Less Meat = Happier Planet

Another big change we have been trying to implement as a family, to help the environment (see my previous post) is to eat less meat.  Eating meat, especially beef and pork, has a massive impact on our environment and the single biggest way we can help the planet is quite simply to eat less of it.  Our high consumption of meat is fuelling climate change and, I was surprised to find out that a combination of deforestation to make way for more livestock, and methane emissions from cows and fertilizer use creates as much greenhouse gas emission as all the worlds cars, trucks and airplanes combined.   

I know we should give up completely but as a family we are just not ready for that.  What we can do is drastically reduce our meat intake, and while it is sometimes a struggle, I believe we are reducing our meat intake by approximately 40%.  We can then afford to make sure the meat we do eat is organic, humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone free (something you have to be concerned about in America), because we are buying much smaller quantities.

When we started this, I wondered how we would cope because I didn’t want to just buy lots of the meat substitutions that are on the market.  So, with my minimal cooking skills and two children that are fussy eaters at times, we started the challenge gradually as I knew it would be the path of least resistance.

Firstly, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of meat I use in a meal, so for example when I make chilli con carne, I use half the quantity of meat and top it up with more kidney beans, chick peas and red peppers.  I used to make a chicken, bacon, broccoli and cauliflower pasta bake.  I took out the chicken first and no one complained, so I took out the bacon and again no one complained so now we have vegetable pasta bake.  I tend to add more vegetables to it like spinach and sweetcorn and then make some garlic roasted carrots and butternut squash to have on the side.  Also, don’t throw away leftovers, always freeze them to be part of another meal (and I will add extra vegetables or carbohydrates to bulk it out if there is not quite enough for all of us) or, if it’s a small portion save it for lunch the next day.  When I first moved to American, I was so overwhelmed by the large portion sizes.  However, once I realised that it is not only acceptable to take home leftovers, but it is almost frowned upon if you don’t, I could relax a little more.  We now often bring home a ‘doggie bag’ from restaurants and have it for lunch the next day.  It has very quickly become a way of life. 

I would love for you to share any great child friendly meat free meals with me as my mind often goes blank when it comes to ideas for what to cook, but here are some examples of what I have been feeding my family this January:

-potato, pea, spinach, onion and cheddar cheese frittata, with a tomato and avocado salad on the side

-Chinese noodles with carrots and zucchini (courgettes) and vegetable or shrimp dumplings

-vegetable tart made with readymade puff pastry, hummus, pesto, tomatoes, roasted peppers, black olives, spinach and mozzarella, with a grated carrot and cucumber side salad (I was so impressed by myself for making this and it was a real winner with the children!)

-mild shrimp curry with onions, peppers and brown rice (this didn’t go down well with the boy!)

-baked potato with beans and cheese (always a winner)

-chicken-less chicken nuggets, fries and peas (we all have those days!)

-fish stew and rice

My biggest problem is, I feel like I am putting cheese in most meals to replace the meat.  If I am not sure the children will eat a meal, I put some cheese on it and they will eat it.  I think I need to be braver and not be offended if they hate what I have spent hours cooking! 

The biggest effect of reducing our meat is how we have increased our vegetable intake.  We are using different vegetables that come in our imperfect produce box and the children are trying new food and gradually becoming a little more adventurous with their eating.  After most meals I usually cut up one or two varieties of fruit for us all to share and I feel like our health is improving because of our new lifestyle.  Hopefully our small changes at home will result in a small positive change for the environment.  Imagine what could happen if we all went meat free three or four days a week……

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