For the third consecutive year, here at Popular Science we’re celebrating No Red October, a month in which we suggest you skip the red meat for the sake of our planet. Don’t worry—you won’t be alone in this. Our whole team will embark on this healthy adventure with you, and throughout the month we’ll be posting stories to inform you about the environmental impact of quitting red meat, and help you overcome your carnivorous habits—if only for 30 days.
If you’re on board and this is the first time you’ll attempt such a challenge, we’re here to help. The first step for a successful No Red October is a trip to the grocery store to stock up on the foods and gadgets that might make you consider going no red for life.
Have your protein alternatives ready
If you’re big on red meat, your first instinct will probably be to just cut juicy steaks out of your meal planning. This strategy might work for you at the beginning, but it’s not sustainable for an entire month as you’ll likely get bored and frustrated without a worthy substitute. Replacing red meat with a high-protein alternative—be that white meat or other plant-based option—is a great way to keep things interesting and make sure you feel satiated at the end of every meal.
Poultry, fish, legumes, veggie patties, tofu, and plant-based meats are all great products to have at your disposal through No Red October and beyond. You probably have some of these in your freezer already, but it’s always a good idea to let yourself be surprised with something new in the frozen-food aisle.
“It could be fun to go down to the store and see all the kinds of tofu there are, all the tempeh, all the different frozen veggie meats. There’s a huge amount of new products coming out and it’s very exciting,” says Vesanto Melina, a dietitian, author of the book Cooking Vegan.
Legumes are more than beans
A classic recommendation for people riding the no-meat train for the first time is to get your daily protein intake from high-nutrient foods, such as legumes, seeds and nuts. This is actually great advice, but according to Melina, people tend to try different things and then just stick with the first one that works for them. However—spoiler alert—this will get very old, very fast.
Melina suggests trying new foods throughout the month to keep your taste buds excited. For example, you may want to start replacing your red meats with a serving of beans, but that’s just one type of legume you can choose from. You also have peas, lentils, chickpeas, and all the different colors of beans—black, white, red, speckled, etc. The other good thing about stocking up on legumes is that they are cheap and have a very long shelf life. If you’re feeling adventurous enough, you can buy a whole variety of them and, as long as you store them in sealed containers and in a dry place, you can have them in your pantry for the entirety of No Red October and beyond.
Most importantly, eating different foods will help your body get used to dietary changes. “You don’t leap into having big servings of beans twice a day because your gut bacteria will go ‘Yikes! What’s this?’ But if you do things gradually, you give the gut microbiota time to adjust,” Melina says.
Get some inspiration
One easy way to keep you on a month-long, steak-less high is to make every meal an exciting cooking event. There are a lot of books and websites with recipes and inspiration you can draw from to plan meals or cook something special. Take your time and browse for something that interests you. You might find things you’ve never considered trying before or new takes on meals you already know and love.
Melina—who also shares vegetarian and vegan recipes on her website —recommends thinking of different plant-based recipes you really like and trying variations. A great idea is to start with something simple, like tacos.
Not a big cook? You CAN still do it
Maybe you read the last paragraph and all your excitement for joining the No Red October initiative went down the drain. That might be because you don’t like cooking, live on takeout five days a week, and go straight to sleep when you hear the word “cookbook.” If this is how you’re talking your way out of quitting red meat for a month, we’re here to tell you that just won’t fly.
Canned food is something we don’t usually think about when we plan on giving up meat, but it’s actually a really good way to get your daily protein intake in the shape of legumes with minimal effort. When you go to the grocery store, make sure to stop by the canned-food aisle and hoard things like tuna, sardines, beans, peas, and any other canned vegetables you think might help you put a slapdash meal together. Canned foods similarly have a long shelf life, so you can buy a large variety and have them whenever you want.
Get a little help from your supplements
Red meat is a good source of protein, as well as iron and vitamins D and B-12. According to Melina, it’s always a good idea to take supplements for these nutrients to make up for the amount you’re giving up when quitting red meat.
“Vitamin B-12 is a supplement we need as we go more plant based,” the dietitian says. “So even if you’re going mainly plant based, it’s good to take vitamin B-12. You need only a tiny amount—25 milligrams a day.”
When walking into the supplement aisle at your local grocery store, though, make sure you don’t go overboard. With vitamins, more isn’t always better, so check out the recommended daily servings and stick to them.
If you think laying off red meat for a month will be a challenge, think again. Buying frozen vegetarian options, poultry and fish, and canned vegetables aren’t the only hacks for making this entire month easier on yourself.
Investing in basic appliances can make your no-red journey so much smoother. If you don’t have one already, a soup-maker is a great tool to help you make fun, varied meals with all kinds of ingredients, especially as the weather gets colder. You can throw in anything you have in your pantry or fridge—vegetables, condiments, white meat, pasta, rice, legumes, cheese, and more—and whip up a unique dish in 10 minutes. The best part? You only have to make sure the food is clean and chopped, and check the machine when it beeps.
If you still want to chew some of your food, a slow cooker is another flexible option. Get some chicken and a couple of veggies, season to taste, push a button, and go play with your dog or cat for a while. When you come back, your meal will be hot and ready for you. An easy peasy start to your new, healthier lifestyle.