Plant-Based Meal Ideas: Whole Food Swaps for Meatless Delights

Plant-Based Meal Ideas: Whole Food Swaps for Meatless Delights

Published on Monday, May 06, 2024 by Savannah Duffy

Wholesome Meat Substitutes for Your Favorite Dishes

I recently touched on meat substitutes in plant-based products. While I love that we are not short on plant-based choices to purchase, there is nothing better than getting creative with whole-food swaps. Today, I want to provide you with some minimally processed meal ideas to indulge in your favorite dishes—sans meat.

Between the Bread: Burgers and Sandwiches

There’s a reason sandwiches are a staple in many diets: They are just so versatile! Luckily, this translates well for plant-based eaters. There’s already a variety of sandwiches, but there are also various ways to transition from the traditional animal version to a plant version. Let’s look at just three of the endless options.

  1. Classic bean burger: Pinto beans, black beans, and chickpeas can be converted into the hearty American favorite. You get a double whammy from beans with both protein and fiber. Just beware: if you also avoid eggs, many bean burger recipes use eggs as a binder to keep the patty intact. So check the recipe before digging in!
  2. Lentil “sloppy joes”: Sloppy joes conjure up my childhood memories. If you’re feeling nostalgic or are trying to please young eaters, try swapping the ground beef with red lentils. Any color lentil would work well, but the red lentil most closely resembles ground beef in appearance.
  3. Portobello mushroom and hummus sandwich: Grilled Portobello mushrooms have a meaty texture, and their dark brown color resembles that of steak. This makes them a great “meat” replacement on a sandwich. Just remember to add a protein source. I like to pair mushrooms with hummus for a little extra plant protein.

Taco Tuesday: Festive Plant-Based Feasts

Take your next taco Tuesday up a notch by trying a plant-based option. Pair your meal with plenty of vegetables and starch like tortilla or rice for a balanced plate.

  1. Jackfruit “carnitas”: The stringy texture of jackfruit makes it a great pulled pork substitute. It can be seasoned or marinated to provide additional flavor to mimic your favorite carnitas recipe. Layer it on a taco shell with onion slices, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice for a fresh-tasting taco dish.
  2. Bean-based: We saw how versatile beans are in burgers, and their versatility continues. Include beans in your entree to cut back on the animal protein. You can even swap rice for quinoa for a little extra protein. Dry, cooked, canned, and refried beans can all be used. I often use refried beans on quesadillas for a creamy consistency.

Weeknight Winners: Quick and Easy Plant-Based Dinners

Every dietary pattern needs simple meal ideas for weeknights when you just don’t have time. Below are some one-pot or quick-assemble plant-based dishes to get you through your busy week.

  1. Tofu curry: While some curries are inherently vegetarian, they often include chicken that can be cooked directly in the same pan as the rest of the curry. Swap the chicken with tofu to keep the simplicity but lose the meat. If you’re new to tofu, extra-firm tofu will give you a texture that is more similar to that of meat. Just make sure you prep the tofu in advance by squeezing out the water!
  2. Edamame fried rice: If you want to indulge in a fried rice dish while keeping the protein content high, consider edamame. The edamame provides a protein-rich crunch that adds to the dish and requires very little prep work. Pro tip: Look for pre-shelled edamame in the freezer section of the grocery store.
  3. Mediterranean falafel bowl: Grain bowls are so ideal for weeknights. Simply prep the ingredients in advance and assemble them into portions throughout the week. You can even choose microwavable versions of rice, quinoa, and barley for quicker prep work. Falafel is an excellent replacement for meat in these bowls. Their round appearance and brown coloring look much like a meatball. Chickpeas, the cornerstone ingredient of falafel, even contains protein.

Your reasons for wanting to incorporate fewer meat and poultry dishes can vary from personal health reasons to the environment to helping save money. Whatever your reasoning, there is no shortage of options. I’ll be the first to admit that some dishes, like a traditional pot roast, are not worth swapping with plant foods. But as you can see, so many other dishes are ideal for a little meat-to-plant switcheroo.

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