Top 9 Dietitian Tips for Easy Meatless Meals

Looking for easy ways to enjoy more meatless meals during the week as part of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle? Then check out these Top 9 Dietitian Tips for Easy Meatless Meals.

It seems like every time you turn around there is more information on how plant-based eating has multiple benefits—both for people and the planet. You can cut your carbon footprint in half by eating plant-based, and you can slash your risk of chronic disease dramatically. For example, studies have shown you have 77% lower risk of type 2 diabetes by eating plant-based (read more about the diabetes benefits of eating plant-based here). Plus, you can lower your risk of heart disease and cancer too. Wow! But how can you start shifting your plate to eating more meatless meals? It’s easy, thanks to these Top 9 Dietitian Tips for Easy Meatless Meals from some of my favorite colleagues.

Top 9 Dietitian Tips for Easy Meatless Meals

Vegan Baked Mediterranean Lasagna

1. Make Meatless Versions of Favorites

You don’t have to go far to find inspiration for meatless meals—just look at your all time favorite recipes, such as lasagna (pictured above). “I always suggest people write a list of their 10 most frequently consumed meals, including carry out, and then next to it list meatless substitutes that could fit and they’re willing to try. For instance, instead of a BLT, a TLT (with tofu or tempeh), instead of meatballs on spaghetti, veggie balls made with mushrooms and brown rice, instead of chicken stir-fry, try marinated tofu. It makes the transition easier if we stick to familiar foods and change one thing at a time,” says Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD.

Pan Fried Tofu with Apricot Moroccan Sauce

2. Make Meat Swaps

It can be as easy as just literally swapping out the meat in any recipe for a plant-based protein, such as chicken for tofu in the Pan Fried Tofu with Apricot Moroccan Sauce recipe above. “I usually swap out the meat for beans or tofu. Hummus or other bean spreads are also great to top a salad or whole grains like quinoa or farro. Bean-based pastas like chickpea or lentil are great with vegetables on top!” says Janet Brancato, MS, RDN, of Nutopia Nutrition.

Spicy Sesame Grilled Tofu

3. Good Planning = Adequate Plant Protein

Yes, you really can get enough protein in your diet when you skip the meat. It’s all about planning to include protein-rich plant foods, such as tofu (pictured above) at each meal. “One of the questions clients frequently ask me surrounding meatless eating styles is whether or not these patterns provide sufficient protein. I always explain that many Americans exceed the recommended intake of protein, and plant-based foods can provide adequate protein with less saturated fat and more fiber, and recommend incorporating more legumes (beans, lentils, peas and peanuts), soy products, whole grains, nuts, and seeds in place of all or part of the meat at meals. For example, fill tacos with beans or lentils instead of ground beef or make burger patties with half ground beef and half mushrooms. As a rule of thumb, trade ¼ cup of beans for every ounce of meat you’d usually use in a recipe,” says Jessica Cox Ivey, RDN.

Balsamic Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussel Sprouts with Farro

4. Use Whole Grains for Extra Protein

Many people don’t realize that whole grains, such as farro pictured above, can provide a significant contribution of protein to your diet. “Since I work with many athletes and active individuals, I encourage the consumption of protein-rich starches such as farro, bulgur or quinoa paired with legumes to replace animal proteins. This ensures not only adequate total protein, but appropriate protein quality for muscle repair and immune function,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, of Kelly Jones Nutrition.

Sesame Tempeh Grain Bowl

5. Build a Balanced Meal

It’s all about balancing your plate with 1/4 plant proteins, 1/4 whole grains, and 1/2 veggies. “Season Great Northern or Navy beans with rosemary and garlic and add sautéed spinach. Serve with whole grain couscous or bulgur. A nice green salad completes the meal!” says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, owner of Sound Bites Nutrition

Mushroom Bomb Lentil Pasta

6. Experiment with the “Meatiness” of Mushrooms

Mushrooms can provide that savory flavor you may be missing in meatless meals. “Play around with mushrooms to replace meat in recipes. Mushrooms have a meaty texture and if seasoned can be just as satisfying. Try them in tacos, meat sauces, and sandwiches,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC.

Vegan Refried Beans

7. Save Money with Plant-Based Meals

It can actually slash your food budget when you move towards more plant-based eating. Read more about budget-friendly meatless meals here. “A common misconception is that plant-based foods are more expensive. But some of the most nutritious foods are cheaper and provide more nutrients per dollar than other foods. Close to a cup of dried beans yields two cups cooked. You can feed a family of two a filling side dish for under a quarter. Yes, that’s 0.25 cents. A can of drained pinto beans, at 0.51 cents, is also a bargain, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Prices might be higher or lower, depending on where you live,” says Tamar Rothenberg, MS, RDN, owner of Nutrition Nom Nom. 

Vegan Chipotle Sofritas Tacos with Mango Slaw

8. Spice Up Your Plant-Based Dishes

Pile on the flavor and health benefits with spices and herbs. Read more about these benefits here. “I recommend clients use spices to flavor their veggies and other plant protein (beans, legumes) to make them more appealing. Garlic, dill, Italian seasoning, cumin, ginger etc. they can even use the flavors they put on meats to enhance the taste of veggies,” says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN.

Mushroom Lentil Vegan Meatballs

9. Get to Know TVP

Try using TVP—just rehydrate it and stir it in—for recipes that typically call for ground beef, such as this recipe above for vegan meatballs. “Using textured vegetable protein (TVP) is an easy way to replace meat on the table and keeping traditional recipes alive! In Mexican cuisine we often use it as taco meat alternative. It’s also often called dehydrated soy flour,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, RDN, LDN.

For more blogs on how to eat a plant-based diet, check out the following:

Plant-Based Tips on How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
6 Tips for Boosting Protein on a Plant-Based Diet
How to Become a Vegetarian: 13 Dietitian Tips
How to Eat a Balanced Vegan Diet to Meet Your Nutrient Needs
How to Get Vegan Calcium Sources
How to Make Smoothies + Healthy Smoothie Recipes
How to Make Easy 30-Minute Vegan Meals

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