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6 Must-Try Flexitarian Recipes

Updated: May 30, 2023

What is a Flexitarian Diet?

The flexitarian diet is a flexible eating approach that promotes eating more whole, plant-based foods while still enjoying animal proteins on occasion. The term “flexitarian” is derived from the combination of the two words “flexible” and “vegetarian”. Think of it as a semi-vegetarian diet, where you gain the benefits of eating more plant-forward but don’t have to completely cut out your favorite animal foods–you just eat smaller portions, and you may choose to eat them less often!


Unlike other diets, the flexitarian diet has no strict rules, so it’s easy to follow. If you’re tired of diet culture and diet rules, don’t worry. There’s no counting calories, macros, or anything else required. And you won’t need to fully restrict any food groups.


Instead, the flexitarian diet focuses on loading up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains while reducing your consumption of animal foods by eating smaller portions and including more meatless meals and snacks in your menu. I'm about to share all of the details about the benefits of a flexitarian diet, delicious flexitarian recipes, and a sample flexitarian meal plan.


What are the Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet?


Graphic with tan background showing 6 benefits of eating less meat with images of various plant foods at the bottom shaded in blue.
6 Health Benefits of Eating Less Meat


One reason to love the flexitarian diet is how it nourishes your body and enriches your overall health. There are so many health benefits of eating less meat and more plant foods, which is exactly what this eating approach preaches. Let’s dive into them!


Improved weight management

Research has shown that a diet rich in whole foods and reduced animal proteins, such as the flexitarian diet, could be a successful approach for sustainable weight loss and weight management. Incorporating these nutrient-dense foods can help you feel fuller for longer periods of time while being lower in calories, making them an excellent addition to any healthy eating plan. For more on this topic, check out my complete guide to plant proteins and weight loss.


Supports a healthy heart

Even the American Heart Association encourages a flexitarian eating style because it's an easy and adaptable way to reduce excess saturated fats from animal products that contribute to the risk of heart disease. Studies show that a plant-forward diet is associated with improved cardiovascular health.


Better metabolic health

Vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are essential for optimal metabolic health. These plant foods have powerful properties that can help improve body-wide inflammation, insulin resistance, and cholesterol. Several studies have shown eating more of these nutritious foods is linked to reduced risk for metabolic-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes.


Greater longevity

We know that fueling up on plants is associated with disease prevention, but they could even help you live longer. One recent study found that people who replaced only 3% of their usual animal protein intake with plant-based proteins had a 10% lower risk of death. This shows that small changes can go a long way with the flexitarian diet!


Healthy Gut Microbiome

Your gut loves plant foods. The fibers found in these foods help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your microbiome and are key to healthy digestion. The American Gut Project conducted a study that found that people who follow a flexitarian eating pattern have a significantly higher gut microbiome diversity compared to those who consume a typical American diet.


Enhanced quality of life and mental well-being

One of the best things about this eating framework is still having that balance to eat all the foods you love, but just in smaller amounts and less frequently. Aside from the enjoyment of still being able to eat your favorite foods, research found that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with improved quality of life and mental health.


Environmental benefits

Adopting a flexitarian diet not only enhances your personal health but also has a positive impact on the health of our planet. Simply by prioritizing plants and cutting back on meats, you can help decrease greenhouse gas emissions and preserve planetary resources.


Plus, buying and eating more whole foods contributes to the preservation of the environment by reducing the demand for animal products and ultimately preventing deforestation and preserving Earth's biodiversity.


It's amazing to think that we have the power to positively impact our environment. A newer study from 2022 suggested that transitioning towards plant-based diets can make a significant difference by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and conserving water by almost 50%.



Tips for Incorporating Flexitarian Recipes into Your Diet

If you are looking to adopt flexitarianism into your diet, here are some helpful tips to get started.


Gradually increase plant-based meals

The best part about flexitarianism is that you can do it at your own pace and comfort level. For example, you can simply start with one meatless meal per week, then gradually increase the number of fully plant-based meals you have each week.


You can even start small by reducing the portion sizes of meats you have in your meals and adding more veggies. And if this is where you land, that’s completely okay, too. The goal is to think about how you can add more whole plant foods and produce to your meals–whether you go completely meatless sometimes or not.


Do some meal planning and prep

Planning and preparing meals can be a game-changer if you're looking to add flexitarian recipes to your weekly menu. This can help you stay on track and ensure that you're getting all the nutrients you need.


Start by setting aside some time each week to plan your meals and make a shopping list. When doing this, be deliberate about incorporating a variety of plant-based foods into your plan, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.


After going on your grocery run, set aside some time to get some prep out of the way, like washing and chopping veggies or cooking grains and legumes. This can save you time during the week and make it easier to whip up a flexitarian recipe in no time.


