The great thing about a flexitarian diet is its flexibility; you can choose to make as many changes as you feel comfortable with, and take it from there.
Is your New Year's resolution to eat healthier and incorporate more meat-free meals into your weekly repertoire? Curious about plant-based eating but don't want to commit to going vegetarian or vegan overnight?
Why not start with a flexitarian diet first? A flexitarian diet is often referred to as a "semi-vegetarian" diet and can include a reduction in intake of other animal products, such as dairy and eggs, too.
If the flexitarian way of eating is new to you, here are some tips and inspiration to help you get started and to stay on track.
1. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
These principles, coined by American author and journalist Michael Pollan, will help keep your flexitarian diet on track. The simplicity of these seven words matches the simplicity of the flexitarian diet: eat more whole, minimally processed plant-based foods. If you ever need a boost of motivation, it’s great to remind yourself of this motto and remember that you’re benefiting from every bite of plant-based foods, no matter how small.
2. Start small . . .
. . . and commit to just one meat-free day per week, such as a "Meat-Free Monday".
3. Try meat-alternatives
If you’re used to preparing "meat and three veg" for your dinner meals, it can be daunting to make the switch to meat-free meals, particularly if the idea of cooking with tofu, beans or lentils leaves you strapped for ideas. Rather than diving headfirst into preparing these unfamiliar foods from scratch, check out some of the delicious—and convincing!—vegetarian meat-alternative products in the fridge and freezer sections at major supermarkets, which have a similar taste and texture to meat. You’ll be surprised by the variety of burgers, sausages, faux fillets and nuggets available. While these products aren’t as nutrient-rich as unprocessed wholefoods, such as beans and lentils, they’re a great way to transition to meat-free meals.
4. Go halves
If you get stuck trying to come up with meat-free dinners, try substituting half the meat for a plant-based source of protein, such as beans or lentils, in family favourites you know and love. A good place to start is by bulking up a traditional beef bolognese with brown lentils, which will boost the fibre and phytochemical content of the dish significantly. This allows you to reduce your red meat intake while still enjoying the flavour and textures you love.
5. There's more than one way to eat tofu
If tofu is an unfamiliar ingredient, try some of the many pre-marinated varieties available in major supermarkets. These are simple to use: Just slice and add to stir-fries in the same way that you would use meat.
6. Eat out
Pay a visit to a local vegetarian restaurant to familiarise yourself with new tastes and textures.
If you feel held back by your cooking skills, seek out a local vegetarian cooking class to boost your kitchen confidence.
8. Cook large batches
Many plant-based dishes can be cooked in large batches, which will make enough for leftovers for lunch the following day—so you won’t be caught out and tempted to buy your lunch.
9. Have a party
Host a plant-based dinner for family and friends, inviting them to bring a dish.
10. Go multicultural
Be inspired by cuisines that traditionally use beans and lentils, and bring out their flavour with herbs and spices. Try a Mediterranean hearty soup or stew that uses beans, an Indian dahl or curry with lentils, peas or chickpeas, or a Mexican chilli that makes the most of black, red kidney or pinto beans.
11. Plan ahead
Sit down on a Sunday and plan the week of meals ahead. This will help you to save time and money, and minimise food waste.
12. Be inspired
Seek out blogs, recipe books and magazines for inspiration on plant-based meals.
Bonus recipe: Shaved Asparagus, Mint and Edamame Spaghetti
Extracted, with permission, from Modern Australian Flexitarian (DK Australia, 2019).