How to Make “Manly” Plant-Based Meals

Why is a medium-rare tomahawk steak, still on the bone, sitting in a pool of meat juice considered “manly,” while a salad topped with roasted squash, quinoa, and toasted pepitas…not?

The answer to this question isn’t simple or straightforwardmany factors have, over time,  contributed to the gendering of foodstuffsbut today, it’s obvious that advertisers have latched on to cultural norms and societal stereotypes in order to sell more food to both men and women. But meat, especially red meat, seems to hold a special place in the male diet.

For centuries, meat has been associated with power and dominance: it is a dense source of protein and energy that clearly sets humans at the top of the food chain. Because of these nutritional qualities, there’s the belief that eating more meat can increase vitality or sexual strength, which is why so many meat-focused advertisements focus on sexual innuendo to market their burgers, steaks, and frozen meals. And those advertisements have been effective. Men have a higher rate of life-threatening diseases than women and American men consume more meat, poultry, and eggs than nutritional experts advise.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for guys out there. A new wave of plant-based eating advocates, ranging from chefs to celebrities to Olympic athletes, have started to change the tone of the conversation and challenge historically entrenched ideas about meat and masculinity. We spoke with our team of Meatless Monday culinary ambassadors to shed some light on the exciting trends happening in the spaceand they delivered, providing a number of recipes and tips that can help men (and women) recreate the “manly” foods without having to rely on any meat at all.


Pack on the Protein

“There’s a myth that if you eat plants you do not get enough protein (which is associated with muscle growth and the main male sex hormones),” says Dan Churchill, fitness guru and executive chef at Charley St, a fast-casual restaurant in New York City. But many studies show that you can get the same nutritional qualities from plant proteins as from animal-based proteins. Using protein-rich ingredients like black beans, chickpeas, tofu, seitan, edamame, and lentils can help add heft to typical meals while maintaining that satisfying “meaty” texture. You can make taco filling, stews, breakfast scrambles, and even Bolognese (Dan sells a premade version on his website), using only plant-based ingredients.

Recreate the Classics

When it comes to cooking with more plants, there’s no need to deviate from what men typically like to eat. Celebrity chef Eddie Garza, who has cooked for famous athletes, actors, and musicians, says that plant-based versions of meaty foods can be even better for strength building and training. “I’ve worked with a number of athletes who love the taste of bacon but had to give it up because the acid reflux was affecting their workouts and just generally causing discomfort in their daily lives,” says Garza. “A slice of bacon-flavored tempeh—or ‘tempeh bacon‘—will give you approximately the same amount of protein as traditional bacon, but has zero cholesterol, contains less than half the fat, and is much easier to digest.” You’ll be glad to know you can recreate the flavor and texture of bacon using only plant-based ingredients.

Start with Shakes

A nice way to transition to eating more plant-based foods is to transform those fruits and vegetables into shakes, says Anthony Onorata, executive catering chef at Muhlenberg College. “A tip on transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle is consuming protein shakes. With it being either a powder or liquid, it’s easier on your digestive tract and does not ‘stay’ with you as long.” Shakes and smoothies are great for in-between meals or refueling after a workout. For an extra nutrient boost, try adding seeds, avocados, or these other ingredients to your smoothies and shakes.

Eat More Mushrooms

Mushrooms are great substitutes for meat, says chef Ivan Castro, chef/owner of La Bartola, in Toronto, Canada. Adding mushroom powder to a soup can boost the umami flavor of the vegetable-based broth. And don’t be too intimidated by the different shapes, colors, and varieties. Simply sautéing fresh mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, cremini, or oyster in a bit of olive oil until golden brown and finishing with a sprinkling of salt will likely satisfy those meat cravings. For more uses for your favorite fungi, check out these 10 mushroom recipes for meaty plant-based cooking.

Stock Your Fridge and Pantry

A key to eating more plant-based meals is to keep the ingredients at an arm’s reach. “Make a wide variety of healthful foods available and present in the house, such as oranges, apples, bananas, raisins, walnuts, coconut yogurt, and sunflower seeds,” says Kevin Curry, the founder of FitMenCook, an online community that inspires men and women to eat healthy and stay fit. These fiber-rich foods can help stave off cravings throughout the day as well as provide the body with other important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Think your kitchen is well stocked? See how many of these 20 essential Meatless Monday ingredients are in your pantry.

Get Started with Meatless Monday

If you are having trouble reducing meat in your diet, Fit Father’s Day’s Kimatni Rawlins, recommends starting with Meatless Monday. It’s a simple way to begin adding more plant-based foods to your diet. Some of his favorite hearty breakfast ideas include steel-cut oatmeal with a banana, walnuts, almond milk, cinnamon, raisins; fruit and vegetable smoothies; and avocado toast on whole grain bread. For lunch and dinner, he suggests trying to incorporate veggies with whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, which is also a complete protein, and to start experimenting with plant-based healthy proteins such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Easy dinners can be as simple as stir-fried veggies, bean burritos, or lentils over millet with broccoli.

Click here for more Meatless Monday recipes. When posting pictures of recipes to your social media network, tag @MeatlessMonday use #MeatlessMonday to show the plant-based community your creation.