You’ve heard of Meatless Monday, veganism and plant-based diets, but there’s a new way of eating that’s easier to stick to – and you may be doing it already. It’s called flexitarian, and it’s described as “one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish.” While not quite this simple, the dictionary definition isn’t too far off.
The diet places produce, whole grains and plant-based proteins at its core, using meat, poultry and fish as a sort of side dish. As you can imagine, it’s flexible!
Health and Environmental Benefits of the Flexitarian Diet
Flexitarians – even those who don’t know they’re flexitarians – may already be making the shift towards a more plant-based, low-meat diet for the health benefits that come along with vegetarianism and veganism. This includes lower heart disease and diabetes rates, along with lower overall body weight and reduced LDL “bad” cholesterol. The more whole foods, including vegetables and beans, you’re eating, the more vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre you’re getting as well.
An additional benefit of flexitarianism is the enjoyment of occasional animal protein, which, when sourced from healthy meat, poultry and fish, can boost well-being. Choose wild fish, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken; these choices can deliver a range of valuable nutrients including omega-3s, choline for a healthy brain, vitamin B12 for iron uptake and protein for muscle maintenance.
The smaller portions and cumulative amounts encouraged by flexitarianism make these often pricier animal products more affordable.
Many plant-based diners choose veganism or vegetarianism because it creates less of an impact on the environment. Meat, poultry and fish, including raising and transportation, can be environmentally taxing, so eating these foods less often or in smaller portions, reduces your environmental footprint.
So How Much Meat Can You Eat?
The malleable approach to flexitarianism relies on you to make the call. If you’re going out for a meat-heavy dinner at a steakhouse, consider making tomorrow a meat-free or low-meat day. Cookbook author Mark Bittman, whose book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00, is based around the idea of flexitarianism, encourages people to eat a vegan breakfast and lunch, and save the meat for dinner. The idea is to not eat meat at every meal, and when you do eat it, make it count with quality ingredients.
Put Animal Products on the Side
Rethink your dinner plate, and consider meat, poultry, fish, eggs and cheese as a garnish or side dish, building a plate around produce, grains, beans and legumes. An example of this would be a farro risotto with butternut squash, a few strips of crispy bacon to garnish and crumbling of goat cheese on top. Or, a big salad with avocado, black beans, tomatoes, corn chips and 2 oz. chicken breast in the mix.
Flexitarian Meal Prep and Meal Planning
Like any diet, preparation and planning are key. Vegetables and whole grains take more forethought than convenience foods, but putting aside just one afternoon a week to shop, meal plan and meal prep, will reward you with last-minute breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Flexitarian Meal Prep Tips
– Batch cook large pots of grains like brown rice, quinoa and farro at the beginning of the week for “instant” meals; store airtight in the refrigerator.
– Build a single-serving smoothie pack in small plastic bags with 1/2 peeled banana, handful of spinach, 1/4 cup berries and 2 Tbsp hemp seeds; freeze and make a smoothie on-demand with coconut water or almond milk (or water) when you’re ready to go.
– Cook chicken breast and bacon ahead of time to add morsels of meaty flavour and protein to your meals in seconds; store airtight in the refrigerator.
– Keep a variety of canned beans in the pantry for quick protein boosts at lunch, dinner and snack time (i.e. make chickpeas into hummus).
– Keep umami flavours on hand, like tamari or soy sauce, anchovies, nori (roasted sushi seaweed), Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, tomatoes, blue cheese, marmite, mushrooms and hoisin sauce to boost the “meaty” satisfaction of meals.
– Hard-boil eggs, cooked ahead of time; store airtight to add on top of salads, slice onto toast or pop in your lunch for an easy protein boost.
How to Make Your Favourite Meat-Filled Meals Flexitarian
– Use half mashed white beans, half ground beef when making meatballs.
– Make tacos with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans and feta cheese.
– Use mashed potatoes as the base for fish cakes.
– Amp up umami flavours with mushrooms marinated in tamari or soy sauce.
– Bulk up frittatas and quiches with a pile of finely chopped, cooked greens and herbs.
– Top pizza with thinly sliced prosciutto – a little bit of meat, especially when it’s this flavourful, goes a long way.
– Use lentils, kidney beans, quinoa, black beans and a smaller amount of ground beef in your favourite chili.
Flexitarian Make-Ahead Breakfast Ideas
– Muesli or overnight oats made with nut milk.
– Homemade granola with yogurt and berries.
– Slow cooker oatmeal with dried fruit.
– Green smoothies with frozen fruit, spinach and cashews.
– Tofu scramble with greens, peppers and tomatoes.
– Avocado toast sprinkled with hemp seeds.
Flexitarian Lunch Ideas
– Hummus, sprout and grated carrot sandwich on whole grain bread.
– Quinoa salad with salsa, black beans, feta cheese, cilantro and cucumbers.
– BLT salad with lettuce, tomato, avocado, white beans and a garnish of crumbled bacon or coconut bacon; dressing on the side.
– Moroccan chickpea, squash and kale stew with spiced yogurt garnish.
– Egg salad wrap made with half mashed chickpeas, spiced up with curry powder.
– Buckwheat noodle salad with cubed smoked tofu, sesame dressing and crispy shredded vegetables.
– Ground tofu (or half chicken, half tofu) and edamame lettuce wraps with basil, eggplant and sriracha.
– Creamy broccoli soup made silky smooth with white beans instead of cream and cheese.
Flexitarian Dinner Ideas
– Pasta carbonara made with a touch of pancetta bulked up with mashed peas
– Vegan Caesar salad with whole grain croutons, coconut bacon and (optional) 2 oz. grilled chicken
– Warm steak sandwich made with 2 oz. thinly sliced flank steak, olive tapenade, arugula and vegan mayo; vegan miso gravy for dipping
– Sheet pan bake with a mix of half veggie, half pork sausages, apples, onions, sweet potatoes and spices
– Flexitarian lasagna with tofu ricotta, ground chicken Bolognese, zucchini and cashew parmesan
– 3 oz. Roasted salmon with pesto roasted potatoes, broccoli and mashed chickpeas
– Chicken or vegetable stock-stewed white beans on polenta with thyme and garlic
– Brown butter pasta with butternut squash, sage, kale and toasted pine nuts to garnish
– Chili with lentils, black beans, quinoa, corn and peppers topped with lime-spiked Greek yogurt (dairy-free or regular) and cilantro, served with corn chips.
Looking for more delicious plant-based ideas? Try our High-Protein Vegetarian Recipes.