What Does It Mean to Treat Meat as a Condiment?

In other words, what's at "steak" when you eat less meat?

illustration of grocery bag full of vegetables and meat
Photo: Emily Lundin/Dotdash Meredith

It's likely you've heard of treating "meat as a condiment," but what does that phrase really mean? What does that look like on a plate? And does treating meat as a condiment provide enough protein?

To answer these questions, let's first consider how much protein you should eat each day to reach your basic nutritional requirements. The average adult should eat 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, according to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) from The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

If you're looking at a full plate, about a fourth of it should consist of protein, another fourth should consist of grains, and the remaining half with vegetables and fruits, say the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines recommend eating nutrient-dense protein foods from a variety of subgroups, like meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; and nuts, seeds, and soy. Lentils, beans, and peas can count as protein or a vegetable.

If meat typically takes up a larger portion of your plate, thinking of it as a condiment instead of the main dish can help you cut back without feeling deprived. For pointers on how to do this, we spoke with registered dietitian Marisa Moore, M.B.A, R.D., L.D.N., who eats a mostly plant-based diet herself.

"Meat provides a unique savory flavor that many people enjoy. It can add richness to the background of a broth for soup, which can, in turn, be a vehicle for eating extra vegetables and hydration," Moore told Allrecipes. "Plus, it may make it easier to get certain nutrients, such as iron, if you prefer to include meat in your diet."

Even in a smaller amount, meat can remain the main flavor of a dish. "One of my first recommendations is to add mushrooms to ground meat to help stretch burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf. Simply add finely chopped mushrooms to the mix before cooking and you'll be eating less meat and getting more fiber in one step," said Moore, who suggests replacing about 25% to 50% of the ground meat a recipe calls for with mushrooms.

Cooking less meat can help you save money on groceries. And if you're used to cooking, say, one chicken breast per person for dinner, Moore gave Allrecipes a smart solution for cutting down on meat and cost.

"To start using less meat without waste, try making skewers. Instead of cooking one large steak, try cutting the meat into smaller chunks and threading with similarly sized peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Marinate the skewers and grill or roast for a delicious dish that's packed with two to three times more vegetables than you might usually serve," she said.

To sum it up, using meat as a condiment means taking advantage of its flavor and protein content, knowing you don't have to eat much of it to achieve either. Serve it with plenty of plants, including legumes and whole grains, and you'll feel full all the same.

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