You may be one of the many who'd like to decrease their meat consumption and eat more plant-based. There are strong reasons for it -- from climate and additional environmental issues, to health, to creating more equal societies, to improving animal welfare. Drawdown, the world-renowned climate solutions group, calls 'plant-rich diets' one of the top four strategies available right now for tackling the climate crisis.
Great. Now, what to make for dinner? I've spent years educating people on ways to reduce their meat consumption, so while I'm not a dietitian I have plenty of ideas.
(1) WILL YOU BE VEGETARIAN, FLEXITARIAN, PESCATARIAN, OR FULL-ON VEGAN?
I suggest you not worry about it. If deciding to be part of a defined dietary tribe sounds motivating to you, then fine. Personally, I've adopted numerous dietary personas over the years, then discarded them as my knowledge and my eating evolved. Now I simply feel that we're all on a journey to eat consciously and consume less in the way of the animal-based foods that cost so much to the planet and human well-being.
(2) TRY TO THINK ABOUT DINNER AS MORE THAN ONE WORD.
As in, for dinner tonight we're having 'chicken.' Vegetarians often eat more tapas-style. So when you're deciding what to make for dinner, try thinking: "Rice, a veggie stir-fry, and a lentil salad."
(3) EATING MORE PLANT-BASED CAN BE SIMPLE AND QUICK.
It is not inherently complicated or time-consuming. There's no need to plan a day in advance, or soak raw beans overnight and cook them for an hour. For protein, several times a week I boil up a handful of lentils -- orange or beluga or green or other -- and make a cold lentil salad, or keep the lentils hot and spoon them over grains. For beans, once or twice a week I open a can of garbanzos or cannelinis or kidneys, drain them and add a few tablespoons to an entree or a salad. Gourmet vegan restaurants may serve dishes that look fussy and complex, but you don't need to do so.
(1) GO FOR PLANT-BASED DISHES YOU ALREADY LOVE, AND MIX THINGS UP A LITTLE.
You're already familiar with some plant-based dishes, so why not make these more often -- with additions, deletions, and fun new ways to prep. Soups, casseroles, pizzas and salads can all be completely plant-based -- and changed up to provide variety and the different nutritional profiles of new ingredients.
Many of us like pasta or noodles, and can work with these. Try a different sauce, or sautee vegetables and toss them in. Try different pasta shapes and sizes, and pastas made from wheat alternatives like quinoa, buckwheat, rice and more. One of my favourite pasta dishes uses short pasta tubes, tossed with small broccoli florets, tiny tomatoes, and a scoop of pre-made (and pre-bought) olive tapenade. And here's a delicious-looking vegan pasta from the awesome Elizabeth Emery who blogs vegan recipes at vancouverwithlove.
(2) GO TO TRUSTY MEAT-BASED DISHES, BUT SUBSTITUTE PLANT PROTEIN.
If some of your favourite meals are meat-based, plan for those but switch up the meat for vegetables, or plant-based proteins, or meat substitutes. Burgers are a great classic, and we buy our favourite commercial veggie burger for a simple dinner dish. We also love vegan Shepherd's pie with a lentil-and-carrot filling. Mashed potatoes are real comfort food, and can be made with plant-based alternatives to milk and butter. Tortilla or other 'wrap' meals can include refried beans and salad and salsa; it may be that no one at your table misses the meat.
If you like ballast in the centre of a dinner plate, instead of beef steak try a large mushroom or cross-section of cauliflower, sauteed or fried or baked with some of the same toppings you might have used on a slice of meat.
(3) THERE'S A WORLD OF NEW-TO-YOU PLANT-BASED DISHES TO TRY.
Vegan scalloped potatoes. Asian-style bowls with grains, greens, avocado and sprouts. Eggplant ratatouille. Cabbage slaws. The list is endless.
Here are a few beautiful recipe sites, from my good friend and good good cook, Susan Angel.
You might get questions or complaints, from family, including:
(a) "These veg meals are not filling enough!" It's true that meatless meals often feel lighter, but vegan meals can still be substantial and satisfying. Ultimately I feel better eating lighter meals.
(b) "Tofu is boring." Here's what I say to that: No-one would put a square of raw chicken into boiling water, cook it, then eat. Chicken possesses a fairly neutral taste, so we marinate or coat the meat with herbs, spices, and sauces. When people say: "I love chicken," what they often mean is they enjoy the bechamel or spicy tomato sauce they've put on it! Like chicken, tofu is reasonably neutral to the palate, so can pick up flavours in the pan. You can therefore prepare tofu, or tempeh, or seitan, as you would prepare meat. One of my current favourite side-dishes is tofu cubes sauteed with lots of onion -- topped with barbeque sauce.
Finally, please allow me to repeat myself in an attempt to dispel a common myth:
Preparing a veg meal does not need to take any more time than preparing a meat meal.
Best to you on your plant-based adventures.