8 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Meat

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Higher meat prices may have pushed meat to a smaller corner of the dinner plate, and pandemic-related meat shortages may not be over. If you are trying to save money at the grocery store, reducing your meat intake is a bankable strategy.

Meat, poultry and fish hog about one-fifth of Americans’ grocery bills, says the Food & Environmental Reporting Network, reporting on USDA data.

Beef and veal prices are up 20.2% since February. Egg prices are up 10.4%; poultry, 3%; and pork 4.5%. The USDA says the trend will continue.

Better health is a bonus when you cut back meat consumption. Red and processed meats in particular bring a higher risk for heart disease, cancer and other serious illness.

Here are easy ways to reduce your meat intake without giving it up.

1. Eat meat less often

Although no “safe” amount of meat consumption has been established, less is better. Keep your intake to two to three times a week at most, the Harvard Health Newsletter says.

7 Ways to Slice the Price of Red Meat, Pork and Poultry” has more ways to save money when meat prices are high.

2. Substitute protein-dense alternatives

To keep costs down, rely more on high-protein foods you probably already enjoy.

Eat a bit more than 7 grams of protein daily for each 20 pounds of your body weight. (For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, aim for 49 grams of protein daily.)

Among the best foods for low-fat, high-quality protein are:

  • Fresh edamame (9 grams of protein per serving)
  • Cooked lentils (9 grams)
  • Plain, fat-free Greek yogurt (11 grams)
  • Water-packed canned tuna (20 grams)

We’ve got more high-protein alternatives in “Is Meat About to Disappear From Your Grocery Store?

3. Eat smaller meat portions

Instead of using meat as the star of the dinner plate, make it a side dish and serve veggies, grains, beans and pasta as the centerpiece. Asian cuisines model this approach, creating delicious dishes with small bits of meat.

4. Try fake meats

Even before the pandemic meat shortages, so-called alternative meats were having a moment.

Vegetarian meat substitutes have a long history, but newer products try to mimic meat, not just replace it. They aspire to look, taste and feel like meat.

The new fake meats aren’t cheaper. In fact, they can cost twice as much or more, says NBC News. That might change down the road. But if meat shortages make you desperate, you may be willing to pay for a good substitute.

The newer meat substitutes typically combine plant proteins with other plant-based ingredients. Some use jackfruit (“mimics the texture of pulled pork,” says Women’s Health magazine) . Others use tofu or wheat-based seitan.

Among Women’s Health’s list of the best vegan and vegetarian meat substitutes are Smart Dogs’ Veggie Hot Dogs, Beyond Meat’s Grilled Chicken-Free Strips and Tofurky Smoky Maple Tempeh Bacon. Impossible Burger is another highly hyped newer substitute.

Some newer meat alternatives have made it to grocery store meat counters. One of the most-hyped: Beyond Burger, made of peas, mung beans, brown rice, vegetable oils, beet juice (for color) and potato starch, among other foods. It is “a burger with taste so rich and texture so meaty, you won’t believe it’s made from plants,” promises the maker.

They aren’t as great as the best hamburger you’ve ever had, but Beyond Burger patties are pretty darned good, concludes Claudia Gallo, senior technician and food tester at Consumer Reports. With a bun and traditional toppings, “it’s a pretty tasty burger,” she says.

5. Add satisfying healthy fats

Fat contributes some of the deep, soulful sense of satisfaction that comes from eating meat. You can use vegetable fats to hit that same note, but in a healthier way.

Cleveland Clinic’s “Heart Healthy Cooking: Oils 101” lists the best cooking oils for different purposes. Some don’t stand up well to heat. Among the best:

  • For high-heat cooking: almond, avocado, hazelnut, palm and refined olive oil
  • For medium-high heat: canola, grape seed, macadamia nut, light virgin olive and peanut

Avoid trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated oils). They abound in cheaply produced baked goods, popcorn, stick margarine, shortening, fast food and many other commercial food products. They are seriously bad for your health.

6. Don’t forget about texture

It’s not always important to replicate the texture of beef. But do give a dish enough textural variety and interest to make it satisfying.

In sauces, soups and other dishes, use diced fresh mushrooms, sweet red peppers, celery, carrots or zucchini for chewy texture.

Add texturized soy protein or grated zucchini to add bulk to meatballs, meatloaf and other dishes calling for ground beef, chicken or turkey.

7. Turn to turkey

One of the easiest ways to cut down on beef is to use ground turkey as a substitute in recipes. Ground turkey breast meat (without skin, fat or dark meat) is healthier, says The Food Network. It has a texture similar to ground beef and the mild flavor fits easily into many familiar foods. Just amp up the seasonings a bit.

For hamburgers, start the transition with a 50/50 mix of turkey and beef. Eliminate the beef as you become accustomed to the change.

8. Find a new favorite burger

Half the battle of reducing your meat intake is finding a favorite go-to burger that doesn’t involve red meat.

A few options:

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