So you’ve made a decision to reduce your meat consumption by transitioning to a plant-based diet, but you aren’t quite sure how to start. You have so many questions. Will my family eat what I make? Will I end up making a second meal when they refuse? Will it even taste good? Will we miss eating meat? Will I ever get to eat the foods I previously enjoyed? Is this even possible?
It can be overwhelming to the point where you give up before you have even started. I know. I’ve been there.
Over the years, we have tried, then stopped, then tried again, then stopped again.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision. You can shift course at any time if it isn’t working for your family. There is more than one way to make this transition and remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Here is an example of how you can make a slow step-wise transition to “de-meatify” a dish by slowly eliminating ground meat in a recipe by dilution.
THE ORIGINAL RECIPE
One of our family staples before we started our plant-based journey was spaghetti with bolognese sauce, AKA meat sauce. The original recipe included 2 lb of meat - lean ground beef and sweet Italian pork sausage. The only vegetable in the dish aside from tomatoes was onion and garlic.
PHASE ONE: SUBSTITUTE RED MEAT
The first change I made was to substitute the ground beef with ground chicken/turkey and the pork sausage with chicken sausage. I made it this way for years.
PHASE TWO: SUBSTITUTE HALF THE MEAT WITH TOFU
The next thing we did was make a 50/50 ground chicken/turkey and tofu mixture to substitute the 100% meat mixture. I use either extra firm tofu or high protein tofu since it is drier and crumbles easily. There was still 2 lb of this mixture in the sauce.
PHASE THREE: ADD MORE VEGETABLES
You can reduce the meat/tofu mixture to 1 lb and substitute the other 1 lb with vegetables such as carrots, celery, bell pepper, and zucchini.
FINAL PHASE: ALL PLANTS RECIPE
Hooray! You did it! You have successfully weaned your tastebuds slowly to accept a pasta sauce now packed with vegetables. It worked because it wasn't a complete 180 degree change. This concept of slow change works with all kinds of recipes when you are trying to make substitutions of animal-based ingredients with plant-based ingredients. This method has worked best for my family and I hope it works for yours. Give it a try!
Cherie Chu, MD DipABLM, is a board-certified pediatrician and a certified diplomate of lifestyle medicine. She is passionate about helping children learn healthy lifestyle habits because of the immeasurable benefits of doing so in childhood and beyond.
Dr. Chu is the founder of Wellness Pediatrician, an educational website dedicated to wellness in children through lifestyle medicine. She currently practices outpatient general pediatrics in San Diego where she incorporates her knowledge of lifestyle medicine into her daily interactions with her pediatric patients and their families. She is also the mother of twins and credits her children as being her greatest teachers.