America loves meat. And although we eat more poultry now than we did in the past, red meat remains king. In this meat-centric culture, incorporating meatless meals into one’s diet can be challenging, especially for meat lovers. You may wonder, what’s a meal without meat? Spoiler alert: it’s a delicious and filling one! 

Novelty and tastiness aside, there are other important reasons to eat more meatless meals. First, consider the environmental impact of meat consumption: compared to meatless foods, red meat production requires many more resources and emits up to 40 times more greenhouse gases. And then there’s the impact of meat consumption on our health. Limiting the amount of red meat you consume can lower your risk of heart disease, certain cancers and even type 2 diabetes. 

As compelling as the benefits are, eating meatless meals doesn’t have to be a joyless chore. Meat lover or not, it’s the rare person who raves about a bowl of steamed rice and veggies. Nobody wants their meatless dinner to be tasteless and unfulfilling. Food is meant to be enjoyed! And by implementing just a few suggestions, meatless meals are no exception.

Increase Umami

The Japanese word for “savoriness,” umami, is one of the five basic tastes, alongside the more familiar sweet, salty, sour and bitter. The meaty richness of, well, meat abounds in umami. However, umami is not just present in meat—it naturally occurs in lots of other foods, too. 

There are many simple ways to achieve umami-rich results in meatless meals: don’t merely saute your onions, caramelize them. To boost a soup’s flavor, mix in a bit of miso at the end. Before roasting veggies, marinate them in tamari and garlic. At Thistle, you’ll find lots of tasty umami components in our meals—roasted tomatoes in our salads, mushrooms in stir-fry bowls, and much more!

But what about bacon, a meat lovers’ favorite? Yes, it has more umami than almost any other food. But fortunately, meatless meals don’t require you to forgo its delicious flavor! If it’s thin and crispy you’re after, coconut bacon might hit the spot. Want something thicker and chewier? Try shiitake bacon.

Bottom line: the best meatless meals are high in umami, a flavor meat lovers expect in a satisfying dish, so incorporate lots of it. 

Fill It Up

Meat lovers don’t want to feel unsatisfied and hungry shortly after eating a meatless meal. Does anyone? Luckily, the remedy is fairly simple: be sure to include plenty of healthy fats, protein and fiber in the dish. 

A simple Thai curry made with coconut milk is one of the easiest ways to bring fatty goodness to a meatless meal. For more protein, quick-cooking red lentils do the trick. Bonus: they provide great texture. Try adding some to your favorite meatless chili. And don’t forget fiber, another key to meatless meal satisfaction. Fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole-grains take longer to digest, so you feel full longer. 

Here at Thistle, thanks in part to a healthy plant-forward approach to food, our nutritionists design meals with macros in mind. You can count on our meatless meals to be high in fiber while including plenty of healthy fats and protein. Not only are breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks balanced and filling, we also always offer hard-boiled eggs and avocados as add-ons to make our meals even more satisfying and tasty. 

Optimize Texture

Meat lovers tend to criticize the texture of meatless meals. Let’s face it: sometimes tofu is slimy. Sometimes that meat substitute is incredibly dry and rubbery. Meat is prized for its mouthfeel, an important component of what makes a meal more enjoyable. Meatless meals must have an equally appetizing mouthfeel; no slimy or rubbery textures allowed. 

There are several ways to optimize the mouthfeel of meatless meals, even for the pickiest of meat lovers. For tofu, buy the extra firm variety and press it. To further enhance the texture, freeze and thaw it before marinating and cooking. And don’t stop there! For crispy and tender nuggets, batter it. Meanwhile, if you’re longing for the deliciously tender texture of pulled pork, you can’t beat jackfruit

In the Thistle kitchen, developing and incorporating tasty meatless substitutes into our meals is one of our #1  priorities. Some of our recent favorites include Morrocan spiced lentil meatballs and chipotle jackfruit. To discover the surprisingly tasty and diverse textures meatless meals can provide, give a week’s worth of our vegan meals a try.  

When a meatless meal is super flavorful, ultra filling and perfectly textured, even the most hardcore meat lovers will sing its praises. By incorporating the tips we’ve shared here, before you know it, meatless meals will become some of your most sought-after favorites. Yes, really!

Dec 19, 2019