Eating Meat: A Primer for the Meat Challenged

We believe that eating dense animal protein sources makes you healthier, and that there are some serious drawbacks to conventional vegetarian protein sources.  But eating meat isn’t always an easy assignment – there are a number of reasons you may have trouble eating meat at every meal. Some have ethical concerns about the way our animals are raised, fed, treated and slaughtered; others have taste or texture issues with certain foods that make meat in any form hard to swallow; and many are former vegetarians who want to reintroduce meat into their diets, but don’t know where to start.

But it’s not easy to be meat-challenged in the Paleo world, where bacon is revered and meat-eating is practically its own sport. Sometimes, it’s hard for folks to ‘fess up to the fact that they have a hard time eating the stuff. Regardless of your particular difficulty with eating meat, there are some steps you can take to make the reintroduction (or continued consumption) of meat easier and more enjoyable. So for those of you who are meat challenged, or vegetarians looking to dabble on the meat-side, use these tips and tricks to make your protein requirements that much easier to stomach.

Vegetarian Roots

This topic is one with which we both have personal experience.  Dallas was raised vegetarian, and didn’t start eating meat until he was 20 years old.  Melissa was a semi-vegetarian for a long time, eating only fish and eggs from her late teens until her mid-twenties.  Dallas didn’t have a hard time introducing meat into his diet, but Melissa’s transition was slower.  She has texture issues with food, and the idea of eating flesh was hard to stomach (pun intended).  As her training changed – particularly when she started picking up heavy stuff – her tastes began to change. She began craving red meat, and had to figure out a way to increase the amount of protein in her diet in a way that didn’t make her dread every meal and snack.  We decided to compile our recommendations here as a free resource for those struggling with the same issues.

Ethical Concerns

For those of you who are willing to eat meat, but have ethical concerns around choosing animal protein sources, we understand.  It’s the whole reason we began our Conscientious Omnivore series, dedicated to helping you make animal protein choices that you can feel good about.

  • Review our Conscientious Omnivore series. Currently, we’ve got Conscientious Omnivore write-ups on pork, seafood, and eggs (which also overlaps with making healthy chicken and turkey choices) – and we’re working on adding posts on other relevant issues.
  • Utilize other resources to help you make choices you can feel good about. You can use Eat Wild, US Wellness Meats, and our Good Meat Guide to help you make meat, fish and egg choices that are good for your health, the animals, and the environment.
  • Read ‘The Ethics of What We Eat’. This book, by ethicist Peter Singer, makes the case for how our food choices affect the lives of those around us – animals and humans alike. He makes rational, logical recommendations for making the most ethically defensible animal protein choices across a variety of categories. (The Ethics of What We Eat has proven invaluable in our own decision making process.)

Taste or Texture Issues

For those of you with taste or texture issues, or who have a hard time with the general idea of eating flesh, here are some ideas to help you make the meat you’re eating more palatable.

  • Choose meats or cuts of meat that aren’t as “fleshy” or fatty in texture or format. Lighter, flakier fish are often a good, neutral texture choice.  Ground beef may be easier to stomach than a steak. Lean cuts of meat may also smell (and taste) better to the meat-shy. When preparing chicken breasts, pound them with a meat tenderizer so they’re thinner and more tender.
  • Cut your meat into small pieces or chunks before cooking. Sometimes, staring down at a big hunk of meat is enough to turn your appetite off. Chicken and beef, especially, are easier to eat if they’re already in small pieces when they hit your plate.  Plus, this prevents you from hacking into a big hunk of fat, gristle or other icky meat-related stuff while eating.
  • Avoid meat on the bone, like ribs or chicken wings. Pulling flesh off the bone only serves to reminds you of exactly what you’re eating.
  • Don’t over-cook your meat. Chicken, fish or steak grilled, broiled or fried within an inch of it’s life will only taste rubbery and tough – and make it harder to get down. (It’s also not very healthy.) If you’re nervous about under-cooked meat, try using a meat thermometer and following recommended temperature guidelines. Remember, meat continues to cook after you pull it out of the pan, so don’t be paranoid about a slight pink hue in your chicken – by the time you get it to your plate, it will be perfect.
  • Cook your meat for a long, long time. We’re not talking about over-cooking, only slow cooking. Consider kitchen appliances like crock pots or slow cookers.  These  allow you to cook your meat at a very low temperature for a very long time (without exposing it to air).  This will make your meat tender and juicy, without any of the risks posed by grilling or cooking to well-done on high heat.
  • “Hide” your meat in other parts of your meal. Meat mixed up into a soup, stew, curry, salad or mixture makes it easier to sneak it in without you noticing. (This technique works well with a crock pot or slow-cooker, too.) Cut it up into very small pieces, mix it into your meal and you may not even notice the taste or texture.

Vegetarians Returning to Meat

Some vegetarians, like Dallas, just dive right into eating meat with no mental or physical trouble. However, if you have some concerns about reintroducing meat back into your diet (or the idea still makes you a little squeamish), all of the above recommendations still apply. In addition, you might want to consider a few additional tips to make your re-entry into animal protein sources that much easier.

