If you want to cut down the amount of meat in your diet, follow these handy tips.
When I wrote my new book, Make Do & Cook, (you can buy it here for £9.99 plus postage), one of the things I wanted to focus on was stretching meat.
Meat is greatly beloved of the average Brit – only something like 2 per cent of the population is fully vegetarian – but Brits also tend to eat way too much of it.
Meat in moderation is a good thing in the diet – it gives you essential fatty acids, iron and a boatload of vitamins, but it’s also the major source of saturated fat in the diet (around 45 per cent of ALL fat in our diet comes from meat) and an excess of this is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.
Meat is also expensive when compared with similar sources of protein such as pulses (you can easily feed a family of six on a 99p pack of chickpeas, for instance), and it has a serious impact on the planet, with much good agricultural land put to beef production that could be better used for cereal production.
If you don’t want to give up meat altogether but would like to reduce it, there are easy ways to cut it down fairly painlessly.
* When making something like a stir-fry, risotto or pasta, dice the meat and cook it separately, then scatter the dice over the top of the dish. This fools the eye (and the average carnivore) into thinking they’re getting more meat than they actually are. The separate meat is usually best fried with garlic, onions and some herbs or spices for flavouring – don’t just cook it on its own.
* In stews and slow-cooked dishes such as chilli or boeuf bourginon, substitute a percentage of the meat with chickpeas or kidney beans (tinned, if you’re not up to the routine of soaking and boiling them). Start out gradually by substituting a quarter, then a third, then half. Chickpeas and kidney beans have a satisfying ‘meaty’ texture and will soak up the flavour of the meat. NB: if you’re not used to eating pulses, it is very important to go gradually or you’ll get terrible flatulence. This is something that disappears as your digestive system begins to produce the necessary enzymes to break down the pulses, but it puts many people off pulses at first if they’re not used to it.
* Use a small quantity of very flavoursome meat such as smoked chicken or bacon bits rather than larger amounts of blander meats to flavour a dish – one classic recipe I’ve included in my book is poulet fumé aux lentilles, where the basic dish of lentils, carrots and onions is flavoured by smoked chicken.
* Use large quantities of herbs, spices, onions and garlic to build flavour in dishes rather than relying on meat. For instance, a pasta sauce tastes just as good when made from lots of onions, garlic, tomatoes, a dash of cayenne and a teaspoon of muscovado sugar as it does when it includes beef.
* Eat from smaller plates, place the meat in the centre and pile up the vegetables and starch components of a meal around it. Brits were traditionally taught to think in thirds: one third meat, one third veg, one third starch, but meat should really be no more than a quarter of the dish and if you arrange your food in the traditional way, the lack is noticeable.
* Eat vegetarian one day a week and build up to two days if you can. We usually have a veggie meal on a Wednesday, with two other days being set aside for fish, and I might try to sneak another veggie meal past the DH later in the week too. But Sunday is often a blow-out roast to make up for it.