Paleo, pescatarian, vegan, vegetarian, ketogenic. If you’ve been exploring healthy eating for any amount of time, you’ve probably come across these different dietary lifestyles at one point or another. And let’s be honest, it can be a little overwhelming deciding on the best place to start with so many choices.
Maybe you’re ready to go entirely plant-based or just want to reduce the amount of meat you and your family eat. (Meatless Monday for the win!) Either way, a flexitarian meal plan might be just the ticket. We'll fill you in on what flexitarianism is and explore some of the benefits. We’ll also equip you with a sample flexitarian meal plan to get started.
What Does It Mean to Follow a Flexitarian Meal Plan?
First things first: What is the flexitarian diet all about, and what do people who follow it eat?
The best part of a flexitarian meal plan just might be its simplicity. Flexitarianism is a semi-vegetarian diet, so while it’s mostly plant-based, it still includes meat. It also doesn’t have a lot of rules, which means more flexibility for you.
Much like other health-based eating styles, a well-rounded flexitarian meal plan will include most food groups — rather than eliminate them — and be rich in whole grains (like quinoa, oats, and brown rice), legumes (black beans, chickpeas, and lentils), and veggies. Dairy is OK in moderation, and you still get to include eggs and enjoy healthy fats from nut butters and seeds.
While there’s an emphasis on reducing animal products, you don't have to break up with your favorite meat-centered family recipes to see the benefits of a more plant-centered style of eating. But like any healthy diet, you’ll want to limit the number of processed foods and products with added sugar that make it on your weekly shopping list.
Health Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet
Since a flexitarian diet has a plant-based focus, it's high in antioxidants and vital nutrients with a variety of potential health benefits. Even more, it can help with different health concerns, including:
- Weight loss or maintaining body weight
- Reducing the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases
- Lowering blood pressure
- Managing cholesterol
- Decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lowering the risk of cancer
Rather than emphasizing restriction, a flexitarian meal plan embraces what you can add to your plate, which means less stress around what you're eating. It's not like keeping track of carbohydrates on a ketogenic plan or worrying about missing nutrients on a vegan diet.
For example, wild-caught fish provides essential omega-3 fatty acids and beef is rich in vitamin B12, so it’s centered more on getting the proper nourishment. While there are ways to safely meet your nutritional needs when you don't eat animal products, a flexitarian meal plan can help you decide if a fully-plant based diet is right for you.
If you're looking after your health or that of your loved ones, a flexitarian meal plan is a diet plan that could be a good fit. It's an easy-going approach that promotes eating more fruits and vegetables while including healthy carbs and fats to meet your nutritional needs without excluding animal foods.
We're sharing a sample flexitarian meal plan, but don't feel shy about chatting with a registered dietitian or nutritionist who can help you craft an eating plan that works for your specific needs.
A Sample Flexitarian Meal Plan to Get You Started
Following a flexitarian way of eating is all about enjoying an array of plant foods and eating less meat without omitting animal protein altogether. The goal is to be satisfied (without feeling deprived) and nourished at the same time. To give you an idea of how you can make a flexitarian meal plan work for you, take a peek at some of the delicious meals you can dig into below.
Rise and Shine: Breakfast Ideas
Often touted as the most important meal of the day, breakfast is a golden opportunity to get your day started off right. Here are three ideas to help you do just that.
It's hard to beat the convenience of overnight oats. It's as easy as it gets with meal prep, and it's customizable so you and everyone else in your household can find a flavor combo that’s worth waking up for. A good option: Cookie and Kate’s overnight oats recipe. With a base of oats, chia seeds, and nut butters, every jar of oats is filled to the brim with fiber, carbs, and healthy fats. Chocolate chip and peanut butter oats, anyone?
Chicken and Waffles
Believe it or not, chicken and waffles isn't a breakfast you have to wait for until the weekend. Sure, we recommend making your waffles from scratch (these are too yummy not to), but we won't tell if you use your favorite waffle mix or grab something from the freezer instead.
