This post was written in honor of Food Day 2015, which is this Saturday, October 24th. What is Food Day? It is a chance for all of us to explore and celebrate healthier and more sustainable food, both with our families and with our larger communities. In other words, it is a cause that is near and dear to my heart!
For decades now people have assumed that I am a vegetarian. Maybe it is because I’m from Boulder, Colorado. Maybe it is because I am passionate about many social justice issues. I don’t know. For years, though, I felt guilty. As if I were somehow betraying my own true self. I flirted with vegetarianism, buying tons of vegetarian cookbooks and cooking primarily vegetarian meals, but it never fully stuck.
Overtime, though, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of eating any meat. I became more and more aware of the toll that conventional meat took on the environment, the animals involved, and my own body. So about 13 years ago I made the decision that from that point on I was only going to eat what I call “happy meat.” To me, “happy meat” is meat that is sustainably and humanely raised without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. Usually, but not always, it is organic. And more often than not it involves leaner meats (i.e., poultry and fish).
When I started down this path there were a couple of things that I had to come to terms with. The first was that I basically stopped eating meat at restaurants. This was hard at first, but now when I go to a restaurant that serves “happy meat,” I am completely overwhelmed by all of the options and usually opt for a vegetarian dish. The second was that I couldn’t afford to eat much meat. The meat that I was willing to buy was (and is) more expensive, so I was forced to start thinking more carefully about how I ate meat, when I ate meat, and why I ate meat. In the end it became clear that I had to cut way down on the amount of meat I was eating. So I started learning ways to eat less, but better meat.
Since making the transition, I have developed five tips and tricks that have been helpful to me. I truly believe that in making these changes I have come to more fully enjoy and savor the meat that I do eat. So if cutting down on meat or shifting away from conventional meat towards the “happier” stuff is something you have been interested in, perhaps these tricks will inspire you to try:
1. USE MEAT AS A SEASONING RATHER THAN THE MAIN EVENT.
This is actually one my mother did a lot when I was little and money was tight. Instead of serving a meat, a vegetable, and a starch, incorporate a small amount of meat into a larger dish that is loaded with vegetables and grains. Meat has a strong flavor, so use that to your advantage and savor the flavor that it gives to whole dishes. Dishes that work well this way include baked pastas, skillet tomato sauce, and Brazilian-style fried rice.
It doesn’t have to be Mondays, pick your day of the week, but try to have at least one night a week when you eat vegetarian. This will give you a chance to experiment and try new things, without giving up your meat consumption all together. I have found that overtime, without even trying, our meals have become increasingly vegetarian. Great options for introductory vegetarian meals include homemade mac ‘n cheese, bean and rice bowls, empanadas, tostada salad, vegetable minestrone, enchiladas, veggie-loaded quesadillas, and omelets.
3. TRY DIFFERENT, CHEAPER CUTS
If saying good-bye to meat as the main event is a scary prospect but the cost of sustainably and humanely raised meats is daunting, try using cheaper cuts (e.g, chicken thighs, poultry sausages, ground chicken or turkey). This can be a great way to start buying “happy meat” while also fulfilling your meat craving.
4. COMBINE PROTEINS.
If you are worried about getting enough protein, try combining meat and another protein. Then, if that works for you, you can start to slowly adjust the ratio so it becomes more of the other protein and less of the meat. Great protein sources to try out include beans (black, pinto, kidney, white), legumes (lentils, chick peas, split peas), eggs, and nuts.
5. BULK UP THE VEGGIES, TRIM THE PROTEIN.
Almost all of us should be eating more vegetables than we are. After all, it is recommended that half our plate at each meal be fruits and vegetables. So take on the challenge, serve yourself a smaller, leaner portion of meat and bulk up on the vegetables. Or, when making a sauce or stew, double the vegetables and cut back on the meat. The taste will still be there, but the nutritional value will have shifted…in a good way!
Want more ideas for ways to eat a greener diet? Follow these amazing bloggers who are collaborating to raise awareness about Food Day 2015:
Alli from Don’t Panic Mom
Amanda from Produce for Kids
April from Gluten is My Bitch
Donna from The Hanging Spoon
Emily from Colorado Moms
Gina from The Multitasking Missus
Jessica from The Balanced Kitchen (That’s me!)
Jill from Just the Right Byte
Jory from Teeny Tiny Foodie
Kristen from Fueling a Fit Fam
Lacy and Emily from Laughing Lemon Pie
Maaike from the Official Food Day Blog
Maybelline from Naturalmente Mama
Sally from Real Mom Nutrition
Susan from Real Kids Eat Spinach