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Going {Mostly} Meat-Free

Author: Lauren Coleman

As Meat-Free Monday gains in popularity it seems like a good time to talk about vegetarianism and plant-based diets. I haven’t eaten red meat for over 20 years. As a child I was obsessed with animals and after a playdate with some family friends we all came up with the idea of becoming vegetarians whilst sat in the garden shed.

Along with my sister and three of our friends, we announced to our parents we were giving up meat each taking a word in turn to drop the bombshell to our mums and dads. They all looked horrified. Somehow our decision to support the end the ivory trade and shop only at The Body Shop had resulted in us giving our parents a complete meal planning headache. They agreed on the condition we would give up red meat but not white. Briefly I was devastated when I realised I could no longer eat Bovril on Toast, but realised Marmite on Toast was just as good.

Slowly but surely the other four started eating meat again and while my original motivations may have been a little misguided, I haven’t eaten a burger since. Once I gave it up, I didn’t miss it at all.
I can’t call myself a true vegetarian. Some folk might call me a flexitarian, a pescatarian or a demi-vegetarian (and some others may just call me pretentious). Around ten years ago I introduced fish in to my diet but given the way the world’s fish resources are being farmed it’s something I’m seriously considering giving up too.

Over those twenty years, a huge amount has changed about plant-based eating. A few observations.

It’s Much More Socially Acceptable

I was skinny as a teenager and some of my friends parents (a select few I have to say) weren’t backwards in coming forwards about my weight and diet. I have to say there were several occasions when I felt very uncomfortable for my dietary choices, but luckily when you’re thirteen going to your mates for tea usually involves chicken kievs and chips.
After I watched Jamie’s series on chicken a few years ago, I decided to give up poultry. I made a conscious decision based on the facts presented to me and it made it much easier to just tell people I no longer ate meat rather than go through a list of foods I did and did not devour.
These days I’ve found nobody bats an eyelid when you eat a plant based diet, given gluten-free, dairy-free etc are very common place. Back then I might as well have had two heads.

Clean Eating Has Opened Lots of Doors

I know lots of people have mixed views on ‘clean eating’ but with a focus on plant based and whole foods, the courgetti crowd have ensured supermarket shelves are filled full of butternut squash lasagne sheets, cauliflower rice, mushroom sausages as heaps of carb and meat alternatives have become mainstream. Pasta doesn’t agree with me so I’m a huge fan of the alternatives and love how you get one of your five-a-day in too.

The Variety Is Huge

Back in the day, the only option when I went out was a flipping Goats Cheese Tart. Which is obviously fine once in a while but not every time you go out for dinner. Barbecues consisted purely of Linda McCartney sausages. Wedding catering has taken a while to catch up but at all the nuptials we celebrated last year, the meat eaters were eyeing up my food. On a general menu now there seem to be a lot more vegetarian options so there’s always something to tickle the taste buds.

Foreign Trips Are Getting Easier

I remember going to France with James about ten years ago to visit his Dad in his French home. We went out for dinner and after a rather garballed GSCE French conversation, the restauranteur deduced I didn’t eat meat. Out came a green salad piled high with tinned tuna and lardons. Close but no cigar.
It’s still not as easy to get a plant based meal abroad as it here, but I think that’s more to do with a language barrier than a cultural divide.

People Are Always Interested in Protein Intake

While people are definitely more educated on protein sources other than meat, I still get asked how I ensure I get adequate protein and calcium.
I eat a lot of cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds, spinach, kale, quinoa and legumes so I’m very confident I’m not missing out by giving up the steak.

Does anyone else participate in Meat-Free Monday? Anyone else experienced some form of vegetarianism for a long period of time? Anyone else share the view that’s is much easier to eat a plant based diet these days?

If you’re interested in what we eat in the Coleman household there are a few recipes in my recent meal planning post.

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30 thoughts on “Going {Mostly} Meat-Free

  1. My husband hasn’t eaten meat for about forty-five years, and when I met him thirty years ago, I hadn’t cooked anything vegetarian in my life but now I eat mainly what he does. It’s amazing what you can do with split red lentils, they go in soups, lasagnes and lots of other things. Also, Marmite, it’s strange, he wouldn’t eat it on toast but to flavour chilli, spaghetti bolognese, cottage pie, it’s a must, I even make gravy with it, so we have a roast beef dinner, without the beef! One thing that does irritate slightly is the people (usually vegan, I’m afraid) trying to tell you all about the cruelty side of things and the dairy industry, we all know this and don’t need their beliefs forced upon us, each to their own.

  2. I didn’t realise you’d given up meat so long ago Lauren and interesting that you don’t miss it. I really lost the taste for red meat during my pregnancy and have now stopped eating meat/fish at home (early days but I don’t miss it) and now only really eat meat at a restaurant if we’re doing a sharing plate with friends.

