It can be challenging to serve healthy meals on a budget, but with planning you can eat better for less. Meatless meals are built around vegetables, beans and grains — instead of meat, which tends to be more expensive. Meatless meals also offer health benefits.
The health factor: A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. And people who eat only plant-based foods — aka vegetarians — generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease than non-vegetarians do. Just eating less meat has a protective effect. A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate 113 grams of red meat or more daily were 30 percent more likely to have died of any cause during a 10- year period than were those who consumed less. Sausage, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increased the risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of death.
How much protein is needed: The fact is that you probably get enough protein in your diet from your regular meat consumption. Adults generally need 10 to 35 percent of their total daily calories to come from protein. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 50 to 175 grams a day. Of course, you can get protein from sources other than meat. You can choose from a variety of protein foods, including eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories. The fats in meat, poultry and eggs are considered solid fats, while the fats in seafood, nuts and seeds are considered oils.
Introduce meatless meals more often in a week: You don't have to go cold turkey. Instead, try easing into meatless meals; consider going meatless one or two days a week. If you don't like the idea of a whole day without meat, start with a couple of meatless dinners each week. Plan meals that feature entrees you like that are typically meatless, such as lasagna, soup or pasta salad. Or try substituting protein rich foods for meat in your favorite recipes. When your meals include meat, don't overindulge. Choose lean cuts and avoid oversized portions. A serving of protein should be no more than 85 grams — or about the size of a deck of cards — and should take up no more than one-fourth of your plate. Vegetables and fruits should cover half your plate. Whole grains make up the rest.