02.14.13Martha Golea

10 Foods That Are Way Better Than Meat

Taking On Water Challenge Week 1 Eat Less MeatIf you're going to eat less meat, you'll need this handy list of foods that are better than meat! Join the Taking On Water Challenge at

How often do you think about the water in the burger you’re eating? Sound gross? It may not look soggy, but did you know it takes 1,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef? Embedded water is a really fascinating subject with a lot of surprising statistics.

Beyond landscape and plumbing, a pretty common way of reducing your water footprint is by eating less meat. For the month of February one of my favorite water blogs, Hydrophilia, has a weekly challenge for cutting back your embedded water usage. Did you know by avoiding red meat for two days a week, you can reduce your water footprint by about 953 gallons? By continuing this practice, you can save nearly 50,000 gallons of water in a year. Visit the blog to learn more about the challenge and read some other great posts.

Vegetarians get a pretty bad rap from people who can’t go a day without meat. But honestly, we do not eat rabbit food, people. Sure, we eat more roots and leaves than you do but I prefer to think of them as brontosaurus food. Because herbivorous dinosaurs are awesome.

10 foods that will help you forget about meat

Let’s start small. I don’t want to shock you with super weird hippie foods just yet. Click each title for a recipe. All are family-approved, vegan/vegetarian friendly (some with simple modifications)

Black bean mushroom tortilla casserole

This recipe was my family’s favorite long before we became vegans and every carnivore I’ve ever made it for loves it too. Most people call it Mexican lasagna, but it’s way easier than lasagna.

When you try this, I recommend using green salsa. And if you are cooking for mushroom haters, try replacing them with lentils.

Speaking of easier than lasagna…

Lasagna rolls

I learned this recipe long before I had mastered any cooking skills and it’s pretty foolproof. Plus it’s really fun to make. Yay spinach! You probably won’t miss the meat at all.


Until I married a soup lover, the only kind I would touch was my mom’s bean soup (which would be on this list except she’s never written it down). Now we know all the best soup places in town because we go on weekly soup dates. The Vietnamese make a soup so dense with veggies and noodles you could lose your car keys in it. You won’t miss the meat because you won’t have room for it. Also, it will cure you of just about any common virus. If you’re eating out, pronounce it “fuh” and bring tissues.


Hummus is pretty common with pita chips, but did you know you can also use it in place of mayonnaise on a sandwich or make a hummus sub? It’s also great on celery and carrots (instead of ranch, seriously) bruschetta and salads. You can make hummus out of an endless combination of ingredients, so if you thought eliminating meat limits your options, think again.

Homemade popcorn

What could be an easier snack than a bag of microwave popcorn? How about a bag of microwave popcorn…that you made yourself! Put some kernels in a paper bag and microwave for 2 minutes then add your favorite seasonings. What else could be better? This truffle parmesan popcorn from Food, I Love You. Bonus points if you recognize the culinista behind this blog.

Walnut chocolate chip cookies

Am I encouraging you to replace meat with chocolate chip cookies? Perhaps. Okay, no. But the list is just “foods that are better than meat”, not “suitable meat alternatives”. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I chopped some salted mixed nuts to put in these instead of the walnuts and they were instantly the best cookie I’ve ever eaten. This recipe is vegan, too, so your new favorite cookie most likely has a lower water footprint than your old favorite cookie. I’m always looking out for you.

Now on to the crazy foods


I first met quinoa as an ingredient in my shampoo so I was really skeptical about eating it. Turns out, quinoa is like cookie dough to me. I want to eat it right out of the pan. This heavenly grain cooks like rice and absorbs the flavor of whatever liquid you cook it in, sweet or savory. I’ve used seasoned quinoa instead of meat in tacos, quinoa with chocolate chips and berries for breakfast, quinoa in salads, quinoa by the spoonful… It’s really cute, so your kids will probably like it. I think food tastes better when I know how to pronounce it. If you agree, try “KEEN-wah” or “keen oh ah”.

Kale chips

Kale chips may seem like an unusual meat substitute, but do you ever have those nights when no one’s around and your DVR is beckoning so you end up eating a whole bag of potato chips or a box of mac & cheese on the couch? Kale chips are for those nights. These took me a lot of experimenting to perfect, but this recipe is fantastic. If my husband doesn’t hear me take them out of the oven, he probably won’t get any before I eat both trays on my own.

Brussels sprouts

That’s right, I said it. Brussels sprouts are better than meat. Cooked the right way, they are like candy that’s super good for you. This recipe from my friend Meg is phenomenal and a great introduction to Brussels sprouts if you’ve never tried them before, but they’re also amazing roasted in the oven with some balsamic vinegar. You may be amazed how much you love them.

Almond Dream “ice cream” bites

If you’ve even heard of Almond Dream, you probably thought it sounds awful and who would ever eat that? Let me tell you, it is the opposite of awful. Unlike ice cream, they’re surprisingly good for you. Having a hard time bribing your lactose-intolerant child to behave since you can’t leverage ice cream? Now you have Almond Dream. (A little more uninvited parenting advice…)

Are you hungry yet? Ready to jump on the brontosaurus bandwagon with me?

What are your favorite meatless foods? Feel free to share recipes in the comments or on our Facebook page, Water Bloggers. And of course, join the Taking On Water Challenge!


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Martha Golea

A seasoned communicator and passionate water conservationist, Martha Golea tracks projects in progress and reports on usage of new and exploratory irrigation technology and water management strategies. Martha also regularly contributes content on water management and conservation to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.


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  1. Thursday, 12:45 Alan Harris

    I’ve been noticing you have been pinning a lot of vegan recipes and I think I now know why. As I say in our house, “Tastes better with chicken”…except for the Almond Dream which I wouldn’t eat anyway since they are chocolate. By the way…nice post.

    • Thursday, 1:31 Martha Golea

      Thanks, Alan! Too bad you could never bribe Taylor with Almond Dream. How does parenting even work in your house if you can’t use chocolate???In my experience switching to a vegan diet makes everything taste better *without* chicken. It just seems weird not having it on your plate, for a while. >

  2. Thursday, 2:50 LiteracyandTech

    I believe that I’ll start to score these posts on a scale of number of times that I lol.
    This information is clearly a palatable way to explore two sensitive subjects: water conservation and vegetarianism.
    MomH2O can’t write down the bean soup recipe b/c it’s never the same twice. Poor Papa has often asked me to write down a recipe for what I’ve made that he survived, but I’m sure I haven’t due to the amount of water it would take to produce the paper on which I would write the recipe.
    If anyone is wondering about this bean soup…just holler and I’ll invite you over for dinner.

    • Friday, 1:04 Martha Golea

      MomH2O you’re always thinking, aren’t you? Save paper by not writing down your recipes? hahahaha Nice excuse!

  3. Tuesday, 8:17 Larry Manning

    How did you come up with the figure of 1500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef?

  4. Tuesday, 9:58 Alan Harris

    @Larry – this site has a table and several links to publications to explain the calculations – There will be some variability depending on the source and type of feed. You can also find more written about it here

  5. Thursday, 7:27 5 Clean Eating Badge Options | Venture Badges

    […] eat meat. How hard can that be? I wrote this silly-but-brilliant blog post for my “real job”, 10 Foods That Are Way Better Than Meat, with lots of great meatless recipes to help you grab that […]

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