessert or a new outfit every month you’ve successfully avoided eating meat. Especially when you’re first starting out, you’ll find that goals are easier to achieve with a little bit of incentive.