Surprising Swaps for Red Meat in 5 Everyday Dishes

Keep your meat-and-potatoes diet meaty … without the meat.

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In 2015, the World Health Organization announced it had classified processed meats (like bacon, hot dogs, and luncheon meats) as a carcinogen—meaning it increases the risk for cancer, specifically colorectal cancer.  

While hot dogs grabbed the most headlines, the WHO announcement also took aim at red meat, dubbing it “probably carcinogenic.” If that weren’t enough, the American Heart Association also advises against too much red meat, warning that its high levels of saturated fat are harmful to the cardiovascular system.

If you’re a meat-and-potatoes eater, this news can be difficult to chew. For many families, red meat is a cheap, go-to option that appears on their plates multiple times a week.

With some clever planning, you can keep making the same recipes you love—but with plant-based foods swapped in. “Plant-based” refers to any ingredient that doesn’t come from an animal, which leaves behind an astounding array of possibilities: beans, veggies, nuts, seeds, grains, and fruits.

Foods from plants are typically lower in saturated fat (with the exception of coconut) than red meat, and they come with an added bonus of fiber and micronutrients. It’s no surprise that diets high in plants appear to lower the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers (like colorectal cancer).

Try these easy swaps for red meat:

  • Love ground beef tacos? Try walnut taco meat. It may sound “nutty,” but it actually works. You pulse walnuts in a food processor, and then cook and season like tacos. The walnuts soften a bit but maintain their heartiness—and thanks to the seasoning, it still tastes like your typical taco. Plus, walnuts offer proteins and heart-healthy fats. Check out this recipe for walnut tacos from V Nutrition.

  • Love beefy meatballs? Try eggplant meatballs. Eggplant has a bad rap for being bland and squishy, but if you prepare it right, it lends a juicy, chewy texture to meatballs. Eggplant is also one of those foods that absorbs the flavors around it, so it takes on the garlicky Italian herbs and spices. Find out how to make eggplant meatballs from Connoisseurus Veg.

  • Love meat sauce on your pasta? Try mushroom ragù. Swap the minced red meat for umami-rich mushrooms. Chop up, sauce up, and slurp with pasta. Check out how to make mushroom ragù from Martha Stewart.

  • Love sloppy joes? Try lentil sloppy joes. Let’s be real: Sloppy joes are all about the sauce. Lentils are tiny, almost like the chopped up ground beef, so they allow your joes to stay sloppy. However, lentils are lower in fat and higher in fiber than red meat. Find out how to make lentil sloppy joes from Fresh Off the Grid.

  • Love steak fajitas? Try portobello fajitas. Those big portobello caps look intimidating, but once you marinate them, slice ‘em thin, and let them sizzle on the frying pan, you’ll be amazed at how meaty they are. Combine them with all the bell pepper and onion and you’ve got a healthy and flavorful fajita. Check out how to make portobello fajitas from Jessica in the Kitchen.

Pro tip: You don’t have to pick just one swap. Often, you get even more pleasant textures and flavors by combining two or more plant foods. For example, try lentil-walnut tacos, mushroom-lentil sloppy joes, or eggplant-mushroom ragù.

In other words, if you want to reduce red meat in your diet, all you need to do is “plant” some creativity in your kitchen.