meatless meal legumes lentils

Curious about Meatless Meals? Three Simple Tips to Get Started  

By Jennifer Lease, RD, CDN, Director of Nutrition Initiatives, YMCA of Metro Denver  

Eating more plant-based foods, which simply means food that comes from plants versus animals, can have great benefits for our health. This is because plant-based foods are filled with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, an important nutrient we can only get from plants! These nutrients help support our health in tons of ways, from heart health to brain health, to keeping digestion running smoothly, to keeping your bones strong, your skin healthy and just about anything else you can think of!  

But eating more plant-based foods doesn’t mean you have to stop eating animal-based foods or adopt a vegan lifestyle. Here are some simple tips to start adding more plant foods into your usual meal routine:  

  1. Swap one animal-based protein, like beef or pork, for a plant-based protein in one meal each week. You may have heard the phrase “meatless Monday” – a phrase that simply encourages you to enjoy one meatless meal per week. Our standard American way of eating tends to lean heavily on meats and many of us don’t eat enough plant foods, which can mean we’re lacking certain nutrients. A swap of just one meal per week can make a difference in supporting your health! Swap a beef or pork-based meal with a whole food plant-based protein like beans, lentils or tofu. Not ready to dive into a fully plant-based meal? Try subbing out half of the animal protein for a plant protein.  

  2. Keep it simple and convenient, There are tons of plant-based protein options available, and it can feel confusing on what to choose or how to cook those foods. Start off simple with a plant-based protein choice like canned beans or lentils, or options you can heat in a ready-to-cook pouch. These ready-to-eat plant-based proteins make it easy to toss into a meal. Try using canned beans or lentils as a topping for a salad or a whole grain, a replacement for taco night or add into a big, warm pot of chili or soup.  

  3. Do a little advance planning to make it easy. Your meatless meal doesn’t need to be dinner. Maybe for you, lunch makes more sense. Everyone’s lifestyle and goals look different and planning ahead of time can help you choose what works best for you. This might mean you choose a new recipe to try with a plant-based protein for the week ahead, or you add a plant-based protein to your grocery list, so it makes it into your cart. It’s easy to fall into old habits, so when you’re working toward a new goal, like including more plant-based foods into your eating pattern, planning ahead can help you stay on track.  

Remember: small changes lead to bigger, lasting changes over time! If you’re looking for support and motivation to get started with eating more plant-based foods, you might be interested in the YMCA of Metro Denver’s Meatless March Challenge during March’s National Nutrition Month. Through Facebook community, you’ll get to share pictures and recipes, tips and ideas on how to enjoy more meatless meals with support from YMCA Nutritionists!  

Follow the YMCA of Metro Denver on Facebook at and check out the Meatless March Challenge.