    Do you include things like eggs in your diet? I still do but from limited research it seems the egg/dairy industry has similar animal welfare issues to meat!

    1. I don’t have much milk but I do have a lot of eggs. I’m very tempted to get my own chickens (like our lovely Amy over at RMW has) so I know exactly where they’ve come from.

  3. PS would love to know your go to veggie meals/cook book recommendations. I seem to be eating a lot of cheese now and carb heavy meals!

    1. Do you know Emma, I actually only have one veggie cookbook! I think we’ve got quite good along the way just substituting meat for root veg.
      I do use the Good Food site a lot though x

  4. I’ve been Vegetarian since the age of 11. I’m almost 33 now. I went into a butchers, saw him hacking a pig carcass apart and that was it. I haven’t ever been tempted to go back.
    I totally empathize with you on how hard it was back then, I can’t count the amount of goats cheese tarts, spinach and ricotta cannelloni or risottos I’ve had in restaurants over the years. My mum even used to phone restaurants ahead to warn them of my ‘eccentricity’. Thank goodness it’s finally changed, it’s so easy to eat plant based now. There are so many vegan/veggie restaurants it makes my teenage self jealous! Xx

    1. I took Adam, Charlotte and some of the RMW gang to Mildred’s in Soho a year or so ago. Not sure if you’ve been there but the food is delish – all veggie. I can’t imagine suggesting going somewhere like that back in my teens. I’d have been laughed out of the group I think!

  5. I’m not a veggie and don’t think I would ever be, but we do try to eat veggie for half of the week. we started buying our meat from the butchers and so we only tend to buy meat for Sat-mon/tues as otherwise it needs freezing and we always forget to take it out and then used to buy replacement from the supermarket which kind of defeated the point. So now we plan non meat alternatives for the rest of the week instead and we’ve discovered some delicious recipes in the process!
    Is there a vegetarian recipe book you could recommend?

    1. I picked up the Meat Free Monday cookbook by the McCartney’s, it has a 52 days worth of veggie meals. I brought it to increase the variety of my veg, I felt I was just boiling or roasting the same 3 vegetables every time.
      My enthusiasm to work through it has wavered but there are a few that have made it into rotation. There is a good variety of food and I enjoy the dishes, some of the serving sizes are too small but second time around I adjusted/added another component.

    2. Hi Claire,
      I’m more likely to use the Good Food website and sometimes Deliciously Ella too rather than a specific cook book. I’ve just commented above actually that more often than not I just substitute meat in recipes for other plant based sources.

  6. I’ve been vegetarian since the age of 10, and according to my parents was never much into eating meat before that. Having been living together for nearly 10 years, and him eating mostly what I do, my husband has just taken the decision to go completely meat free too, which i have never expected.

    I used to eat a lot of pasta-pesto as a teenager and also remember a lot of raised eyebrows about protein, etc. I’ve never struggled so much as when staying with a French family where my options were to eat the veg that had been cooked in with the meat or go hungry, but agree that things have improved so much over the last 20 years, and there is so much more choice and knowledge. There’s a pub we go to occasionally that will happily cook any of its chicken dishes with Quorn instead, and standard menu fare has definitely moved on from goats cheese.

    There was an occasion a couple of years ago when indeclared myself to be over halloumi, because that was the veggie option at every single event I’d been to for months, and they weren’t even doing anything interesting with it – thankfully that phase seems to have passed as well.

    1. This is my son, he doesn’t eat meat apart from bolognase and even then he has very little sauce! And fish fingers of course. I just think he doesn’t like the taste or the texture of meat. I wonder if this will change as he gets older. He’s 3 but has always been like this! He doesn’t like cheese either. Apart from dairylea 🙄

      1. That was exactly it – neither the taste nor texture appealed to me.

        (Chicken to me tastes like dirty dishwater 🤢)

    2. I think I lived on pesto-pasta in my twenties Rebecca!
      James mostly eats what I eat at home and just sticks to meat when he’s out. However after a few food poisoning incidents he’s sticking more and more to veggie options.
      I hear you with the halloumi!

  7. My husband is a very strict vegetarian and actually eats a mostly vegan diet, so at home that’s what we both eat as I definitely can’t be arsed to do myself a different dinner. I don’t find I miss it much and there’s so many alternatives (Linda Mac’s fake duck is AMAZING) but fish is my weakness and I would really struggle to give that up.

