Oct 2013 update: please note that I am no longer exclusively plant-based, but these tips still work wonders. I hope you find this helpful!
I have received a few emails from readers asking for my best tips on making vegetarian and plant-based (or vegan) meals for meat-eaters. After posing the question to our Facebook community, it definitely sounds like this is an area many of you are interested in learning more about. So, here goes!
How meatless meals work in my house:
For many years I was dating someone who ate meat while I was entirely plant-based. Since I did all of the cooking, this presented a bit of a challenge. Over time I found a variety of meals that we both loved and enjoyed on a regular basis. (Note: Mexican food usually translates well without the meat!)
When I was first learning how to cook, meals weren’t as complex or creative as what you see here on the blog today. I used faux meats several times a week because I was still learning how to create hearty dishes without them. Over time, I transitioned away from processed meat-alternatives and began to rely on legumes to add bulk to our meals.
One thing that I still occasionally use is Field Roast, a local faux meat product made from wheat gluten here in Seattle. I love their company and trust their ingredients so I don’t mind including it in recipes. I also appreciate how it adds a certain texture to meals that I couldn’t achieve otherwise.
What about the veggies?
The funny thing is that the issue in my house wasn’t the lack of meat in meals; it was the addition of vegetables! If you live with someone who’s a picky eater, I can definitely relate!
When I began transitioning to a plant-based diet, it was my first time experimenting with vegetables like kale, beets, parsnips, radicchio, collard greens, fennel, bok choy, mushrooms, parsnips, and a variety of others. As I began to incorporate “new” vegetables into my diet, this was a huge challenge with the person I was dating. Meal planning for us became even more challenging as I pushed my diet further into living seasonally and sourcing locally.
I have learned to treat meals in my house the way that I do when I am working with children: my partner is expected to try a bite of each dish, but isn’t pressured to love it or eat the entire thing. I think this is really important because as adults we can be especially closed-minded about trying new things and sometimes our tastebuds surprise us!
When cooking plant-based/vegetarian/vegan meals for someone who doesn’t usually eat that way, as silly as this may sound, I think it’s really important to make good food! Meat-eaters sometimes think that plant-based dishes are bland, boring, and unsatisfying. However, I think it’s important to realize that any dish – plant-based or animal-based – can be bland, boring, and unsatisfying if made incorrectly or not seasoned well.
I always make it a point to make our food delicious and flavorful, as well as use garnishes. People eat first with their eyes so focus on serving meals using attractive plates, plating the food nicely, and adding a variety of colors to dishes. If you are the one doing the cooking, pretend like you are making food at an upscale, hip, vegetarian/vegan restaurant. This may seem like a small detail, but I promise it makes a big difference!
If you are a vegetarian/vegan eater cooking for meat-loving folks, it’s also helpful to cook foods that are already known for being vegetarian/vegan so they don’t feel like the “meat is missing.” I found that Thai and Indian dishes like Simple Lentil Dal, Chana Masala, Coconut Lentil Curry, or Tom Kha Soup, tend to go over well.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic please leave me a comment telling me about what meals are like in your household. If you are vegetarian/vegan, I’d love to hear what your best tips are for cooking for the meat-eaters in your family. And if you are a meat-eater, what tips do you have for enjoying vegetarian/vegan/plant-based cuisine?
And now onto the tacos… This recipe is a great way to satisfy folks of different eating preferences at the same meal. I also think this recipe is helpful for anyone trying to transition away from faux meats or who doesn’t like beans. When I was first becoming vegetarian, I honestly didn’t like the taste or texture of beans so creating dishes mixed with another veggie protein source (like Field Roast or tempeh) was especially helpful for me. If you are gluten-free or prefer not to use the Field Roast, this recipe is fabulous with just the beans. Be sure to serve the tacos with a variety of toppings like grilled onions, tomatoes, or avocado slices.