Try alternative protein sources

One common misconception that can steer people from eating more plant-based is that these foods lack protein, which is not the case. There are some protein-packed plant foods that are great replacements for meats, such as beans, lentils, tofu, hemp seeds, nuts, edamame, and chickpeas. Whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and Ezekiel bread also contain some protein.


Potential Challenges of a Flexitarian Diet

While flexitarianism offers a number of benefits, there are some downsides to it. One of the challenges is adjusting to new foods or reducing the frequency of the foods you may typically eat. If you’re used to a meat-heavy diet, it can be difficult (but not impossible) to swap alternative sources of protein or prepare plant-based meals that are both tasty and filling.


If you’re used to more processed and convenience foods, using whole foods can take more time to prep and cook, which might feel demanding or overwhelming. But this doesn’t have to be daunting, and it isn’t an insurmountable challenge. Once you get the hang of it, it’ll become second nature. You can always start by selecting a few flexitarian recipes to serve on repeat.


Maintaining a nutritious diet is essential for good health, and this can be a challenge with flexitarianism as eating less meat could mean you are getting less vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and omega 3s. However, since you’re still eating a range of foods, including animal-based foods, this eating style makes it easier to ensure that you are getting adequate levels of these essential nutrients compared to other plant-based eating patterns, like a vegan or vegetarian diet.


One-Day Sample Flexitarian Meal Plan

Here is a sample menu to give you an idea of what a day of flexitarian eating might look like:


  • Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with Greek yogurt, berries, nut butter, hemp seeds, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup

  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, and chickpeas with a lemon vinaigrette

  • Dinner: Steak with baked potato wedges, asparagus, broccoli, and carrots

  • Snacks: Hummus and veggies, Greek yogurt with berries and low-sugar granola


6 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes


Image of a bowl with cucumbers, strawberries, feta, and chicken
Orange Chicken Salad with Strawberries Courtesy of Summer Yule

An orange chicken salad is a perfect alternative to Chinese take-out that you can include in your flexitarian meal plan. Not only will it satisfy those taste buds, but you’ll get a variety of colorful plant foods and lean protein without the extra added sugars and unhealthy fats traditionally found in fast food and take-out meals.


The spinach, strawberries, orange, rhubarb, and ginger in this recipe are loaded with phytonutrients that boost your immune system and fight inflammation. This recipe is also an excellent source of calcium, iron, and vitamins C and K!


This salad pairs perfectly with a side of crusty whole grain bread, rice or quinoa, or a light veggie soup. You can even get creative and turn this salad into a wrap or sandwich. However, it’s also a balanced and filling meal alone.


Nutrition stats: Calories: 367 kcal, Protein: 37.7g, Carbs: 16.6g, Fat: 15.5g, Fiber: 5g



Image of a bowl with chickpeas, cabbage, tomatoes, salmon, lettuce, and walnuts with a ramekin of dressing on the side.
Flexitarian Nourish Bowl Courtesy of Healthy(ish) Appetite

Nourish bowls are so versatile because you can mix and match your protein, grain, veggies, and seasonings to create numerous balanced, flexitarian meals. You also gain the health benefits that each food group has to offer all in one meal.


Whole grains are great sources of prebiotic fibers that nourish your gut microbiome. Healthy fats from nuts and olives provide anti-inflammatory benefits and keep your brain healthy. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. Protein helps keep your muscles and bones strong.


The great thing about this blueprint is that you can customize it as you like. For instance, when I’m in the mood for an Asian-inspired meal, I’ll saute up some pre-shredded cabbage and pair it with brown rice noodles, tofu, and shelled edamame. Then I’ll top it with some crushed peanuts and a sauce made with coconut aminos and nut butter for some healthy fats and extra yumminess.


Nutrition stats: Calories: 488 kcal, Protein: 18g, Carbs:52g, Fat: 22g, Fiber: 8g



Image of a taco salad with sweet potatoes, avocado, black beans, and some tortilla chips
Vegetarian Taco Salad Courtesy of the Healthy Epicurean

Vegetarian taco salads are the perfect example of how flexitarian recipes don't have to be boring. A balanced plate filled with beans and veggies can be tasty and bursting with flavor when you use herbs and spices. This recipe is packed with protein and fiber-rich beans, heart-healthy fats from avocado, and antioxidants from sweet potatoes and tomatoes.


There are so many other ways to transform this taco salad if you want to switch it up or add more protein. You can make this recipe into tacos or a burrito with your favorite type of whole grain tortilla or even into taco bowls by adding brown rice. To add more protein, you can simply top off the salad with some extra beans, shrimp, or your favorite meat. You could even add more classic Mexican-style veggies, such as sauteed bell peppers or salsa, to the meal.