Add the perfect plant-based nugget, and you've got an ultra-satisfying, sweet and savory gem of a breakfast. Nowadays nuggets are made with just 7 real ingredients and bake up hot and crispy in your oven or air fryer. With 13 grams of plant protein per serving, you'll be able to tackle your morning with ease.
Similar to overnight oats, congee is a delicious rice porridge popular in Asian countries. It makes a delicious breakfast, especially when you're craving something warm and cozy. Simply Baking's vegetarian congee is an excellent way to start. Filled with tasty seasoning, this congee is equally delightful with plant-based protein such as tempeh for an extra boost of protein. Add a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds for extra fat, fiber, and flavor.
Midday Refuel: Lunch Ideas
We think a stellar breakfast should be followed by a fantastic lunch. Check out these simple and satisfying recipes.
Still on the hunt for a delectable salad? Look no further than Taste of Home's favorite Mediterranean salad. Chock full of veggies, this romaine-based medley is a great way to get several servings of vegetables and keep yourself full until dinner. Stick with the recipe as is, or get creative with your own ingredients. Hummus and artichoke hearts would pair nicely with the olive oil-based dressing or crispy Nowadays nuggets to round out the meal.
While we think it's possible to make crispy tacos a daily staple, we're in favor of mixing it up. If you're jonesing for something taco-like (but not tacos), consider whipping up Damn Delicious' easy burrito bowls. This is a terrific speedy lunch, especially if you prep some ingredients ahead of time.
With fresh salsa, rice, black beans, cilantro, and romaine, it has everything you'd want in a burrito bowl. Finish with a drizzle of chipotle cream dressing, add a dollop of guacamole, and you're good to go. Don’t forget that if you want to go full veggie you can swap out the conventional sour cream for plain, plant-based yogurt.
We know wraps are pretty much ideal for lunches. They take the cake for portability and are super-easy to customize. (Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?) If you’re yearning for a sandwich, we give you the Caesar avocado wrap. This humble yet delightful sandwich is the perfect vehicle for Nowadays nuggets if we don’t say so ourselves.
Cozy Supper: Dinner Ideas
Go for the hat trick with the perfect dinner and master your day with these flexitarian options.
Pass on takeout and make a masterpiece at home. This chicken teriyaki bowl is bursting with umami flavor and comes together in under an hour. Nowadays nuggets make it easy to chow down on an entirely plant-based meal and still relish every bite as much as a traditional dish. Rounded out with fresh ginger, miso, tamari, and delicate broccoli florets, this is a meal you'll have on regular rotation in no time.
Black Bean Burgers
It might seem too good to be true, but meatless burgers can be just as satisfying as their meat-based counterparts. Take a peek at The Pioneer Woman’s black bean burgers. Filled with fiber from black beans and topped with Swiss cheese, these burgers offer a way to sneak in extra veggies, like fire-roasted bell peppers, edamame, or sweet potatoes.
Soba Noodle Bowls
Load up on vegetables with Food By Maria's vegan soba noodle salad. This is one noodle bowl you can customize to your heart's content while filling up on veggies. Bok choy, mushrooms, carrots, and bell peppers combine with tender soba noodles and ginger tahini dressing to create a memorable meal you'll crave again and again. Garnish with freshly chopped green onions and cilantro (chopped toasted cashews would be incredible here, too!) for a complete meal in 30 minutes.
Making a Flexitarian Meal Plan Work For You and Your Family
It can be easier than you think transitioning to a new meal plan for you and your family. Even if you're a die-hard carnivore, there are plenty of dishes you can enjoy on a flexitarian meal plan while reducing your meat consumption — especially since this semi-vegetarian diet isn't strict about omitting food groups. It's the perfect opportunity to take pleasure in eating your favorite plant foods and get introduced to new ones that are sure to become family favorites.