Plant based, Vegetarian, Vegan, Flexitarian or just a more mindful approach to eating meat?

There are many parallels to eating meat and drinking alcohol; both perhaps we know we should do less of, equally unfathomable and yet hugely beneficial to our health and bank balance.

I’ve always declared I could never be a vegetarian, which isn’t actually true, because I actually did give it a go for three months, as a sort of bet? Or perhaps proving a point to Dad Muddling Through who at the time said I couldn’t do it. A real meat and two veg kinda guy, three months in he was begging me to get our evening meals back to normal, and I caved on Christmas Day, returning to ‘normality’ and never looking back. It was never for the long haul and always a sort of experiment, to see what it was like. One to tick off the list then resume to a more convenient state of play.

It’s interesting to know that before taking on a big change in your diet, turning vegetarian or vegan for example, you can actually get a nutrition test to see the impact of the changes you make. Something I wish I had known then, and would definitely bear in mind for the future.

Since eliminating booze from my lifestyle altogether, I suppose I’m so much more acutely aware how important it is to put the right stuff into your body, perhaps in a ‘better late than never’ case of making up for lost time.

Truth be told, my diet hasn’t ever been too bad. I have a natural affinity towards ‘healthier’ options and junk food is generally reserved as a treat (or a hangover). Home meals are rarely convenience processed foods, and we try and get plenty of veg in our diets, and the kids, with mixed results.

But what we have been guilty of is eating the same meals on repeat out of habit – spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, beef steak chilli, sausage pasta, slow cooked gammon, meatballs and spaghetti… note the common theme.

If I’m honest, for a while now these meals have totally lost their sparkle. I am cooking foods I think the family will eat as opposed to the foods I get excited about eating. And what kind of example is that?

My seven and a half year old daughter became vegetarian around three years ago, and has maintained her stance with only the occasional moment of weakness (or hunger, I’m not sure which). With a huge appetite for meat free meals and meat alternatives, perhaps she has inspired me somewhat that meals don’t have to contain meat.

Only problem being her super carnivorous sister who we struggle massively with to take on any carbs, and step out of her vegetable comfort zone. The Ying to Tig’s yang, it’s certain proof that you never have two kids the same.

But habit stands in the way of example, and lately, with so much in the media about the importance of eating less meat, highly processed in particular, it’s clear our family meal times need to change.

In all honesty, my stomach has sort of become turned right off to meat that is crazy high in salt, saturated fat, and doesn’t resemble in any shape or form what animal it ever came from.

As I have read more about the impact of agriculture on the environment, as well as the consequences on your health of extensive consumption of processed animal based products, I guess I have become a little ‘plant based curious’. It’s pretty hard to unsee some of the statistics and facts out there and I guess it’s led me to dabble in a few dietary shifts.

I’ve given all the alternative milks a go, and am now quite partial to soya milk or coconut milk on my cereal. I no longer stick a slice of ham between my bread for lunch, because I don’t know what else to put there.

Eating out is always a perfect opportunity to explore meat-less options. Restaurants cater so widely for all dietary requirements and are constantly pushing the most fantastic veggie options. I rarely order a meat based dish from the menu any more.

I’m a long converted vegetarian breakfast lover, having realised years ago that the groggy feeling of a fry up repeating on me is completely eliminated if you skip the sausage and bacon.

I switched my subways to veggie only a while back having realised the chicken didn’t look too ‘chickeny’ and actually, the thing tastes no different if you leave it out.

I even, wait for it, had a halloumi pitta in Nandos the other day. (When you pour that amount of hot sauce on it, seriously, it could be an old boot in there.)

And I notice that I’m not alone. Non-vegetarian friends requesting the vegetarian catering at a baby shower, family at barbeques choosing a veggie burger over a beef burger, and a night out with the girls where every one of us selected a meat free meal.

So maybe it’s something in the water, a wind of change that more of us than ever are realising it’s no bad thing to go plant based wherever possible, and to break the mould of a meat and two veg dinner seven nights a week.

I spotted this week that Jamie Oliver has just released tapping into exactly this movement. He saw me coming, that’s for sure, and my most recent food shop has never seen so many chick peas…

That said, I’m still not convinced I could go all out – forego an incredible hog roast or my Mums melt in the mouth Roast lamb with mint sauce. Could I ever have a chinese take away and not sneak the first chicken ball dipped in piping hot sweet and sour sauce?

And in total honesty, I know there will always be the lazy moments when the veggie option is too much work – but then again, I’m already catering for one veggie in the household?

But let’s face it, we are no saints and our kids will always have the treats – the cakes and the party sweets, the biscuits and the crisps. But one battle at a time eh?

No, for me I just can’t commit to going entirely plant based, however much I may like the idea. And actually, that’s okay.

Because unlike my alcohol consumption which was definitely a case of all or nothing, I’m happy to reach a better place with my diet in which my food choices incorporate a more mindful approach to eating meat. Perhaps an 80:20 ratio which can only do amazing things for our families health, spending and environmental impact, without stressing over self imposed ‘rules’.

In other words, I will continue to eat the meat, but only when I really want it. Not just because it’s there, out of habit, or because I can’t think beyond the same four meals on repeat. And I will commit to getting as much of my diet as possible from the whole goodness of veg and fruit and all the stuff that I know is packing me full of goodness. It’s basic science; eat the bright colours, the crunchy and the juicy, and the less it’s been dabbled with, the better.

So how else can we reduce our meat consumption as a family? As parents?

I guess we will continue to encourage our kids to try new things and continue to question if the meat is really adding to the meal? Eat whole, fresh fruit and vegetables and make sure they are available as often as possible, and with as few air miles and plastic packaging as possible.

We’ve stopped buying sandwich ham and pepperoni so The Mouse is forced to think a little broader when she’s hungry – and direct her more towards her sisters quorn options and see how they float with her.

Maybe Tigs has shown us all a different way.

Maybe change breeds change.

Or perhaps, we are all on the brink of a new era, and we just don’t even know it yet.


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