Nutritional stats: Calories: 460 kcal, Protein: 14g, Carbs:40g, Fat: 20g, Fiber: 13g

Image of a mason jar filled with chia pudding with apples and walnuts on top and sliced apple, lemon, and walnut halves on the side.
Flaxseed Chia Pudding Courtesy of Sheri the Plant Strong Dietitian

Flaxseed pudding is an easy recipe that can be enjoyed at any time of day, whether as a nutritious breakfast, satisfying snack, or healthy dessert. Flaxseeds are a heart-healthy food thanks to their high amounts of omega-3 fats and fiber.


The cinnamon added to this delicious recipe not only enhances the flavor but can also help protect you from inflammation and may help balance blood sugars. Topping this pudding off with walnuts is a great way to boost healthy fats and support healthy cholesterol levels.


There are several different toppings you can add to the flaxseed pudding. You could follow this recipe and add apples, walnuts, and maple syrup, but you could also swap in any fruit, nut, or raw sweetener of your choice. Here are some examples:

  • Honey + strawberries + almonds

  • Honey + shredded coconut + pineapple chunks

  • Maple syrup + blueberries + hemp seeds

  • Maple syrup + banana + cocoa nibs + crushed pecans

  • Honey + peach slices + ginger + walnuts

Nutrition stats: Calories: 453 kcal, Protein: 14g, Carbs:33g, Fat: 32g, Fiber: 15g



Image of a beef and been burger sliced in half on a seeded bun served with sweet potatoes and a salad
Beef and bean burger courtesy of To Taste

Beef and bean burgers are an excellent option if you’re trying to adapt to a flexitarian eating style because by replacing some of the beef with beans, you have a more nutritious meal while still satisfying your craving for a juicy and flavorful burger.


Incorporating beans into your burger increases fiber and reduces saturated fat, promoting both digestive and heart health. Let’s not forget about the fresh herbs in this recipe; they contain immune-boosting phytonutrients that help fight infections.


With this burger recipe, you can add in any extra flavors you want, such as pesto, cheese, aioli, or BBQ sauce. When it comes to serving, it’s totally up to you and your preferences. You can eat it like a typical burger with mustard, ketchup, lettuce, pickles, and tomato. Or you can top it with sliced avocado, mushrooms, jalapenos, or even kimchi if you’re feeling adventurous.


This burger pairs well with salads, roasted veggies and even serves as a great taco filling.


Nutrition stats: Calories: 420 kcal Protein: 21g, Carbs: 44g, Fat: 16g, Fiber: 8g



image of waffle with strawberries, bananas, yogurt, and walntus
Walnut waffle parfait courtesy of Zest Nutrition Service

Walnut waffle parfaits are a fun and delicious way to kickstart your morning with a balanced meal filled with so many beneficial nutrients. Fiber from the fruits and waffles, along with the probiotics from the yogurt, help promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut microbiome. Bananas and strawberries also provide you with vitamin C and potassium. Walnuts supply omega-3s that help support your vision, heart health, and mental health.

Waffle parfaits can be modified to create a variety of healthy flexitarian recipes with different vibes. Just combine other fruits, healthy fats, and protein sources. Here are some savory and naturally sweet ways to load up your breakfast waffles:


  • Yogurt + raspberries + sliced almonds

  • Yogurt + strawberries + peaches + pecans

  • Yogurt + strawberries + pistachios

  • Yogurt + kiwi + shredded coconut + chia seeds

  • Avocado + egg + diced tomato

  • Cottage cheese + cucumber slices + hemp seeds


Waffles can be made from scratch or a waffle mix, but you can also use frozen whole grain waffles such as Van’s, Birch Benders, or 365 Whole Foods Market Organic Multigrain Waffles. (Please note these are affiliate links, so I’ll make a small commission if you purchase through the link, but you’re under no obligation to buy anything.)


Nutrition stats: Calories: 374 kcal, Protein: 17g, Carbs: 18g, Fat: 23g, Fiber: 4g


Takeaways

Flexitarianism is a non-restrictive, balanced, and adaptable way of eating that any person can adjust to. Eating less meat and more whole foods results in so many health benefits, including supporting a healthy weight, enhanced quality of life and mental well-being, longevity, and improved heart, gut, and metabolic health. You can also make a contribution to our planet's health by incorporating a flexitarian eating style.


Incorporating flexitarian recipes into your daily life and weekly routines are small and feasible changes that go a long way for both your overall health and the health of our environment. You can start by trying out some of the delicious recipes above and planning your meals in advance. The more you incorporate plant-forward meals, the more of a habit it will become. You’ll find yourself loading up on plant foods naturally!


If you’re looking for an easy guide to balanced eating that takes the pressure off of meal planning and includes everything you need to help you transform your menu and life, I have some good news for you! I created The Refresher as a guide to flexitarian eating that includes 60+ recipes, 4 weeks of flexitarian meal plans, and weekly grocery lists. You get access to so many tasty flexitarian recipes, from breakfast to low-sugar desserts and recipes with your favorite meats and cuisines. You’ll also get tips and tricks to help you transform your eating habits. Click here to learn more about The Refresher!


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