The data is clear. Us yobos in the West need to reduce our meat and dairy intake pronto! But how? That’s the question I aim to answer in this article. Full disclaimer though, my family are neither vegan nor vegetarian. We’re just an average family trying to do better at eating less meat and dairy. Read on for our personal experience of trying to prioritise plant-based meals, and some useful resources to help you on your journey.
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I won’t lie, reducing meat and dairy in our diet hasn’t been plain sailing. We’ve two committed carnivores and a long, long list of food items (20 in total) that at least one family member dislikes, making dinner tricky at the best of times.
Currently our family have two to three vegetarian meals a week with the rest being a rotation of beef or chicken and pork. With stereotypical vegan / vegetarian ingredients off the menu due to food sensitivity issues, it’s been really, really difficult to find vegetarian or vegan recipes that the whole family will eat. This caused us to delve into the world of meat-substitutes quite a bit, which personally I’m not too keen on, but progress not perfectionism. Eh?.
I was doing my best to go vegan myself, but recent health problems has required me to cut out all legumes, nuts, mushrooms, aubergine, tomatoes, soy and fermented foods. I’m hoping this is temporary but my current diet makes it virtually impossible to go vegan for now.
So currently I’m focusing on eating less meat and dairy overall, and in a family of 4 I find the easiest ways to do this is to cook a meal that stands on it’s own as a meat-free dish, but is one that you can add cooked meat / shellfish to at the end for those that want it.
The dishes that I find work well for this include;
- Happy Pear Morocan Tangine
- BBC Good Food Tomato Risotto
- Fajitas, which I make with chicken or beef for the other and these delicious veg koftas for myself. These koftas also freeze well making the dish even easier to make.
- Katsu Chicken – This is a great curry sauce for meat or veg. This recipe makes enough sauce for 8 portions so I just freeze half, then reheat with veg and meat / shellfish.
- Pad Thai
- Veg stir fry – I have my own simple recipe, which goes down well in this house. I just fry off some veg, add garlic and ginger, add soy sauce and honey, stir in cooked noodles or rice and serve.
- Veg Strata – This is a very good recipe if you’re still eating eggs and cheese. The recipe calls for bacon but you can leave it out or cook it separately to serve to those who eat meat.
- I also have a recipe for very simple and easy vegan pasta made with butternut squash, and Jamie Oliver has one for egg-free pasta made with spinach
Vegan & Vegetarian Recipes
Some places to find other plant-based meals include
- The Lancet (planetary healthy recipes)
- BBC GoodFood (vegan recipes)
- 101 Cookbooks
- Oh She Glows
- Minimalist Baker
- Cooking on a Bootstrap
- Sneaky Veg – specifically for kids
- Jamie Oliver – I particularly like his allotment pie recipe
- 25 Healthy Vegan recipes for babies and toddlers
- I haven’t tried it yet but Plant Jammer app is designed to help you find plant-based recipes and avoid food waste.
- In an effort to find some more recipes I joined a few Facebook groups and liked a few vegetarian/vegan Facebook pages, including
I’m sure a lot of you have your favourite vegan or vegetarian recipes. One of mine is the Allotment Cottage Pie by Jamie Oliver. A lovely person called Dennon on Instagram recommended this recipe for Black Bean Chocolate Chilli to me, so if you’re a fan of chilli give it a whirl.
Tips for Reducing Meat in Dishes
Even if your dish isn’t completely meat-free there are some clever ways to reduce the amount of meat you end up using without compromising on the dish.
- Use breadcrumbs in meatballs and burgers to make the meat go further. Personally I think it tastes nice too
- Flatten chicken breasts to make them cook faster but also to make them look bigger
- Cut meat into smaller pieces in dishes. It means you can use less without feeling deprived. It also helps meal cook quicker, saving energy.
- When roasting or grilling meat collect the fat and use it to fry / roast vegetables in. It gives a meaty flavour without the meat.
- Did you know that the red Erin gravy mix is vegan? Now you do.
Irish Brands of Plant-based Food Products
A host of Irish companies are now offering a host of vegan and vegetarian food options including;
- Plant It in Donegal
- Strong Roots Dublin 6
- The Vegan Sandwich Co, Dublin 7
- Thank Plants Co, Dublin 7
- Sons of Butchers, Galway
- Fiid based in Dublin make plant-based ready meals
- Jacked Up, Meath
- The Happy Pear in Wicklow
- Finnebrogue’s Naked Range from Northern Ireland
I’m sure I’ve missed out lots so let me know of more in the comments or by email / direct message
And when sourcing your fresh food here’s a list of organic fruit and veg growers in Ireland
I wasn’t happy about these being brought into our house at first. I don’t like processed food, vegan or not, but given my families aversion to so many vegetables I had to accept that they’re really the only way to avoid meat or dairy some evenings.
