5 Easy Ways to Eat More Plants and Less Meat

You don’t have to give up meat. Just trimming the amount you eat can have real health benefits.

overhead view of a mix of different types of beans, tofu, spinach, and broccoli Photo: Adobe Stock

If you’ve been needing a push to replace the meat on your plate with plant-based proteins, this may be your time. With meat prices on the rise—by almost 15 percent over the past year—eating less meat could save you money.

But lower grocery bills are just one reason to make a switch. If plant-based diets became the norm, it could prevent up to 11.6 million deaths per year worldwide, a 2019 report in the Lancet showed, because they cut the risk of heart disease, some cancers, and more. Here, five tips for using more plant-based proteins.

Be Flexible
You don’t need to cut meat out; you can still save money and reap health benefits by simply eating less. This might mean being plant-based most of the time, and having a few meat-based meals a week or eating small amounts of meat (3 ounces or less) at meals.

Flavor Up Tofu
Tofu’s bland flavor makes it the culinary equivalent of a blank canvas; impart delicious flavors onto it and you’ll have a delicious meal. “I love to pair cooked tofu with a high-flavor sauce like teriyaki, sesame-ginger, or buffalo-style” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, a plant-forward chef and nutritionist in New York.

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Refresh Your Bean Repertoire
Chickpeas are great in hummus, and black beans make a good soup, but heirloom beans—such as speckled Scarlet Runner beans and purple Ayocote Morado beans— add different flavors, textures, and colors to your meals.

“Heirloom beans sound fancy, but they can be an economical choice compared to most animal-based proteins,” Newgent says. Find them at a local farmers market or online from a company like Rancho Gordo.

Try Newer Meat Replacers
If beans and tofu don’t do it for you, there are plenty of other items to try. There’s an array of plant-based meats on the market, some that have the taste and texture of meat. (Try our recipes for “10 Meaty Meatless Meals.”) Plant-forward blogs like Minimalist Baker and Love & Lemons can help you find recipes and walk you through how to use the ingredients. A popular option is jackfruit. “I usually shred it like pulled pork and apply different sauces, like barbecue or hoisin,” says Shenarri Freeman, executive chef at the plant-based restaurant Cadence New York. Jackfruit contains little protein compared with other meat stand-ins, so you’ll want to include a source of protein like pumpkin seeds or nuts in your meal, too.

Keep Umami on Hand
Called the fifth taste, umami refers to the rich or savory flavor present in meat. Tomato paste, ketchup, soy sauce, miso, and mushrooms are umami foods and can be used in many dishes, blended into a soup, or whisked into a dressing or marinade. Seasonings can also add a punch of flavor. Some stores, such as Trader Joe’s, sell umami-inspired spice blends made with powdered mushrooms.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the July 2022 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.

Rachel Meltzer Warren

Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RD, is a freelance writer based in the New York area who contributes to Consumer Reports on food and nutrition topics.