Meat, dairy and high-fat ingredients are often used to add texture and flavor to recipes. Problem is, you might also be adding artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol. But eating a plant-based meal doesn’t mean a tasteless one — make these ingredient swaps to create flavorful, filling meals with less (or no) meat and dairy.
Instead of: Beef
Mushrooms have a firm texture a ton of rich flavor, so they’re a perfect substitute for meat. Use finely chopped porcini mushrooms for a meat-free bolognese sauce, add sliced mushrooms to chili or stew or use Portabello mushroom as a hamburger substitute.
Instead of: Chicken
Firm tofu absorbs whatever flavor you add to the dish and maintains a meat-like texture when cooked in a stir-fry, stew, chili and pasta dishes. Here are 5 ways to use this versatile soy product >>
Instead of: Cream Sauce
Try: Homemade Plant-Based Sauces and Chunteys
Creamy sauces are a delicious once-in-awhile treat, but choosing more healthful ones for everyday meals will save you a boatload of calories and fat! Try making your own tomato, miso or barbecue sauce. Or, top your main course with a homemade fruit or veggie chutney.
Instead of: Bacon
Try: Smoky Condiments
Bacon isn’t the only way to add smoky flavor to your favorite dishes — try smoked paprika, smoked salt or chipotle peppers (smoked jalapenos.) They’ll add a ton of flavor, but only a few calories!
Instead of: Prosciutto
Try: Toasted Nuts
Instead of topping salads and cooked veggies with prosciutto, creamy dressings or other animal-based ingredients, try a handful of toasted nuts. They add a yummy crunch and a punch of protein to dishes.
Instead of: Milk or Cream
Try: Coconut Milk, Soy Milk or Almond Milk
Fat adds flavor, texture and mouth feel in soups and sauces, but there are many plant-based options to choose from. Try coconut, soy or almond milk in place of dairy milk in soups and sauces. If you’re looking to save calories, opt for the lighter versions.
Instead of: Butter
Try: Nut Oils or Flavored Oils
Butter contains artery clogging saturated fats. Instead, choose from a variety of unsaturated nut oils like peanut, almond or walnut or flavored olive oils like garlic-infused oil.
Instead of: Heavy Cream
Try: Peanut Butter
Besides serving as the star ingredient in a PB&J sandwich, peanut butter can be used in cooking to add texture and creaminess. Dana’s secret ingredient in stir-fry is a spoonful of natural peanut butter and she adds a spoonful of almond butter to seafood soup.
Instead of: Chicken Stock
Try: Vegetable Stock or Juice
Fortify store-bought vegetable stock with spice blends and aromatics that will compliment your dish (Think ginger, garlic and a chile for Asian dishes, or onions, thyme, parsley stems and white wine for a French dish.) Or, make your own. You can also substitute flavorful juices for stock in recipes, like in this Carrot-Ginger Soup.
Instead of: Cheese-Covered Vegetables
Try: Roasted or Braised Vegetables
To add flavor to vegetables without tons of cheese or butter, switch up the cooking technique. Roasting caramelizes vegetables and helps bring out their natural sweetness, while braising hearty vegetables like fennel creates flavor when cooked along with low-calorie stocks and herbs.
TELL US: What are your favorite meat-free substitutes?
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »