Be Flexible during World Vegetarian Month

By , SparkPeople Blogger
October is Vegetarian Awareness Month.

Have you ever thought about giving up meat? If you're not interested in going vegetarian, have you ever considered flexitarianism?

While about 3 percent of American adults are vegetarian, about 10 percent are mostly vegetarian (occasionally indulging in poultry or fish).

One in four Americans follows a "flexitarian" diet, according to the American Dietetic Association, meaning they eat meatless meals at least four days a week.

Nutrition and health experts have been urging flexitarian diets for years. Meat-free meals tend to be higher in fiber and other nutrients and lower in saturated fat, experts say.

My boyfriend and I are flexitarians. I eat no meat, but I occasionally eat fish or seafood. He eats vegetarian food at home and often bypasses meat at restaurants, but he still loves a good steak (and pretty much every other kind of meat) on occasion. We find our flexitarian lifestyle helps us save money and work plenty of healthy beans, vegetables and whole grains into our meals.

You probably eat some meatless meals already: omelets, toast, cereal or oatmeal for breakfast; a salad or tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch; a bean burrito, cheese pizza, or vegetable stir-fries for supper.

Think about your food budget. What's the most expensive part of any meal?

It's usually the meat, right? Save big bucks by cutting out meat just once a week!
Here are some easy ways to leave out the meat and boost your veggie intake:
  • In casseroles, stews, soups, and chili, substitute cooked legumes (like beans and lentils) for the meat. Try kidney beans in chili or stew, red lentils in spaghetti sauce or stuffed cabbage rolls, or refried beans in burritos, tacos, and enchiladas.

    Experiment with different kinds of beans. Don't like kidney beans? Try sweet and silky black beans, nutty and chewy chickpeas or even smooth and mild cannellini beans.
  • In stir-fry dishes, use firm tofu, tempeh, cooked beans, nuts, and sesame seeds in place of meat, poultry, or seafood. Firm tofu and tempeh can even be cubed and skewered as kebobs for grilling. Try scrambled tofu for breakfast. Marinated tofu, sliced thin, makes a delicious sandwich.

    Tofu is bland on its own. Pair it with your favorite sauce and you'll be sure to like it. Try baking or broiling slices or dicing it and throwing it in with stirfries, stews or soups. Tofu acts like a sponge when it comes in contact with oil. The good news is that you can just use a bit of nonstick cooking spray and a hot pan to achieve a nice, crispy coating on your tofu. (Add sauce after it's cooked!)

    Tempeh has a strong, nutty taste. It melds well with spicy and pungent sauces. Try crumbling it in pesto pasta, tossing it in spicy peanut sauce, substituting it in tacos or slathering it in barbecue sauce.
  • Prepare pasta sauces, pizza toppings, soups, stews, and other mixed dishes as you always do. However skip the meat and add more chopped vegetables.

    Think beyond limp canned mushrooms and black olives. Add fresh or thawed frozen spinach, strips of red or yellow peppers, bits of zucchini, chopped artichoke hearts, even bits of chopped and steamed broccoli.
  • Meat "analogs" are soy protein products that mimic different types of meat. Try vegetarian patties, bacon, and sausages at breakfast, pepperoni on pizza, burgers, "chicken" nuggets and patties—even barbecued ribs! Textured soy protein is often sold in a granular form. This works perfect in casseroles, soups, stews, lasagna, chili, enchiladas, and other mixed dishes.

So what do you say? Will you (or do you already) give up meat for a meal--or two or three--this week?