      1. Once you start cooking from scratch, which, let’s face it, is nicer anyway, it’s so easy! It’s only pre packaged food that catches you out as they like to mix milk powder into everything. 😳

  8. I was never ate an awful lot of meat growing up – then went full veggie probably around 15 or so years ago – when i got together with my ex he had never cooked a vegetarian meal in his life – he would then eat pretty much what i did and said that he never knew vegetarian food could be so delicious and declared he actually preferred a veggie chilli over meat chilli! I did add fish back into my diet maybe around 6/7 years ago as I was travelling a lot abroad and struggling with food choices – much like you though Lauren I am wondering whether to cut it out.
    For recipe inspiration I do love a good trawl through Pinterest – so many fantastic recipes for all diet choices on there 🙂

  9. I have been a full veggie since I was 8 (now 33), but my parents said I never really liked meat. It’s the texture I don’t like, nor the blood if I’m honest. My partner’s parents are pescatarian which has been amazing. Firstly, he has been brought up eating a lot of veggie food so is happy to eat what I make, and secondly, it means I don’t feel too awkward going to his parents’ house for meals. As a teenager I ate way too many ready made things like quiche, or pasta with Dolmio and cheese. Now I am a Weight Watcher too so I am ultra keen on cooking from scratch, and ensure I have protein with every meal. I eat Quorn several times a week, using the simple chicken style pieces and mince most often. The deli sandwich slices are handy too although pricey.

    I travel with my job and find it very difficult to eat out healthily as a vegetarian. If I am on my own I have a bit more control, and M&S at Paddington is my saviour. However, grabbing dinner at an airport bar or even most restaurants can be tricky. There isn’t a veggie healthy equiv of steak and baked potato or grilled chicken and veggies! I went to Russia and Poland with work last year and that was very difficult. I was actually served up a soup with meat pieces in it, followed by a plate of potato wedges with ketchup!

  10. PS I thought it might be helpful to give some examples of what I usually eat. I like to eat abotu 8-10 portions of veg a day!

    Breakfast:
    Usually egg and tomato based. Boiled eggs on toast with cherry tomatoes. Today it was an omelet, with cherry tomatoes, 10g cheddar and wilted spinach.
    Porridge with frozen raspberries if I’m going for an early train 🙂

    Lunch:
    Home made veggie soup with lentils (I like a split pea soup recipe from the blog Tinned Tomatoes at the mo). I can’t just have soup though! I switch up between sandwich thins with Quorn deli slices, branston and salad or rice cakes and cottage cheese plus cucumber.
    I’ve even been experimenting with making ‘chickpea of the sea’ fake tuna/corination chicken type fillings/spreads with mashed chickpeas and various bits like red onion, celery, red pepper, curry powder and fat free yogurt.

    Dinner:
    I made a big batch of Good Food’s black bean chilli yesterday (batch cooking helps me get through the week)
    Tofu pressed and baked with a little soy sauce, served with stir fried veg (not the packets, just veg like peppers, baby corn, broccoli and mushrooms) and noodles
    Jacket potatoes – I like to top these with a mix of cottage cheese, spring onion and grated cheddar (makes the calorific cheese go further)
    Quorn chicken and chickpea curry, loosley based on Good Food’s prawn, pea and tomato curry

    Weekends are much more experimental and not always so Weight Watcher friendly!

    1. Bunny, Quorn and I don’t get on unfortunately, but I’m very much taken my your chickpea-of-the-sea recipe. Definitely one for me to try out so thank for that x

  11. I love good veggie food however I could never give up meat I love it so much especially a bacon sandwich with a runny egg

    1. I think most people find bacon their downfall Helen. I know that’s why my sister ditched vegetarianism!

  12. I was a vegetarian for 22 years and in November decided to give up dairy (and eggs) too. I have found it surprisingly easy despite initially missing cheese and now it’s second nature. The only issue now is that there are too many vegan treats on the market, so the cliche of the pale skinny vegan is definitely not the case!

    Interestingly I’ve found chain restaurants really quick to catch on, but nicer independents are still hit and miss in the UK, especially in London. No more dining on a whim in nice gastro pubs….

  13. love this post!! I was a fussy kid and never really ate meat (as told by mum and dad), I remember when I finally decided im never eating meat again..I was 18 and now im 31, I’m the only veggie out of my families. My cute mum has always been supportive! My dad bless him even to this day will offer me extra roasties off his plate thats full of meat and say its barely touching it 🙂 x

  14. Hi Lauren,
    Great post:) I’ve just decided to give up meat (nearly week ago!). I don’t find it hard as yet as I’m used to eat veggies, fruits, nuts etc. I’m in love with ‘deliciously Ella’ recipes. Thanks to her books I discovered so many new ingredients I’ve never heard of before! My reason to give up meat was just to try it out and notice how I’m going to feel, how my body is going to change. Even though I’m at the beginning of my ‘vegetarian life’ I’m already searching the subject of veganism. I have to admit that my heart is broken when I watch videos on how the milk is produced. I (stupidly) thought that the cow just produce it like that! It would be good to hear your thoughts about veganism, as you have been vegetarian for so long. Are you not tempted to go there considering all the harm humans bring to animals:( part of me thinks is disgusting and part of me wonder if we can make any difference?

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