This swap will help you eat healthier, save money and go easier on the environment while still enjoying meat.
mapo tofu

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

Going plant-based has become more and more popular, from Meatless Mondays to full on veganism. In many ways, the hype aroud eating a veggie-forward "flexitarian" diet is warranted. A plant-based diet has loads of health benefits, is better for the environment and is typically more affordable than one with meat at the center of the plate. But, contrary to popular belief, you don't actually need to give up meat completely in order to be healthy or eat in a way that is sustainable.

The trick to enjoying meat in a way that is nutritious, affordable and sustainable all comes down to one thing: moderation. In many cultures, meat is used as more of a garnish than a main component of the meal. This lets dishes get the delicious meaty flavor that makes them satisfying, while allowing your meat to go further. Using meat as a flavor additive versus the star of the dish can keep you from going through it quickly, and can also make it feasible to buy higher quality meats since you are using less and, consequently, buying less.

If you are worried about not getting enough protein if you eat less meat, don't be. Most types of meat, regardless of type or cut, have around 7 grams of protein per ounce. To put this in perspective, the size of your fist is about three ounces, which would be about 21 grams of protein for a steak or chicken breast that size. People can only digest around 20 to 25 grams of protein at one time, so eating much more than that will be wasted; it will simply be excreted since your body can't use it all at once. Excess calories of any kind, including protein, can also be stored as fat. Plus, other foods on your plate, like whole grains, legumes or even some vegetables, add protein too, so meat isn't the only source of protein on your plate.

There are several recipes that include meat in moderation to test out this technique. This recipe for Mapo Tofu layers in the proteins, vegetarian and not, for a dish bursting with flavor and lean on the meat. In many stir-fries (we have the formula for a perfect stir-fry to help you out), meat plays a supporting role to veggies, grains and healthy fats to create a flavorful, well rounded meal. Many dishes, like our Cider-Braised Brussels Sprouts & Bacon, or Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup use a little bit of rich meat cuts like bacon to bring out the flavors of the vegetables and beans and give them some interest. Whatever cuisine you are in the mood for, there are several options to use meat as a garnish and flavor boost while enjoying it in moderation to eat healthier, save money and be sustainable.