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I absolutely detest the taste of soy or anything like it. My Mom always had a big garden and I love vegetables and eat them often, but love my meat and fish too. I can see cutting meat out sometimes, it just happens some meals, (like beans and cornbread!) but I will never give it up completely and certainly won't replace it with soy substitures. Report
I've been vegetarian for about three years now. I've found that it has allowed me to be much more adventurous in the types of food that I eat. I've tried so many different kinds of ethnic foods now that I've moved away from meat and potatoes at every meal! I've thought about going vegan a bit, but I like cheese entirely too much! And I have difficulty getting enough protein in my diet while still including things like eggs and cheese, that I think I would become seriously deficient if I cut those animal products out. But overall, I've found that its quite easy to make vegetarian meals, even though I've encountered quite a few people who seem to think its just not a real meal without meat. Report
I'm 95% vegan...the other 5% of the time, I'll occasionally have cheese in my bread or a treat that has eggs in it. And honestly, I really don't miss animal products in my diet. My stomach doesn't bother me as much anymore. I never use tofu or tempeh, mostly because of the texture issues. I've benefited from incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into my diet. Trust me, it isn't dull. Quite the contrary! Report
I eat meat a couple times a week, chicken...I guess I just never knew I was a flexitarian, has a nice ring to it!, lol Report
I've been veggie for years, but every so often I'll have a piece of fin fish. Nothing that crawls on the bottom of the ocean, though. Report
My hubby is a "versatile omnivore", he eats exactly what it is described in the article.
Ha, ha,- I like the term "flexitarian." Report
I haven't eaten beef or pork since I was about 5 yrs old & people tell me you don't know what your missing thats right I don't but it doesn't bother me. My husband eats beef & pork & me & th kids I occasionally will eat chicken or turkey & thats fine with me but lately I haven't even been in the mood for that. So for now I am happy being a vegetarian & probably will always be that way Report
I have been vegetarian for four and a half years, and I am looking foward to living the rest of my life as a healthy vegetarian! Report
good luck to all Report
I never heard the term flexitarian, but it almost describes me. Probably some weeks I meet the definition, other weeks I don't. I've been eating less meat for for months. I often eat beans or lentils with rice for protein. I've also learned to prepare and like tofu. Most of the meat I consume nowadays is poultry. Red meat I eat very occasionally and then in much smaller portions than in the past. I will likely never become a vegetarian, but I'm open to their ideas, which I think have given me some major benefits. I now enjoy a lot of different foods that I wouldn't even know about if I hadn't started listening to vegetarians and learning what they eat. Report
I've been a vegetarian since this past June - I started out as vegan, but have gradually allowed organic dairy and eggs back into my diet. And I love it! I once thought that I could never stop eating meat, but I haven't missed it at all. And it's easier to do than many people think. Report
I first heard the term "flexitarian" about three years ago in Cooking Light magazine, and my husband and I have been flexitarians for years -- and didn't even know it! My husband doesn't eat red meat, so we eat mostly chicken and fish and a lot of meatless meals throughout the week. I, however, do eat red meat occasionally and still love it. Report
It's reasonable easy to prepare two or more meals per week without meat. Stir frying a variety of yellow and green vegs,canned beans ,with onions ,tomatoes and lots of fresh herds.Seasoned with salt and black pepper to taste. My son and I do treat ourselves to several home made suprises.(We call them "Pot Luck")dishes. Report
I've cut way back on my meat consumption since joining SP and tracking my food. It hasn't been a conscious decision, but I find that often I will have a day or two per week without meat. Report
I have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for about 15 years, but have only started learning how to cook vegetarian in the past 5 years. With Spark People I am learning more ideas and recipes. Recently I tried the Taco Tofu Stew. It is delicious and definitely worth trying. Report
I think I am already a flexitarian. I eat a lot of soy "meat" substitutes and often have meatless meals without trying, probably about 7-10 meals a week. Report
I am not a vegetarian but do not eat alot of meat. I just had some company over the weekend and she did not eat meat or anything that had somthing to do with animals ect eggs cheese ect. Hard to fix for her. Report
I've been about 95% vegetarian since high school, and haven't used "meat substitute" products in ages. I don't miss meat,; I've been doing just fine without it! Report
Life would be so dull without meat. Moderation is the key. Report
I quit eating meat spring of 1980. I'm lacto-ovo but for the last 4 years I've been avoiding dairy and trying to eat closer to a pure vegetarian or vegan diet. I'm stricter about dairy than eggs though. I did eat vegan for 6 months and it did work out very well for me. I lost weight, my allergies and asthma got worlds better, and I felt great; the problem is that you basically have to prepare nearly all of your food to stay on this diet. There were very few places where I could eat out and the only vegan convenience foods I could find were expensive and only sold in health food stores. I ended up being more "flexible" about eggs and dairy so I could eat in regular restaurants or eat more of what friends prepare. I guess if "flexitarian" describes a near-vegetarian "flexan" could indicate a near-vegan. Report
I try to eat several meatless meals a week. It's good for variety. Report
Have you ever checked the sodium count in Boca Burgers and the meat substitutes? Not good for people with high blood pressure or those who are sodium sensitive. Report
I love vegetables and eat a lot of them. Also love beans but they cause some stomach distress, but still eat them. Sometimes I actually forget to eat meat, but usually cook it for others in family. I think NGSMART1 has said it correctly. Report
I have been a vegetarian (w/ milk and eggs) for 3 years now. Lately I have been dreaming of eating fish, not because I miss it, I'm missing the variety in my food choices. I use the 'analog' stuff sometimes, but it is high in "other stuff" that my body doesnt need. I try not to eat too many soy foods and stick with eggs as a good source of protein.

