Nutrition Articles

Meatless Meals Benefit Your Health

A ''Flexitarian'' Diet Meets in the Middle

By Liza Barnes, Health Educator         
Page 3 of 2

Now, replacing a sirloin steak with a can of pinto beans might not appeal to you. But how does roasted tomato-eggplant ratatouille with rice, or spicy black bean chili and cheesy cornbread sound? There are many meals like these that taste so good you won’t even think to ask “where’s the beef?” Eggplant parmesan, pasta salad, bean burritos, and vegetable fajitas are some good examples. Admittedly, a flexitarian diet will call on your creativity. Here are some tips to get you started:
  • Stock up on vegetarian cookbooks. Some good ones to try include Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison and The New Moosewood Cookbook, by Molly Katzen. These and many other titles are available at your local library, so you can check them out before you commit. Also visit for a wide selection of vegetarian recipes.
  • If you’re cooking at home, make your main course meatless and serve meat on the side. You could have vegetarian lasagna and a salad topped with cubed chicken, roasted eggplant and zucchini sandwiches with antipasto, or spinach frittata and a side of organic sausage.
  • Pick a meatless day each week. Or go vegetarian during the week and omnivore on the weekends. This will give your body a break from processing all that cholesterol and saturated fat, and balance your overall caloric and fat intake.
  • Try some meat substitutes. Most vegetarians enjoy cold-cuts as much as anyone, but theirs are made from soy, and are lower in fat and cholesterol-free.
  • When dining-out, scour the menu for vegetarian options—restaurants usually offer at least one. If not, choose an entrée that is served with veggies and grains—like pasta, or stir-fry.
  • Fill up in the garden. Imagine your dinner plate is divided in quarters. Fill two quarters with veggies, one quarter with grains, and the last quarter with meat.
  • Eat your veggies first. Along with vitamins, they’re also loaded with fiber, which will begin to satiate you before you dig in to the meat.
  • Bank your meals for the future. If you go to a restaurant and order a steak, order a take-away container along with it. Cut off a section about the size of a deck of playing cards, and that’s your dinner. The rest will make a great lunch tomorrow and maybe even more—all for the price of one meal.
  • Skimp on cheese. There is a common pitfall for anyone attempting a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet—substituting one saturated fat (meat) for another (cheese). Remember that cheese is high in saturated fat too, and can contribute to health problems if over-consumed. Rely on vegetables and whole grains to fill in the gap instead.
  • Check out for more ideas and recipes.

What it all boils down to is balance and moderation. Although moderation never sounds exciting, the benefits to your health, your waistline, and your wallet can be very exciting indeed!

Want to learn more about going meatless? Check out SparkPeople's first e-book! It's packed with over 120 delicious meat-free recipes, plus tips and tricks for going meatless. Get it on Amazon for $2.99 and start cooking easy, wholesome veg-centric meals the whole family will love!
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • You're way better off eating low carb (LIMIT THE GRAINS, guys; the guv'mint has been steering us wrong) and high protein, IMO. Or at least I am. The guv'mint and the American Heart Association has been basing their advice to eat low-fat high-grain on old heart attack studies that didn't control for smokers; until they admit this, I'm inclined not to pay them any mind.
    I can give up bread and sweets, but not meat and dairy. I like a nice slab of rare beef way too much. - 4/25/2016 8:55:07 AM
  • Just go vegan! So worth it, regardless of how you were raised or what you are used to. I was raised to eat meals with meat at the center, from burgers to tacos to carne asada (Mexican household) to being able to eat Big Mac combo meals as a young child or footlong Subway subs piled with meat or Whoppers from BK on the regular. I ate plenty of meat growing up, and have been vegan for years now. You CAN cut out meat. I promise you, and you will feel so so SO much better. - 12/2/2015 12:32:26 PM
  • Over the years I've moved to mostly vegetarian and feel great!!!
    Well over half of our meals are vegetarian and we started doing Meatless Monday. It starts with one step! - 12/1/2015 8:06:06 PM
  • I started "Flexitarian" before I knew it was Flexitarian....wa
    nted a semi-vegetarian eating program for health.....combin
    ing that with SP's recommended calorie regimen and am losing, have abundant energy AND I'm eating delicious foods. No complaints here. I suspect that nutrition is not a "one size fits all" situation and that requirements actually vary greatly with individuals. So glad that I have finally learned to eat this way.
    - 12/1/2015 4:42:33 PM
  • I started "Flexitarian" before I knew it was Flexitarian....wa
    nted a semi-vegetarian eating program for health.....combin
    ing that with SP's recommended calorie regimen and am losing, have abundant energy AND I'm eating delicious foods. No complaints here. I suspect that nutrition is not a "one size fits all" situation and that requirements actually vary greatly with individuals. So glad that I have finally learned to eat this way.
    - 12/1/2015 4:42:33 PM
  • I like the article, I already eat this way mostly but it's good to get more tips and ideas for eating healthy. - 12/1/2015 2:46:47 PM
  • Interesting article. I never heard the term Flexitarian before. Not sure that I can be one--I like meat too much to ever give it up. My daughter was a vegetarian for years which caused me to modify some recipes, but I still ate meat. - 12/1/2015 11:08:05 AM
  • My husband has been vegan for a year now. This man never exercised. Now he bikes and runs 6 days a week. And I'm not talking simple strolls he bikes almost 20 miles on his road bike and runs no less than a 3 miles, sometimes 10 miles. So to say that being vegan leaves you low energy is completely false.

