A few months ago, my husband announced he was going vegetarian. As the main meal planner, grocery shopper and cook of the house, I got nervous! Even though we’ve never been huge carnivores (I don’t eat red meat), I’ve based our family meals around classics and favorites I’ve cooked for years, which includes lots of chicken, fish and occasional red meat—for him. Although we already eat a lot of plant-based, meatless dinners, I was initially overwhelmed at the thought of coming up with a protein alternative every night. And, ironically, I used to be full vegetarian many years ago (I went back to chicken and fish and was not ready to give them up).
How much more complicated would it be to menu plan for separate dietary needs? What if I wanted to plan for chicken parmesan one night and couldn’t think of what else my husband could eat?
As it turns out, I’ve come to find that meal planning and cooking with a vegetarian in the house while there are still some meat-eaters is not hard! As a lover of food and all things culinary, I’m more inspired than ever to discover different dishes, flavors and ingredients. It’s no more expensive, and it’s encouraged all of us to eat even more plant-based meals. There is a more thought involved when I’m initially meal planning and preparing my shopping list, but this pays off in the long run and provides the blueprint for our eating and food habits to be successful for the week. So whether you’re trying to accommodate vegetarian eaters in the household, or simply looking for ways to transition your family to a more plant-based diet, here are my tips to alleviate any thoughts of feeling overwhelmed by the task:
Approach It with the Right Attitude
Be supportive of those in the house that are going meatless and don’t harbor resentment about how it might make things more tricky for you. Be inspired and focus on taking on the challenge with excitement and energy.
Take It Slow
My first instinct was to research and buy every fancy “fake meat” product in the store and figure out the tastiest ways to use it right away. Don’t worry about that—start small. Experiment with one or two veggie or meat substitute products and master a few recipes and techniques before moving on. Pace your grand ideas and remember: not everything has to be gourmet cuisine.
Meet in the Middle with Meat and Veggie-Friendly Meals
Keep in mind that many dishes can accommodate both a meat component as well as meatless proteins. For instance, you can do Taco Tuesday but be sure to have beans for your vegetarian. I love doing tons of “make your own” type meals such as burritos, grain bowls and wraps where you can provide a bunch of different ingredients and components from which everyone can build their own plates.
Embrace Global Cuisines
There’s a whole world out there filled with herbivores who have mastered delicious food! Take time to research and explore different cuisines and you’ll find a wealth of ideas for vegetarian meals. For instance, you can make a Mexican bean and rice casserole one night, a tasty Indian vegetable curry the next, and a Chinese tofu stir-fry the next. So many international cuisines rely heavily on spices, herbs and other flavor enhancers that make anything absolutely delectable!
Separate Proteins to Add Later
You can still make the base of your favorite casserole or one-pot meal and simply add the different proteins later on to accommodate for different eaters. For instance, I made a chicken and white bean chili, but I cooked the chicken separately. After plating my husband’s chili with extra white beans, I combined the chili with my portion of chicken, and it was a win for everyone. Don’t forget you can also go “halfsies” on certain items. For example, if you’re making lasagna, you can add crumbled Italian sausage to just half and keep the rest meatless.
Load Up on Resources
The library is your friend! So are bookstores, food magazines, Pinterest and the huge wide world of online recipes and meal ideas. Commit to spending a bit of time leafing through some vegetarian cookbooks at the library or bookstore and jot down ideas. Google ingredients and play around with what you can discover and incorporate into your own meal planning!
Keep it Simple
Don’t forget that you might already be eating more meatless than you think. Some simple dinner ideas that everyone loves and don’t take much thought at all include grilled cheese and tomato soup, macaroni and cheese, different types of salads, and pasta with a simple sauce. It’s super easy to whip up homemade pizzas that you can customize with both meat and veggie toppings for everyone. Another favorite in my household is bean tostadas–just spread some refried beans on tostadas shells, melt some cheese and load up on other easy toppings like pico de gallo and sour cream. So simple and yummy!
Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead
Repeat after me–meal planning is essential! This goes for whatever types of diet you eat, but it’s especially important when making accommodations for vegetarians. It’s crucial to not only plan dinners in advance, but to also spend a little time thinking about what your vegetarian would have available for lunches, breakfasts and snacks. I wasn’t great at this in the beginning of my husband’s journey, but I’ve learned it’s important to plan ahead for meatless meals he can easily bring to work or on the go. Some great ideas for your busy vegetarian’s lunches include healthy frozen rice, bean, and cheese burritos; protein pack Bento lunches with eggs; fruit and nuts; egg salad; veggie and hummus sandwiches; and quinoa/roasted veggies bowls. And of course, don’t forget about good old peanut butter sandwiches!
Remember that no matter what your family’s dietary needs may be, it’s important to not get yourself stuck in the trap of becoming a short order cook. Your family members—vegetarian or not—have to respect what you’ve chosen to plan for and cook, and it’s imperative to include everyone in the planning to some degree so that gratitude and teamwork can be maintained. Making meals that work for both meat eaters and vegetarians is not only doable, but also a fun challenge that can open up a lot of new possibilities. Good luck!