Understanding the Flexitarian Eating Plan
There has been a recent rise in interest in the flexitarian approach to eating. The name is a combination of flexible and vegetarian or flexitarian. So many diets have rules, regulations, restrictions and boundaries that they become confining, negative and something that is no longer followed after just a few weeks. The flexitarian eating plan is a lifetime approach that encourages more plant-based foods in your menu planning. It becomes a lifestyle that includes a variety of nourishing foods first in menu planning, with a slant toward plant-based foods.
Flexitarian eating considers:
- Personal lifestyle – foods and meals that fit for your work, social, financial and family situation.
- Individual food preferences, not pushing foods that are not liked or enjoyed.
- Feeling good – you want to enjoy eating the foods you select.
The flexitarian eating plan encourages these foods when menu planning:
- Plant proteins such as soy, beans, lentils, nuts, and tofu
- Whole grains make up at least 50% of your grain choices to start for bread products, cereals, crackers, rice, pasta, etc.
- Starchy vegetables such as white and sweet potatoes, peas, corn and lima beans
- Dairy: milk, kefir, yogurt, cheese; milk alternatives such as soy milk and almond milk
- Healthy oils such as olive, avocado, sunflower and safflower
The flexitarian eating plan suggests some animal protein like eggs, fish and poultry but decreasing the amount or frequency to make room for other plant foods. Healthful foods replace processed meats, red meats, refined grains, desserts and other sweets, as well as sodas.
It can be a slow transition to more vegetarian meals but not exclusive, which can feel too restrictive. The flexitarian eating plan starts with replacing some or all of the meat in recipes with more plant foods. So a spaghetti sauce can be made with more vegetables and half the amount of ground beef or turkey to start. A vegetable stir fry might include some shrimp but it is decreased to include edamame or green soybeans as a replacement. The flexitarian eating approach encourages eating those foods that you love, so that there is true enjoyment with meals. Do you like a pizza every week? Maybe move in the direction of more vegetable toppings and less meat. Add a large side salad to round out the meal. Prefer white rice? Start with a half-and-half mix of brown and white rice.
Slide into changes – take your time.
By: Rita Smith, RD