    A good number of our meals are Indian cuisine inspired. I have made a gluten-free, soy-free, vegan lasagna. You can do a lot with cashews in your cooking. Ice cream and pudding made with avocado. Mushrooms, legumes, and hemp seeds for burgers. Dates used for "brownie bites". Vegan's are not at a loss for tasty food options or treats and they don't all have to be soy based. - 12/1/2015 9:11:02 AM
    Thanks for that, I know for SURE I can't stand all those vegetables and soy products, so tiresome tasting, yucky after a few weeks. Vegan eating would be like going to PRISON!! Leaves a body feeling low energy, taking stupid supplements, eating horrid vegetables, trying to add stuff to make them palatable, it's a scam. - 12/1/2015 4:56:25 AM
  • i think this is awesome! - 9/6/2015 4:39:33 PM
    Why isn't vegan a choice for meal plans on Spark, OR no dairy, bread? - 7/5/2015 2:32:51 PM
  • Just go vegan!! Whole foods plant based for the win! - 6/25/2015 11:27:49 AM
  • CLAY10237
    Eating lots of vegs/fruits has always been a huge part of my diet. I try to have two meatless days a week instead of fish. Love fish but it is just too expensive these days. I disagree that more vegs in the diet will automatically reduce weight, BP, cholesterol. Grains, beans and nuts are very high in carbs and a carb is a carb. Any eating plan requires moderation, portion control and exercise.
    Check out "Vegetariana" by Nava Atlas. Her cookbooks have easy and accessible recipes. Some of the recipes in the "Moosewood" series, tho really tasty, can be a bit complex or have unusual ingredients. - 5/25/2015 10:00:56 PM
  • Hi, in our household we're eating less and less meat, as I like our diet to be varied and nutritious and using pulses and vegetables is important for that.

    HOWEVER the assertion that you will be eating fewer calories and less fat just isn't automatically true. I only eat whole foods, and fast, abstaining from meat, for the whole of Lent - invariably putting on weight over the period. There are lots of great benefits to eating plenty of veg but there simply isn't the lean protein available, so I find you end up eating more fat and carbohydrates alongside through pulses and dairy than you would with lean meat. Vegetarianism is great, but there are health benefits to eating lean meat and fish, too, and this is one of them.

    My ideal is to eat very little meat with a plate of varied veg - wish there was a cookbook for the almost-veggie, but we're slowly putting together a family version :) - 5/10/2015 5:34:09 PM
    I agree with many of the comments that each individual is welcome to eat as she/he decides. Personally I have experimented with various types of diet plans, and have found that switching things up according to the changes in my own life/years/body/h
    ealth has been helpful. I am at another cross roads again so I have gone to my doctor for a food plan. She ran my blood work and told me what I need to eat/not eat, and supplements I should take. We are all different people with our own unique bodies, lifestyles, cultures, beliefs, etc. It is nice to share what works for us and leave the choices up to the individual. I wish all of you well with your choices and will support you whether your choices or beliefs are different from what I am doing at the time. - 3/1/2015 10:12:10 AM

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