  • Start with light, lean, easily digestible protein sources. Typically, eggs and fish or shellfish are easiest to start, maybe because they’re the least “meat-like.” Save heavier stuff like ribs or steak until you’ve become a bit more used to meat’s taste and texture.
  • Start off with small portions. A 16 oz. ribeye may not settle well in your stomach, so don’t overdo it too early. Start with smaller portions, and work your way up to a normal serving of protein with each meal.
  • Consider taking a digestive enzyme. That idea that vegetarians permanently lose the ability to digest meat is bunk, but that’s not to say the first few days of meat eating won’t create some digestive distress. The levels of enzymes that digest protein and fat decrease when you stop eating meat – but they quickly rise again once you ‘get back on the wagon’. However, when your gut is damaged or compromised (like it often is with a diet containing grains, legumes and dairy), a digestive enzyme can help until the gut’s own enzymes come back. Read this article, by our friend and naturopath Dr. Tim Gerstmar, all about digestive enzymes.
  • Download our Omnivore and Vegetarian Shopping Lists, to help you make the healthiest choices during your transition.

Meat Challenged? You’re not alone.

Some people don’t like kale, others don’t like coconut (poor souls)… but just as many of us have a hard time getting our protein on. Don’t let the idea of eating meat distress you – and don’t let the fanatic bacon-pushers get you down. Figure out what works for you, and if that doesn’t include red meat, raw fish or bone marrow just yet, that’s okay. We bet that, using our tips and tricks, you may find yourself actually enjoying your protein more in the coming weeks – and feeling all the better for it.

Got your own meat-eating success story or recommendation? Share it in comments.

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  1. says

    I have to disclaimer this comment and say that I’m not a vegetarian; I eat meat and have all my life. I did live veggie in college (ate veggie at home out of respect to my roommate and only ate meat when I was out), and so I’m familiar with veggie foods.

    I wanted to comment on one thing you wrote:
    “Ground beef may be easier to stomach than a steak.”

    While this may be true for a lot of folks, it might not be for others. Even as a meat-eater I have a problem with ground up meats; mostly I have texture issues because the meat/fat doesn’t always grind easily. This could be something that would bother a new meat-eater. Also I have more issues with storebought ground meat than with meat I’ve ground myself. So newbies to eating flesh might want to be careful about jumping into ground meats.

  2. says

    I’m trying to eat meat after 15 years of vegetarianism. I’m ok with bacon if it is cooked slow and low, 325 for about an hour. I’m having a hard time with the flavor of chicken so we’re working to conceal it, and will take the pounding advice. I’ve been able to stomach a few bites slow cooked short ribs, cooked overnight and my husband takes it off the bone before I even see it. I started with broths, again homemade. Thanks for the other ideas!

  3. says

    A nice ‘dummies for those who want to eat meat’, I gave up eating meat when I saw chicken slaughtered at my home for a house party, when I was around 10 years old. After that I could never bring myself to eat meat or even fish, infact I gave up eggs, couple of years after that.

    But is it true that we get best proteins from red meat?

  4. says

    @Kara: Of course, you’re right. Most vegetarians or non-meat eaters I’ve worked with have an easier time with meat that doesn’t look like meat, but as always, your mileage may vary. The important point is to try different cuts, preparation methods, and cooking methods until you find something that is appealing to you. Thanks for the comment!

    @Debra: You’re a great example of finding cuts, preparation and cooking methods that work well for you. Thanks for sharing, best of luck to you!

    @Vinnie: We get our best proteins and nutrients from animal protein sources, whether they be from red meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood. There are vital nutrients in red meat (like heme iron) that isn’t found in other meat forms, so including some red meat in your varied diet, if you are able, is ideal.


  5. says

    As a former vegetarian, this post was great! When I decided to reintroduce meat last year, it took a good 2 months of thinking about it before I tried it. I just didn’t know how to cook it, and it sounds strange – but it was weird telling my family & friends that I was eating meat again, even though they all eat it too. After trying chicken, I was up for anything, though. I even cooked venison today – something that would have been unthinkable a year ago!

  6. says

    ..and don’t eat bacon as it’s processed to hell. But I agree meat is necessary. I don’t think people realise the amount of nutrients that is gained from eating red meat.

  7. Rhonda says

    This is truly a valuable starting point for vegetarians looking to transition back to eating meat. I went from 6 year vegetarian to vegan to pescetarian all the way back to omnivore just last year (thanks in large part to your Conscientious Omnivore articles!!!). I really went headfirst into eating meat again. I started with a locally-raised lamb t-bone quickly followed by head cheese and duck rillettes (with no negative consequences). I guess I have my chef husband to thank for that…YMMV, indeed!

  8. says

    Hi there,

    Loved the post; even as a meat eater, you mentioned a few things I didn’t know or practice in my years of being a red meat eater. I think the best advice I ever got when it came to getting the best kind of meat would be to buy meat from animals that were pasture-fed (forget the whole range wording; that’s just a marketing gimmick). This kind of meat is more nutritional (packed full of vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids) ,and has lower incidences of cancer in humans.


  9. Amy Gallina says

    What do you suggest for vegetarians who really DON’T want to reintroduce meat into their diets for ethical reasons but otherwise want to follow a Whole30 diet?

  10. Chris o says

    Oh! thank goodness for this page! I just stumbled on it and will continue looking at the whole site in a minute. I’ve been a non-meat eater for over 20 years, although I have eaten dairy and some fish… Now I need to add meat back into my diet for health reasons. I have ethical issues, and taste and texture issues… I thought I would start with goose first, since that’s the last meat I remember eating and I remember loving it. So far finding sustainable, ethically raised goose breast that can be shipped out of the holiday season has been a nightmare. I found a few places I’m comfortable ordering from, but they only ship whole goose, so I’ll have to cook it, which freaks me out (although I may have a friend who can help me there)…
    I can not think about eating beef or chicken, something about it makes me sick before I even consider it. What about turkey? Again, the thought of cooking it makes me want to be sick, but perhaps I can find some already cooked smoked breast or something. Any other thoughts on meat that would be gentle on my system AND my brain?