Whether you're concerned about your carbon footprint, your health or rising food costs, there are plenty of reasons to eat less meat. But going full-time vegetarian (or vegan) can seem impossible to those who enjoy the occasional meaty meal.


It's not just a love of meat which make it difficult. Other factors, such as cooking for family members, concerns about nutrition (getting enough protein, for example) and a lack of inspiration when it comes to cooking veggie, can make it difficult to change the eating habits of a lifetime.

The good news is that cutting down your meat consumption, rather than cutting it out completely, can still make a big difference to your health and the environment. Now, many more people are following a flexitarian or 'casual vegetarian' diet, which focuses on upping the amount of plant-based foods you eat – and reducing the amount of meat.

Below, you'll find handy tips on how to eat less meat and a whole range of delicious recipes to try. Want to dig deeper? Read our guide to a balanced vegetarian diet, our list of 20 high-protein foods and the health benefits of of being vegetarian.

Why should you consider eating less meat?

Cutting down the amount of meat you eat has countless health benefits. It minimises the amount of saturated fat you consume, which reduces your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers. Swapping the beef or chicken in your meals with legumes and vegetables could also save you money by slashing the cost of your weekly food shop. And it reduces your carbon footprint – so not only is eating less meat better for your health, it's better for the planet too.

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How to eat less meat

1) Explore veggie recipes

Spicy black bean tacos

Gone are the days when a meal wasn't complete without meat. Now, veggies, pulses, beans and grains are the star of the show in countless delicious dishes. Whether you're totally new to the veggie way of eating, or you've been cutting back on meat for a while, be inspired by our top veggie recipes. Fill tacos with spicy, smoky black beans, guacamole and colourful pomegranate salsa. Make a zesty, lighter version of carbonara with mushrooms and courgettes. Simmer squash in a fragrant coconut curry sauce with lentils and spinach.

Check out our quick vegetarian recipes for busy weeknights, budget-friendly vegetarian recipes and healthy veggie ideas. You could even expand your repertoire with some new vegetarian cookbooks, these are some of our favourites.

2) Stretch the recipe

Lamb & aubergine pastitsio

Make your meat go further by adding rice, lentils, pasta, beans, grains or root vegetables to a recipe. Bulk out beef chilli with black beans, stretch a pack of sausages to feed the whole family in a cannelloni bake, and turn lamb mince into a cheesy, Greek-style dish that's packed with aubergine and macaroni.

3) Use meat as a flavour enhancer

Chorizo, orzo & sweetcorn summer stew in two bowls

Who says meat has to be the main event? Use small amounts of ham, bacon, chorizo and other strongly flavoured meats to bring out the flavours of your dish – while allowing the other ingredients to shine. Fry slices of salty prosciutto until crisp to top pea and mint soup. Wrap croutons with pancetta and dunk into creamy carrot soup. Use a small amount of chorizo to add spicy warmth to our summery sweetcorn and orzo stew.

4) Create a meal plan for the week

Healthy Diet Plan – vegetarian

By planning what you'll eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week, you'll have more chance of success and be more likely to stick to a flexitarian diet, even when you're busy or hungry. Consider keeping the same days or meals meat-free every week. Be aware of sell-by dates; by using your meal plan you can make sure none of the meat you buy goes to waste.

If you need some guidance on how to do it, check out our easy 7-day family meal plan and our Healthy Diet Plan – we have vegetarian and vegan options available.

5) Be flexible with your cooking

Baked eggs with spinach, tomatoes, ricotta & basil in a casserole dish with toast

Choose recipes that can be adapted depending on whether you've planned for a meat-eating day or meal, or a veggie one. Our easy katsu curry can be made with chicken or firm tofu. Master the delicious, fragrant sauce and you can whip this up with either protein any night of the week. Or try our baked eggs with spinach, ricotta, basil and optional chorizo.

6) Choose better quality meat

Piri piri chicken traybake

If your budget allows it, buy better quality meat and plan to use all of it across two or three recipes. If you're splashing out on an organic chicken, for example, break it down into thighs, breasts and wings before cooking, then use the bones and carcass to make a fantastic gravy or stock. We love simple dishes like this one-pan piri piri chicken dinner with potatoes, peppers and tomatoes. Or roast a whole chicken and make the most of every morsel, using the meat in pies, curries, noodle dishes, stews, and salads.

7) Opt for eggs

Saag paneer kedgeree

Like meat, eggs are a rich source of protein – as well as many other important vitamins and minerals. Give yourself a nutritious boost by making eggs the focus, they work particularly well in our creamy egg curry, saag paneer kedgeree and veg-packed noodle and egg bowl.

8) Use meat alternatives

Vegan smoked tofu burger with coleslaw in a bun

From tofu, tempeh and soya to wholegrains, nuts and pulses, the options for meat alternatives are endless. You can try our delicious tofu steaks with chips. Supermarket shelves are lined with delicious options, all at varying costs. All you need to do is figure out which ones you enjoy cooking with and eating. Try our wholesome vegan lentil shepherd's pie, meat-free bolognese made with veggie mince and delicious vegan smoked tofu and cashew nut burger.

9) Get comfortable with vegan cooking

Vegan ramen with tofu and noodles

There's a whole world of vegan meals for you to enjoy. Why not set yourself the challenge of going meat and dairy-free once or twice a week? The key to deliciousness is using clever ingredients, like miso, and bold spices to ramp up the flavour – like we do in our easy vegan ramen.

10) Use vegetables with a 'meaty' quality

Spicy harissa aubergine pie

Mushrooms and aubergines can have a similar taste and texture to meat. Shiitake mushrooms provide a 'meatiness' in our healthy vegetarian stir-fry and Portabello mushrooms do the same in these Japanese-style noodles. Meanwhile, aubergine replaces mince in this spicy veggie bake filled with olives, lentils and goat's cheese.

Hungry for more? Try...

Read our balanced diet guides
21 clever ways to save money
Cheap cuts: how to get the most from meat
How much meat is safe to eat?
Healthy meal prep ideas

Do you have another tip for eating less meat? Tell us in the comments below...


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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