Given my hesitancy, I was kinda delighted to read about a study that found participants who switched to meat substitute products for 5 meals a week for a month say improvement in their gut microbiome in comparison to participants that stayed on regular diet of meat and dairy.
That said, some people can be allergic to quorn so keep an eye out for that. We haven’t had issue in our house and that’s despite histamine sensitivity and a history of celiac disease in our extended family.
Here is a list of meat alternative products we’ve trialled. There’s lots more out on the market and I’ll update this article as we test more.
I you’d like to check out the credential of companies offering meat-substitute products here’s a great article by the magazine Ethical Consumer.
Burgers / Fillets
- Vegafit Schnitzel – Not a fav or mine but my daughter likes them
- Quorn Crispy fillet – tasted quite synthetic to us
- Denny Meat-free burgers – Again not a fan, but husband and son like them
- Quorn Hot & Spicy burgers – These are the ones I eat when I can’t get my hands on a Portobello mushroom to have between my burger buns.
- Linda McCarthney Mozzarella Quarter Pounder and Vegetarian Quarter pounder – these weren’t well liked in this house
- Quorn peppered steaks – These are really, really good and are both vegan and gluten free
Personally I like burgers made with vegetables, rather than meat-alternative versions, and I’ve had a few nice ones in restaurants, but not yet at home. For some reason they all taste kind synthetic to me. Plus I need to have a type that can be frozen as I’m the only one the house that will eat this type of burger. I’ve attempted to make my own but they always turn out too soft. In one of the FB groups I’m in someone recommended this recipe for veg patties. It’s in German but I just translate it into English in Google. Will try it out and let you know how it goes.
One nice veg alternative I did find are the Birds Eye Veg Fingers, which are also very well priced.
Sausages & Sausage Rolls
- Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages – we tired of these quite quickly
- Linda McCartney Red Onion & Rosemary sausage – these were better than the plain ones but still just okay
- Denny’s Meat free sausages – these were decent but the main sausage eater in our home, my son, wasn’t a fan
- Linda McCartney Sausage Rolls – these were a hit with my son and he has them more often than I’d like to admit
- Aldi’s No Sausage Roll – these are good too
There are also recipes that work very well with some meat-free sausages, like this Toad in the Hole recipe.
- Denny’s meat-free white pudding – passable but nothing to write home about
- Rudds plant based white pudding – fine but not as nice as the real deal
- Vegafit Nuggets – not a winner in our house
- Quorn Crispy Nuggets – this are fab!
- Quorn Southern Fried Bites – another hit!
If you’re eating out the plant-based nuggets in Burger King are very tasty.
We also tried mince meat alternative from Quorn but that wasn’t much of a hit. It wasn’t the flavour, more the texture.
We were similarly disappointed with Quorn pepperoni, which we tried cooked and uncooked.
One hit was the pulled pork from Irish company Jacked Up. Texture isn’t quite pork like but it was absolutely delicious.
By the way did you know that Oxo do some vegan stock cubes, that Bisto is vegan and Colemans do some vegan sauce mixes?
Avoiding dairy in cooking and baking is not as hard as you think. Here are some tips on how to do it.
- Linseed (flax) meal meal has worked very well for us as an egg substitute in biscuits. I particularly like the way it stores really well in the cupboard for when you need it. I didn’t find it gave the same lift as eggs in cakes however. Here’s some instructions on how to make a flax egg.
- The Minimalist Baker has a good article on other egg subsitutes as does Bohemian Vegan Kitchen
- Vegetable oil is a good substitute for melted butter in recipes.
- Solid Plant based butter works well in baking too, even better than butter in my opinion. I’ve tried Naturli and Flora brands, both taste okay on toast too but not half as nice as real butter!
- I’ve tried in vain to make meringue from aquafaba (chickpea juice). I managed to whip it up okay but in the oven it separated and just became a nasty pool of liquid.
- The flavoured vegan mayos from Hellman’s are amazing, and nicer than the non-vegan one. I like the chipotle one the best, but the baconnaise version is good if you’re craving bacon. Personally I’m not a fan of the non-flavoured vegan one that they do.
I have tried a few cheese substitutes but with no success. Some of them were so unpalatable I couldn’t finish them. To date I’ve tried
- Flying Squirrel Camembert
- Violife Mature Cheddar Flavour Slices
- Violife Cream Cheese with Garlic & herbs
Plant Based Milks
These have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years with so much to choose from in the supermarkets.