When I first started Weight Watchers I was sort've vegan but didn't know what I was doing and was fearful of harming my body rather than learning how to properly eat. A lot of my eating habits, like most people, are stemmed from poor example, comfort habits, emotional eating and stress. Once I get all that under control and can be okay with food and not bring up my old bad food habits then I may possibly switch up my diet towards a vegan one.

Perhaps I may end up being a pescatarian...I haven't had seafood since Spring of '06 but I was never a bring seafood eater....did I mention I was indecisive... :)

Anyone know if I can get really sick if I suddenly eat tuna fish for lunch one day?
My husband and I (and 3 kids) are in the middle of moving so convenience is key these days. We both want to eat less meat and hope to have at least one vegetarian dinner a week. Can't wait to start making some yummy soups! Report
My husband and I already are flexitarians and have been for years. He has never liked to eat too much meat and I have gradually become used to this over the years. I don't think either of us could completely cut meat out of our diets (I tried for a while once) but we eat a lot of tofu and meat substitutes and never buy red meat. We do eat a lot of chicken and turkey and I am always trying to fit fish into our diets because it is so healthy. Fortunately, both of us like beans, tofu and other meat substitutes just fine so we don't feel deprived at all. It's healthy plus, vegetarian foods are much more sustainable as a food source and are better for the environment. Every once in a while though I have to have some red meat!

One thing I have to say about the health aspects. I am one of those people that the doctors are always trying to get to eat more red meat. I have chronic iron deficiency (nothing serious) and red meat and liver (yuck) is the best source of heme iron. Vegetarian sources are inadequate. I have to take an iron pill and even that isn't optimal because it isn't absorbed properly by the body. It hasn't made me eat more meat but I think my chronic fatigue is because of this problem. Although I completely agree that a vegetarian diet is good for the environment (and easy on the animals), I disagree with the concept that humans aren't evolved to eat meat. From a biological perspective, we are omnivores and meat is a small, but critical part of an omnivorous diet. Just a thought coming from a biologist. Report
I eat some meats, but I eat it very little. I don't have meat every meal and when I do I often put it in soups, cassoroles and chili. I have found that we really like the Boca burgers, and have them at least one meal each week. Report
Didn't know that "flexitarian" is what you call me, but I like that name. Since Feb I been eating as little as possible red & preserved meat. This is mainly b/c of the cancer I had, but I plan to continue this diet as much as possible the rest of my life. Good thing I love whole grains & veggies since that now makes up probably 90% of my diet now! Report
I like to eat meatless meals occasionally. The only thing that I would caution people about is that tofu needs to be limited if you are on thyroid medication. It interfers with the absorption of the medication and thyroid function. Report
I like the "flexitarian" concept. I have no interest in being a vegetarian but I already do have regular meatless meals. I like veggie corn dogs, boca savory mushroom burgers with a slice of low fat mozzarella, rice and beans, pastas, etc. I can't stomach tofu although I have tried. My ideal diet includes lean meats/seafood, vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy all in moderation and within my range of calories, fat, etc. Report
It's great that people are choosing to consume less animal body parts in their diet.

