Flexitarian Diet: Alternating Meat and Vegetarian Days

Medically reviewed by Aviv Joshua, MS

A flexitarian is a person who follows a semi-vegetarian diet. Flexitarians make a conscious effort to eat less meat. There are no hard-set rules about specific ways to be a flexitarian. For example, flexitarians might eat meat six days a week and have a "meatless Monday," while heavy meat restrictors might have meat just once a week. As its name implies, flexitarianism is flexible.

Read on to learn how a flexitarian diet works, the benefits of a meat and vegetable diet that's plant-based, meal prep ideas that include lots of high-protein foods for meatless vegetarian days, and more.

<p>Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images</p>

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

How a Flexitarian Diet Works

A flexitarian diet is flexible. There aren't any hard-and-fast rules about how much meat flexitarians can or cannot eat in a typical week. Unlike strict diets with rigid guidelines, such as a ketogenic eating plan (keto diet), dairy-free diet, gluten-free diet, or vegan diet, a flexitarian diet doesn't forbid any animal-derived foods or macronutrients.

You can eat eggs, dairy, chicken, or anything else you like to eat on a flexitarian diet as long as reducing meat intake to some degree is part of your weekly meal plan.

About half of all flexitarians eat meat four or more days per week, according to a 2021 study. Among self-described flexitarians, there are three levels of meat restriction, with a different percentage of flexitarians in each category:

  • Light meat restrictors

  • Moderate meat restrictors

  • Heavy meat restrictors

Light meat restrictors might eat meat daily except for certain days, such as a meatless Monday. In contrast, flexitarians who are heavy meat restrictors tend to eat like vegetarians most of the time and might only have meat once or twice weekly.

Avoiding Protein and Amino Acid Deficiencies

Protein and amino acid deficiencies are possible among flexitarians who eat very little meat, especially in older adults. Using a protein powder nutrition supplement with essential amino acids on vegetarian days is an easy and practical way for flexitarians to offset deficiency risks.

What to Eat

Because a flexitarian diet plan is so flexible, you don't have to follow a one-size-fits-all seven-day meal plan. You can personalize your plate to avoid nutrition gaps and make individualized choices about how many days you want to eat meat.

What Is Considered Meat?

Meat is any form of animal tissue consumed as food. On meat-eating days, a flexitarian could eat poultry (chicken, turkey, duck), red meat (beef, pork, lamb), or seafood (fish or shellfish). "Pescatarian" is the term for a person who eats seafood but doesn't eat other forms of animal flesh.

On meatless vegetarian days, it's important to eat plant-based foods high in protein and other vital nutrients found in meat to avoid micronutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency anemia.

Whenever you're eating like a vegan or vegetarian, make sure your personalized meal plans include plant-based foods high in calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc.

Below are some iron-rich foods that are high in protein and other key nutrients that can be used as building blocks for your personalized plates on vegetarian days:

  • Beans and legumes

  • Dairy and eggs

  • Leafy green vegetables (not high in protein, but packed with iron)

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Whole grains

A 7-Day Meal Plan

The following is a sample seven-day meal plan for someone considering the flexitarian diet. This will not apply to everyone, and individual needs may require different diets. This was designed with protein in mind, so even on meatless days you can get enough protein to feel full.

Meatless Monday (vegetarian day)

  • Breakfast: Egg white omelette

  • Lunch: Pizza with mushroom and onion

  • Snack: Vegan protein powder shake

  • Dinner: Kale salad with fried tofu

Meat-eating day Tuesday (seafood)

  • Breakfast: Protein waffles with strawberries and whipped cream

  • Lunch: Tuna salad

  • Snack: Baby carrots with almond butter

  • Dinner: Grilled salmon with asparagus and potatoes

Meatless Wednesday (vegan day)

  • Breakfast: Vegan oatmeal with coconut

  • Lunch: Vegan chickpea salad

  • Snack: Vegan protein powder shake

  • Dinner: Vegan black bean chili with quinoa

Meat-eating day Thursday (poultry)

  • Breakfast: Fried eggs with turkey sausage

  • Lunch: Grilled chicken breast sandwich

  • Snack: Celery sticks with peanut butter

  • Dinner: Pasta with broccoli, olive oil, and garlic

Meatless Friday (vegetarian day)

  • Breakfast: Plain yogurt with berries and walnuts

  • Lunch: Grilled tempeh sandwich with tomato and cheddar cheese

  • Snack: Vegan protein powder shake

  • Dinner: Tofu stir-fry

Meat-eating day Saturday (red meat)

  • Breakfast: Eggs Benedict

  • Lunch: Beef taco salad

  • Snack: Fruit yogurt

  • Dinner: Lamb chops with applesauce and brussels sprouts

Meatless Sunday (vegetarian day)

  • Breakfast: French toast with strawberries and banana

  • Lunch: Grilled cheese and tomato soup

  • Snack: Vegan protein powder shake

  • Dinner: Veggie burger


People who become vegetarian or flexitarian for ethical reasons tend to have stronger convictions about meatless eating habits than those motivated solely by health concerns. People with ethical concerns also tend to stick with the eating plan for longer.


Among flexitarians and semi-vegetarians, people can modify how much meat they eat from week to week. Those who only reduce meat intake once or twice a week are considered light flexitarians.

Flexitarians are also categorized as low, medium, and high meat-eaters. Flexitarians who were once heavy meat-eaters can modify their diet to become low or medium meat-eaters by going meatless more days a week than not.

Benefits of Flexitarian Eating

Flexitarian eating often includes lots of healthy, plant-based foods and fewer processed meats than the average omnivore diet. Being a flexitarian aligns with the principles of healthy eating. Flexitarianism puts the focus on eating more vegetables and fruits while reducing meat intake. Eating less meat, which is often high in saturated fat, has numerous health benefits.

For example, a 2015 study found that eating a semi-vegetarian diet was associated with a 20% reduction in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (a group of disorders affecting the heart and blood vessels) when compared to those who didn't adopt pro-vegetarian dietary habits that involved eating fewer animal-derived foods.

Beyond the individual health benefits of flexitarian eating, cutting back on meat consumption is good for the planet and benefits our collective global community. Flexitarians and other "meat reducers" who cut back on weekly meat consumption help to slow environmental degradation.

Considerations and Dietary Restrictions

Flexitarianism is rooted in dietary flexibility. Aside from making an effort to lower meat consumption at least once a week, flexitarian eating involves very little dogma or inflexible dietary restrictions. The only real consideration when deciding to eat like a flexitarian is whether you want to be a light, moderate, or heavy meat restrictor.

Flexitarian vs. Vegetarian vs. Vegan Diets

While vegetarians never eat meat and vegans never eat any foods derived from animal sources, flexitarians can choose to eat like a vegetarian or vegan some days of the week but not others.


Flexitarians are flexible vegetarians. Unlike strict vegetarians, flexitarians eat meat sometimes. There aren't any rigid guidelines about how often a flexitarian can eat meat. Some light flexitarians may eat meat every day of the week except one, while heavy flexitarians might have red meat, poultry, or seafood just once or twice a week.

A middle-of-the-road flexitarian might follow a seven-day meal plan that includes chicken, beef, or fish three days a week and go meatless four days a week. Eating protein-rich plant-based foods and using a protein powder supplement on meatless days offsets the risk of experiencing deficiencies when eating less meat.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.