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6 Easy Ways to Eat Less Meat


From full vegetarian to a mostly meat eater, here are 6 ideas to help you reduce your meat intake healthfully and judgment-free!

By Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN


The one thing you do know: You want to eat less meat. What that means and how you do it are still open-ended. Don’t feel pressured to choose — there are many different routes you can take. It’s important to keep in mind that the tool you use to transition into your happy veg place can evolve over time as you find your way and settle on the diet that works best for you. None of these approaches are etched in stone. Begin at your beginning, and it will all begin it make sense to you.

Here are six different approaches for minimizing meat in your diet:


Meatless Mondays

Best approach if:

  • You want to trial run going veg with little commitment.
  • Parents, spouse or whomever you eat and cook with regularly don’t support your plans to go veg, and you want to show them how easy and healthy it can be.
  • You want to eat less meat but don’t necessarily want to give it up altogether.

The idea behind Meatless Monday is easy — start each new week off with one meat-free day. Not only do you get to test-run going veg, you also get to show those who may think “but it’s so hard to be a vegetarian!” that it’s really not difficult at all. And according to the people who run Meatless Monday, giving up meat even just once a week can have many of the same benefits to your health and the environment as giving up meat altogether can.

Get started: Pick a Monday to start going meatless. The weekend before, take a little time to prepare. Explain your plans to your loved ones and see if they’d like to get on board with you. Come to the conversation armed with ideas for how to make this easy on everyone. If your mom always makes you a turkey sandwich for your brown bag lunch, ask for PB + J instead. And offer to make that evening’s dinner — few people (especially parents!) will pass up the opportunity to put their feet up and relax while you get a meal on the table!


The Red Head

Best approach if:

  • You are ready to make a full-time commitment, but want the flexibility of eating some meat.
  • You really like chicken and turkey, and only want to give up beef and pork.
  • You eventually want to go “all the way” veg or vegan, but prefer to make changes slowly than all at once.

Giving up red meat appeals to many because it’s a heck of a lot easier than giving up meat altogether. While it may sometimes be hard to find a vegetarian option on a menu or on the buffet table, you can almost always find something that has chicken, turkey, or fish in it. Rejecting red meat can also be a pretty healthy move, since red meat tends to be high in bad-for-your-heart saturated fat — but since you’re still eating meat, you’re likely getting plenty of protein and nutrients that some vegetarians may have trouble getting enough of.

Get started: Tell your parents, roommates or co-cooks that this is something you’d like to do, and explain your reasons. And while you may have known you were headed in this direction, the people around you may not — so ready yourself for any response. And just so your loved ones don’t think your admirable decision is going to turn them into a short order cook, be sure to explain what you plan to do when the rest of the table is eating hamburgers.


The Flexitarian

Best approach if:

  • You’re not sure where you want to be, but you know that eating less meat is part of your goal.
  • You don’t want to be tied down by specific limitations about days of the week or types of food you eat.
  • You’re a “go with the flow” person who wants to figure things out as you move forward rather than have them all figured out from the start.

Also known as “semi vegetarian,” flexitarian is a relatively new word that refers to a vegetarian who eats meat occasionally. How often is occasionally? Well, there’s no official limit. So if you’re committed to the idea of eating less meat but haven’t really figured out what that means to you, set out on your road to veg as a flexitarian.

Get started: Take eating a plant-based diet out for a test drive. Try ordering veg-friendly meals when you eat out to cut down on your meat consumption. And at home, suggest meals that just happen to be vegetarian for everyone to enjoy together.


The Vegxception

Best approach if:

  • You want to do it...but there are one or two meat-containing foods that you just can’t imagine giving up.

Will people look at you funny if you say you’re a vegetarian, and then eat a bowl of mom’s chicken soup at every holiday dinner? Well, they might. But that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel and eat meat year round. If anyone gives you a hard time, smile proudly and tell them: “This is my one vegxception. I don’t eat any other meat products.” They’ll understand.

Get started: Be up front about your plans. Sure, what you eat is your business. But if you intend on including mini hot dogs on special occasions, why not save yourself the explanations down the road? The benefit is that people will realize you’re not making it up as you go along, and may take your preferences more seriously instead of nudging you to follow that hot dog with a hamburger, since they can see that “you’re eating meat now.”


The Cold Tofurkey

Best approach if:

  • It hit you like a ton of bricks that you just don’t want to eat meat any more. And you just. Don’t.
  • You are in control of most of what you eat; perhaps you live on your own, or you do a lot of the cooking at home.
  • You’re ready!

Get started: While this approach doesn’t require a lot of preparation, it’s helpful to have given such a major life change some thought beforehand. Look for information about the nutrition, social, and other challenges that come with going veg. If you’re in the “I just can’t do it anymore” camp and don’t want to think too much, well, then go for it — and read up!


The Conscious Carnivore

Best approach if:

  • Eating meat doesn’t bother you, but you want the animals you consume to have lived happy, healthy lives.
  • You don’t want to give up meat, but you want to eat in a way that is good for the environment.

Maybe you’re turned off by the practices used to farm meat in this country. You feel that it’s OK for us to eat animals, but that they should be treated with some respect, and raised in a way that’s minimizes harm to the environment. Just a few years ago, this may have been enough of a reason to go veg — it was hard to find meat that was up to your standards, and so eating none was your best bet. These days there are many more options.

Get started: There are a number of different criteria that people who follow an ethical meat-eating diet tend to look for. Finding Free-Range, pasture-raised, or No Hormone Administered meat can help guide your search. You could also check out your local farmer’s market, where many local vendors use more sustainable practices that the large-scale ranch that ships truckloads of ground beef. Understand what the different food label and practices are so you can be an ethical eater.



Published August 4, 2014


"The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian" Book ImageExcerpted from The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian. Copyright 2014 by Rachel Meltzer Warren. Reprinted with permission from Sourcebooks.

The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian is the ultimate handbook for any teenager (or teen at heart) who is interested in shifting to a meat-free diet. It is a judgment-free, supportive manual that empowers the reader to find the place on the vegetarian spectrum—from conscious carnivore to flexitarian to vegan—that is right for her.


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