I've been vegetarian for almost 28+ years.
Vegetarians eat no animal flesh.
I'm trying to be more flexitarian. I've found that I really, really like a lot of the "meat"/analog products like corn dogs, corn dog nuggets, "chicken" wings, black bean burgers, etc. I will give up meat for a meal or three this week! Report
I've been a Flexitarian for years......15 or more to be as precise as possible......and am quite happy with that. Red meat and pork are two things I can do without indefinately but I love chicken, turkey, fish, shrimp.....even at that though, I regularly have a soy protein substitute of some sort and have a small collection of recipes started that use Tofu in different forms so will be trying that soon, now that I've found I can get it :) Report
I love eating fruits and veggies, and often eat meatless, but I am sorry sometimes my body needs some steak. When I am dragging and have no energy at all I know that it's what I need because I am lacking the iron I need. I hate taking supplements so I try to eat everything in moderation so I can get the nutrients I need. Report
We've increased our use of beans but still include meats in our diets. Report
I've been eating vegetarian for the past 21 months and vegan for the past 4. Prior to that I ate a flexitarian diet for about 8 years. I feel more and more healthy and balanced as time passes. Here's the kicker...I was a serious meat loving omnivore in the past, so if I made the transition, anybody can if they truly want to experience better health. Report
I would so love to vegetarian but I do like an occasional steak, chicken & seafood. I do go meatless most of the time though. Report
Not a big red meat eater but do love my seafood and poultry. I do eat a meatless meal or day about every week or so, just because I like veggies fruits and other good foods. I don't think I could go totally meatless forever tho. Report
We eat meat, eggs, dairy and fish dishes as a family so not sure that will change but having said that any new and different ideas are always welcome for the variety aspect as well as the health benefits Report
Strict vegetarianism came easily for me. I used to push meat and fish around on my plate as a child, and refuse it as I became older. I applaud all those interested in cutting back and incorporating meatless meals into their menus. Report
I originally went vegetarian ten years ago, but only stuck with that for a year as I found I needed fish in my diet, and back then the term flexitarian was not known as much as it is today. Flexitarianism is something I have had no trouble sticking with because I leverage all the great meatless foods that the food industry now creates that allows me to eat all my favorite comfort foods in their healthiest plant- based versions.

And that's what it's all about, finding a healthy lifestyle you can stick with ongoing without ever feeling deprived.

While not everyone may be as much of a meatless flexitarian as I am, I truly believe that any steps that one takes towards eating more of a plant-based diet, is a step in the right direction.

Melanie Jordan
Editor The
Author of "Have Your Cheeseburger And Keep Your Health Too!" Report
Yay for veg meals!
I haven't eaten meat for many many years and don't miss it a bit.
And im with you Jibbie, love those tofu shirataki noodles!! Report
I like the "miracle noodles" (shirataki noodles) that are only 40 cal. per serviing and very high in fiber. Report
I eat vegetarian on Fridays and quite often will have a vegetarian meal one or two other times per week. I find that on Friday, I have trouble getting enough protein for the day. I'm not particularly fond of tofu or tempeh and the soy meat alternatives seem to have only about a quarter of the protein that chicken, fish, or beef have on an ounce for ounce basis.
Yes I am switching over bit by bit. I eat vegetarian at least 3-4 times a week and am looking to expand. Report
I am taking baby step towards this goal. Report
I gave up pork, beef, and lamb. Once in a while I will indulge two strips of pork bacon but I tend to stick to turkey bacon. I did the RealAge test and it recommended that I eat a steak once in a while. I believe I have cut my food budget tremendously by eliminating meat. Report
I have already become a flexitarian. I am now more of a "pescatarian". I love fish, veggies and fruits. I might eat a steak some day, but for now I'll pass on the chicken and red meat. Report
Been vegetarian since January 1991, and don't miss meat...not even a little bit. Healthy as can be, too. DH has been right there with me...strapping 6', 180 lb guy, and he's healthy as they come as well. (Mind you, we made both of our mothers a bit nuts at first.) Our kids were raised vegetarian, but DS has started to make his own choices to eat meat, though the "house" is vegetarian. Even when people come over they never leave hungry. There are so many healthy alternatives now, entertaining is quite easy.

Yes, it CAN be done! Report
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