Good-bye cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and turkey legs…
So how can a picky eater like myself eliminate a large chunk of their diet and still eat? With surprising ease it turns out. I had already cut red meat out of my diet because eating it made me feel physically horrible (sweaty, bloated, nauseous, etc), but I would have never imagined I could function without chicken. Chicken has historically been the foundation of all the meals I cook for myself (fried chicken is one of my favorite foods and I spent a lot of time perfecting my recipe!), and I have yet to find a good vegetarian chicken substitute (I guess tofu?). I also am not the biggest fan of vegetables. I have the taste of a kid, I’ll admit it, so I worried a lot about just having enough different things to eat. And yet, here I am meat free for almost two months at the time of writing this. Here’s how I did it:
The Goal: Be 100% meat free by January 31, 2020.
The Plan: Go as cold turkey as possible.
Was it a success? Yes!
I am proud to say that I am now 100% meat free. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a strict vegetarian as I still eat things like parmesan cheese and gelatin which contain animal products, but I do not eat meat outright. I would eventually like to go vegan, however cheese is what I’m relying on to fill the protein void that meat left. I have a very fast metabolism and I struggle to keep meat on so here are the ways I have replaced meat in my diet while still getting all the nutrients that I need from meat:
Cheese: One of my favorite smaller meals that I eat is gouda cheese with cocoa roasted almonds or some kind of jam (blackcurrant and fig are my favorite, but grape works just fine!) and cracked pepper Triscuits®. Seriously, if you haven’t tried this combo, you haven’t lived! The sweet and salty compliment mild gouda perfectly! This is really easy to prepare and travel with, and is full of protein, calcium, and iron (all things I relied on meat to provide)! This is also a super affordable option, as all the ingredients cost less than $20 at Walmart! Plus, you get the added benefit of feeling like a Pronvencal villager eating their humble meal of nuts and cheese, and that vibe is a great one when it comes to food. (Yes, food does have vibes, don’t argue with me on this.)
Lentils: I love Meditteranean food and lentils are big part of many Meditteranean dishes, my favorite of which being lentil soup. Lentil soup is super easy! This is the basic recipe I usually use, with some changes depending on what I’m craving. I usually leave out the corn, because I’m not the biggest corn person and I don’t feel like it adds anything to the recipe, reduce the amount garlic (I have a sensitivity to it), and add in Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning to give it a little kick. I have found that this recipe usually makes enough for about 4 or 5 meals, particularly if I eat it with a grilled cheese (which I always do!). It is super filling and nutritious.
Edamame: I eat so much edamame! The PictSweet frozen edamame bags are delicious and super cheap and easy to prepare. I absolutely devour these whenever I have them on hand, they’re usually gone in about 3 days because they scratch the same itch for me as eating potato chips, but with some nutritional value. They’re a pretty good source of iron and a really good source of protein!
Chickpeas: I eat hummus every single day. I eat it on sandwiches, with pretzels, on flatbread, any way I can get hummus into my mouth, I get hummus into my mouth. Chickpeas have the most iron out of any other legume, nut, or bean, providing around 4.6-5.2 mg or iron per cup when cooked, so they make up a huge part of my diet. Chickpeas are also great to make “meatballs” out of. When ground up, chickpeas have avery similar texture to ground beef and are neutral enough in taste that when seasoned correctly, are very hard to distinguish from beef! This is my go-to chickpea meatball recipe, but because I can’t just take a recipe as is, I always make changes! A teaspoon of liquid smoke, about a quarter cup of brown sugar, and worcestershire sauce to taste gives you more of a barbeque flavor, or put some super finely shredded cheese and a bit sour cream and you have a meat-free sausage ball! Chickpea meatballs are a huge crowd pleaser, so I always make them for parties and holidays!
Potatoes: Potatoes are a huge staple in my diet, from baked potatoes to sauteed potatoes to hash browns to french fries, I eat a ton of potatoes. Most of the iron in potatoes is in the skin, so I try to leave the skin on as much as possible. Potatoes are also great sources of fiber, which super important to get as someone who doesn’t eat meat (particularly a person who doesn’t love vegetables).
Lactose-Free Milk: Believe it or not, I’m allergic to lactose. Does that stop me from consuming massive amounts of cheese? Of course not. However, I do not drink regular milk, because while I may be a glutton for pain, I’m not a glutton for that much pain. I buy lactose-free cow milk for several reasons: a) I love the way cow milk tastes and I think lactose-free milk; b) I’m allergic to coconut, so I can’t use coconut milk for anything; c) it is just as high in protein and calcium as regular milk. I also rely on lactose-free milk because it is a perfect substitution for regular milk in cooking. I have actually found that when it comes to making sauces and baking, I get better results, because lactose-free milk is thicker and creamier than regular milk! While lactose-free milk is considerably more expensive than regular milk, I find that I go through it less quickly, and since it is more highly pasteurized it has a longer shelf than regular milk. Ultimately, I think the value evens out with the higher cost.
These are just a few of the different things I’m more reliant on since eliminating meet from my diet. I also eat a lot more peanut butter, granola, and yogurt to get the protein, calcium, and fiber I need. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have a daily meal, since they are cheap, easy to make, and filling. I am also a huge proponent of taking multi-vitamins! I take One-A-Day Women’s multivitamins because they are chock full of iron and calcium!
Obviously, going meat free is not an option for everyone. Not everyone has the time, energy, or ability to cut meat out of their diet. People who are gluten-free, have a B12 deficiency, IBS, allergies to nuts or soy, anaemia or other health conditions that put restrictions on food often times cannot and should not eliminate meat from their diet. People who are recovering from restrictive eating disorders also should think carefully about eliminating meat from their diet. Additionally, not everyone can afford to eliminate meat from their diets. It is classist and ableist to make sweeping claims about vegetarianism and veganism being for everyone, and I do not ever want to preach that.
The moral of the story is that going meat-free was a great choice for me and an easy way for me to lessen the amount of waste I produce!