Make Meatless Meals Appealing for the Whole Family
Do any of these sound familiar?
- “I’m not giving up meat.”
- “I hate vegetables.”
- “I’ve always eaten this way and I’m fine.”
- “Why are we eating this rabbit food?”
They’re all common objections when one person in a household goes plant-based and the others aren’t quite there yet. Feeding a family that’s reluctant to embrace a meatless lifestyle can be a challenge, especially if you’re just starting out on the plant-based journey yourself.
If you’re worried a plant-based family meal plan is going to be met with groans, rolled eyes or outright rebellion, don’t be! Use these “secret weapons” to conquer objections and serve up amazing meatless meals to please the picky eaters in your household.
Umami: The Secret to “Meaty” Flavors
When your family complains about missing meat, they’re probably missing a flavor rather than a food. It’s called “umami,” and it’s sometimes considered the fifth taste along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Derived from Japanese for “deliciousness,” umami describes the taste of foods with a lot of the amino acid glutamine. Meat and aged cheeses are often equated with umami, but there are plant sources of glutamine that can infuse dishes with the same flavor and satisfy the taste buds of the staunchest “meat and potatoes” members of your family.
Here are some simple ways to introduce more umami to your plant-based meals:
- Use dried mushrooms to make soup stock
- Add fresh mushrooms to stews and stir fries
- Stir miso into soups
- Top salads and sandwiches with sauerkraut
- Wrap up some veggie sushi in toasted nori
- Top pasta with a robust tomato sauce
Making It Meaty
Sometimes the best way to introduce meatless meals to meat eaters is to simply swap the meat in recipes you already enjoy for a plant-based option. Lentils, tempeh, portobello mushrooms and seitan all have the “meaty” texture the picky eaters in your family crave. They’re also hearty enough to appeal to even the most skeptical meat lover.
Start with these plant-based meal ideas to ease your family into your new lifestyle:
- Lentil walnut tacos
- Burrito bowls with beans, brown rice, greens, salsa and avocado
- Homemade veggie burgers
- Homemade seitan sausage
- Chili with beans or seitan
- BLTs with tempeh bacon or eggplant bacon
- Veggie lasagna with lentil bolognese
As your family becomes more accustomed to eating meatless, you can start serving dishes with more unique flavors, like curry, stuffed squash or lentil loaf.
Comfort Food for Kids (and Kids at Heart)
Getting picky eaters to try new food takes patience whether or not you’re plant-based! Kids like what’s familiar, and if they’re not used to eating a lot of vegetables, it’s going to take some time for them to warm up to the idea of meatless meals. You may have to serve a new food 10 to 15 times before your kids will agree to eat it.
That sounds like a lot, but if you start by recreating their favorite dishes using whole plant ingredients, you should have an easier time. Try these makeovers of kid-friendly foods:
- Mac and “cheese” with a sauce made from nuts, seeds and/or veggies
- Tomato soup with grilled “cheese”
- Tempeh helper
- Carrot dogs with all the fixings
- Popcorn cauliflower
- Homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds, raisins and dairy-free chocolate chips
And don’t forget the perennial family favorite, pizza! This option is especially fun because kids can get in on the action by helping you make dough and add toppings. If there are some veggies they already like, encourage them to try one new topping each time you make a pizza together.
Tips For a Smoother Transition
When you start a healthy lifestyle, it’s natural to want to share it with everyone, especially your family. After all, you care about them and want them to get all the benefits you’re getting. But be prepared to accept the fact that they may not be ready to jump in all at once. More than likely, you’ll have to take things one meal at a time, using simple swaps to bring new foods to their plates.
It’s okay to be “sneaky” at first, especially with kids. Feel free to blend veggies into pasta sauce, use beans in brownies or call broccoli “little trees” as you stir it into their mac and cheese. Avoid labeling foods as “bad” or “good;” instead, set a positive example by treating yourself well and practicing healthy habits. The improvements your family sees in your well-being provide an incentive for them to make their own beneficial health choices. And if your kids watch you enjoying plant-based foods, they might be more inclined to ask for a taste.
Involve everyone in shopping and cooking when you make meatless dishes. This puts plant-based eating in the positive context of family togetherness and gives kids a chance to choose which new ingredients they want to try. It also helps make whole plant foods more fun and banishes the idea that they’re somehow going to be “deprived” if meat disappears from the menu.
In the end, it isn’t about whether your family dives into a plant-based lifestyle headfirst or not. Meals should be a time for spending quality time together, and serving healthy meatless meals with flavors everyone enjoys is just one way to show you care. Remember to be patient — it can take a while for everyone to get used to plant-based eating, and some of your family members may never get there. Keep your health goals in mind, and respect where everyone is in their own journey toward eating and living better.
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