How to Make Recipes Using Less Meat

Quinoa bowl

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If you're concerned about the environmental impact of meat consumption, you might be wondering how you can cut back. Americans consumed around 225 pounds of meat and poultry per person in 2020, which works out to around 10 ounces of meat per day. Even cutting your meat intake in half is a significant step, and if everyone did it, it would make a substantial difference to the planet as a whole. If this is something you're considering, here are a few tips to help you on your way.

  • 01 of 05

    Use Half of the Meat Called For In a Recipe

    Rather than giving up meat-based recipes entirely, try cutting back on the amount of meat. For recipes that call for ground or chopped meats, like casseroles, soups, stews, stir-frys and salads, use half the amount of meat as the recipe calls for. If you feel like you need to make up for the missing protein, or just the missing bulk, you can try replacing the meat with tofu, plant-based meat, or simply add more vegetables. Grains, pastas and potatoes will help, but you might not be looking to add tons of carbs to your diet to make up for the missing meat. Instead, try adding broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables. Not only are they nutritious, they'll also help you feel full.

    Take this ground beef and cabbage casserole, for example. It calls for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef. Try cutting that back to 1/2 to 3/4 pounds. To make up the missing volume, you could simply use more cabbage, or try adding broccoli, cauliflower, kale, mushrooms, or even cooked legumes like lentils or chickpeas.  

    Likewise, this grilled chicken salad calls for two chicken breasts for four portions. Chicken breasts can be pretty large, and with all the other ingredients this salad features, you could easily get away with using just one breast.  

  • 02 of 05

    Substitute Meat Wisely

    When it comes to meat substitutes, everyone knows about beans and tofu, but they're not one-size-fits-all substitutes. If you're cooking a pot of chili, you could use more beans, or add tofu, tempeh, plant-based meat, or a combo of these. This is also true for soups, stews and curries. But simply adding beans to a Caesar salad in place of the grilled chicken might not work as well. Grilled mushrooms, on the other hand, like portobello or king oyster mushrooms, might be just the ticket. Tofu and its relations could also do the trick. It will come down to personal preference. 

    If you're new to cooking with tofu, it may take a while to get comfortable with all the different firmnesses and what they're capable of. For meat substitutes, you'll generally want firm or extra-firm. 

    Seitan is another great product. It's made from wheat, and has a nice, meatlike texture and mild flavor that nonetheless soaks up other flavors from marinades and surrounding ingredients. It's actually a pretty good substitute for grilled chicken. 

    But remember, you don't always need to "replace" the missing meat with some other protein. Sometimes adding extra veggies is all you need.

  • 03 of 05

    Cook Smaller Cuts of Meat

    With recipes like casseroles and stews, you can simply use less meat than what the recipe calls for, or substitute some other ingredient. But what about recipes where meat is the main component of the dish, like a steak, a pork chop, or a grilled chicken breast?  

    Often you can cut something thinner, like a chicken breast. Most chicken breasts can easily be halved horizontally. It just takes a sharp knife and a steady hand. Most likely you can find a video demonstrating how to do it. This is great for chicken breasts since they'll cook faster and you'll have less worry about underdone chicken. 

    But what about steaks and chops? Cutting these thinner is technically possible (assuming the boneless variety). But thinner steaks and chops are easy to overcook, so you'll need to adjust cooking times to avoid that. Another approach is to just cut them in half, as if you were sharing it with someone, except before you cook it. (All the better if you are in fact sharing it with someone.) Leaving the thickness the same means the cooking times shouldn't change, which makes it an easy adjustment.

    For hamburgers, make the burgers smaller, or thinner; stretch the ground meat with fillers like mushrooms, cooked legumes, cooked quinoa, or chopped nuts; or just use plant-based meat. 

  • 04 of 05

    Boost the Umami

    When you're removing some or all of the meat from a recipe, you're not just removing substance, you're also removing flavor. So to make sure your recipes pack the same flavor punch, think about ways to boost those flavors, especially those umami flavors that meat brings to a dish. 

    Foods rich in umami include mushrooms (especially shitake mushrooms), anchovies, kelp and other seaweed, as well as aged cheeses like Parmesan. Try grating some aged Parmesan into a casserole, or toss a chunk of Parmesan rind into a soup or stew. Ripe tomatoes are rich in umami, and so are other tomato products like tomato paste and ketchup, so enriching a recipe with these is a great way to boost the umami. Fermented foods like miso paste and soy sauce are loaded with umami, as are condiments like oyster sauce, fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce. 

    And don't forget MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which is basically pure umami. Even a small amount of this seasoning can add a meaty depth to your recipes.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Limit Your Meat Meals

    You can leverage the above tips by restricting the number of meals you eat weekly that have meat in them. For instance, try limiting your meat consumption to dinners only, or to certain days of the week, or both. Some people find that effectively becoming vegetarian or vegan for breakfast and lunch, and eating a moderate serving of meat at dinnertime, can help them reduce their meat consumption by half. Likewise, skipping meat altogether on certain days of the week is another approach. Even just skipping meat one day a week, in combination with some of the other tips above, can help you achieve your goal of cutting your meat consumption in half.