In our house we used to buy Oatly Barista but have recently switched to the Irish Flahavans Barista Oat Milk. Now I much prefer oat milk to cows milk in my tea and coffee, although I still have cows milk on cereal.
If you’re interested in making your own oat milk here’s a video on how to make your own non-gluppy barista style oat milk – (haven’t tried this myself, but instructions here look good)
You might also be interested in this article on which plant based milk is the healthiest and this one on the nutritional difference between plant milk and cows milk.
We’ve been overwhelmed with the quality of vegan treats that have become available over the past few years. With most cafes and restaurants now offering at least a vegan brownie!
Some of to consider include
- Vegan Ice cream from Leamhain, available from a few outlets
- Vegan Soft Serve Ice Cream from Flip Burger, D2
- Vegan sorbet made from food waste by Cream of the Crop Gelato in D8
- I’ve heard good reports about the vegan Magnum ice creams
- And there is a range of vegan cornetto’s from HB too.
- For suggestions on vegan chocolate check out my article on sustainable ethical chocolate.
- A lot of zero waste stores sell vegan chocolate drops but I believe you can also get them (packaged) in the ‘free from’ sections of most supermarkets.
- The chocolate brands Bournville and Frys cream are vegan.
- Some of the Moser Roth. Green & Blacks and Galaxy brand of chocolate bars are vegan.
- I can testify to the fact that the vegan cakes from Bear Lemon bakery in Drumcondra, D9 are to die for.
- Oggs are a brand of vegan cakes, which are sometimes sold in Dunnes Stores. Wicked is another brand of vegan cakes, sold in Tescos.
- Betty Crockers range of cake mixes are vegan too.
- Some of Dr Oetker’s homebaking range is vegan.
- Some of Mr Kipling’s cakes are vegan.
- The Jus-rol range of pastries are vegan.
- Some Supervalu stores have vegan croissants.
- Some McVities biscuits are vegan
- Some of the Lotus range of biscuits are vegan
- Oreo’s are vegan
- Fox’s party rings are vegan
- Jammie Dodgers Mini’s are vegan.
- Bournville fingers are vegan.
Jellies & Sweets
- Vegan marshmallows and vegan jellies in The Good Neighbour, Dublin 14
- Marks and Spencers has a line of vegan food including vegan marshmallows, vegan cookie dough and ice cream.
- I’ve heard Aldi do a good range of vegan jellies too and I’ve bought very nice ones by Veganz and Candy Kittens in Tesco.
- Also did you know that Oreo’s, Skittles, Fruit Pastilles, Starburst, Love Hearts and Jelly Tots are vegan!
- The Vegan Grocery is a great place to go for vegan treats
Might be a bit cheeky to put this under treats, and you may not have even considered this, but some wine is not vegan. To check if your tipple include meat products then check out the website Barnivore
Both the American Dietetic Association and the NHS have stated that is possible to exclude meat and dairy from the diet and remain healthy as long as you’re eating a varied and balance diet, which is the case with most diets.
Not being a nutritionist or a dietician I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of how to eat a balanced diet with less, or no, meat or dairy, but I found this quick nutritional guide to becoming a vegan by blogger Scent of a Vegan, very interesting.
You might also like to track the nutrients in your diet with the cronometer app, and you can get a blood tests done for some key vitamins and minerals at your local GP.
If you do need to take supplements three vegan brands to consider include
Note: If you take more B12 than your body can process it’s excreted and leads to illuminous yellow pee, which came as quite a surprise I can tell you!
There’s a very big difference between prioritising plant-based food and going vegan fulltime, but dipping your toe into the vegan pool is getting easier and easier, especially thanks to some of the resources I’ve listed below.
- Vegicity is a reward based app that offers you discounts on vegan businesses
- The Vegan Grocery is dedicated online supermarket for vegan goods
- If you’d like to take things a step further you can sign up for a 22 day vegan challenge at Challenge 22
- This is a fantastic post on Facebook with images of all the vegan brands readily available in supermarkets in Ireland
- Here’s a list of plant-based doctors in Ireland
- If you’re travelling check out Vegan Friendly Hotels
- Here’s an app developed by an vegan in Ireland, designed to answer all of the typical questions that vegans and vegetarians typically get asked about their diet.
- Here’s a list of books about veganism for kids
- Veganlife is an Irish magazine for vegans living here
- Vegan Families in Ireland is a useful Facebook Group
- Veghuns and veganlife.ie are two good Instagram accounts with lots of tips on eating more plants
- If you’ve a reluctant plant eater in the house The Game Changer movie might help to convert them. It’s about UFC fighter in pursuit of the optimal diet.