Purpose – Meat substitutes can be environmentally more sustainable alternatives to meat. However, the image of these products in The Netherlands is still low. The purpose of this paper is to explore consumers' experiences and sensory expectations of meat substitutes and the appropriateness of the use of meat substitutes in meals. Design/methodology/approach – In total, 46 consumers took part in seven focus group discussions. These discussions consisted of three steps, starting with a general discussion on meat substitutes, followed by a discussion on the appropriateness of the use of meat substitutes as ingredients (minced, in pieces or slices) by using photographs of six different dishes (soup, pasta, rice, wrap, meal salad, and pizza). The discussions were concluded with a taste session of two dishes with meat substitutes. Findings – Consumers in this study regarded health aspects and easy preparation as positive aspects of meat substitutes. Lack of information on the package, and high price were reported as negative. Sensory aspects such as neutral taste or tastiness, crispiness, chicken-like texture, or granular texture were seen as positive attributes. Negative sensory aspects that were mentioned were uniform taste, compactness, dryness and softness. Most consumers found the use of meat substitutes appropriate in the dishes we presented. Originality/value – The paper's findings can, together with quantitative consumer and sensory research, be a start towards consumer-oriented product development of environmentally more sustainable meat substitutes. The central role of meal context and appropriateness is an aspect that has not yet received much attention in food science.