Cooking For A Vegan in A Household of Meat Eaters
Across the U.S., diets at the American dinner table are becoming more diverse, and meal planning might be a little tricky in some households.
Across the U.S., diet awareness is starting at earlier ages. More people are becoming familiar with food choices available to them and how that food impacts health and the environment. As early as the teen years, Americans are seeking out opportunities to eat food outside of meat-based products that fit their expectations and lifestyle.
According to a 2016 Pew Center Research Poll, 12% of people aged 18-29 fit the vegan/vegetarian category. Another 2016 trends report showed a 5% increase in people identifying as vegan since 2014. The growing number of vegans and vegetarians amongst younger generations is driving new choices in the food industry with more vegan options available in the packaged foods category than ever before.
There are many reasons people are opting for the vegan diet. For some, the decision is driven by a concern for animal welfare and food manufacturing. For others, the decision to give up animal products is purely health related. Others still are drawn to vegan food by tantalizing photos of plant based food creations on social media, which generate great appeal and interest among teens.
With the growing interest in plant based diets or diets that exclude animal products or at least, minimize consumption of them, families are finding creative ways to meal plan to accommodate more than one diet at the dinner table.
Vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, legumes, and grains are all a part of the plant based diet. Proper consumption and variety of plant based foods can provide the body what it needs in place of animal products.
If you're a parent with a family of mixed diet preferences, introducing more plants at meal time for your vegan, gluten free or other diet sensitive eater, can prove beneficial to the whole family not just those on specific diets.
The variety of nutrients the body can absorb from plants provides health to the whole family and greater nutrient diversity than a diet based animal products alone. Eating a rich array of foods supports a healthy microbiome or gut, which has been linked to stronger immunity and brain health.
When preparing a meal for a family with mixed diet preferences, consider adding plants that are also rich in protein to ensure your child and adults in your family receive the full complement of amino acids needed for healthy development.
With a full balanced diet of grains, beans, legumes and leafy vegetables, the body can satisfy its protein requirement on plant based foods. Plant based foods that are rich in complete proteins include quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice and beans, hummus and pita, lentils, tempeh (or fermented soy beans), to name a few. Many greens also have protein such as spinach, peas, kale and Brussels sprouts.
A grocery cart full of whole foods consisting of vegetables and beans also lightens the bill at supermarket checkout. A can of beans at your supermarket can run as low as $.99. While vegetables from the fresh produce aisle, like a large bunch of kale which can be consumed across several meals (for a family of five), cost less than many processed foods.
Vegetables on their own can get pretty boring for most people, just as a steak without a sauce or a burger without ketchup can be pretty dull. Stocking up on spices, cooking oils, and sauces for cooking not only your plant based meals but also meat, pork, or fish can make meals more enjoyable and comforting for the whole family.
When prepping a meal for plant based and meat eaters, chop your vegetables and dress them with seasoning first, and set them aside before starting on the animal products. Always prepare your meats in separate dishes. For the meat eaters, add a portion of the seasoned veggies in to the pan or dish when cooking. For the vegans at the table, prepare the plant based dishes separately.
Many of the seasonings for plant based meals vs those with animal products are the same, especially if you shop cleaner sauces such as those without animal products like anchovies in your BBQ sauce or dairy in your dressings. Packaged foods without animal products are as or more tasty than those that include them.
Cleaner sauces that exclude nutrient deficient ingredients like corn syrup, high amounts of cane sugar, excess salt, artificial flavors, preservatives and fillers or anything you don't recognize as whole food, are less nutritious for both meat and vegan eaters and detract from a full satisfying flavor and healthy fats that are meant to satiate an appetite at meal time.
The more whole, real food for all diets at the dinner table, the easier it is to shop, prep and cook. A simple can of chickpeas mixed with pasta and mushrooms can satisfy both your vegan and non-vegan family members. Put a side of grated cheese on the table for anyone who wants it. A full plate of real food will satisfy most. If you are working with other diet sensitivities such as wheat allergies, opt for the gluten free pasta, or choose to cook brown rice instead.
A healthy, delicious plate of food can be prepared simply for vegans and non-vegans alike using the same basic seasoning. Spicing adds an enormous amount of flavor to food as does olive oil. Choosing products that contribute to flavor without creating a lot of fuss, can elevate meal time without a lot of extra effort. Mixing in a few shakes of a tasty spice (exclude the bacon seasoning if you're cooking for a mixed crowd), a dash of salt and a good olive oil can be all that's needed to take a sweet potato from boring to exciting.
For the prep time, your meat - if it's a fresh steak for example, will cook quickly on the stove top or in the oven with any added vegetables. Your platters of vegetables seasoned to taste can cook in separate pots or baking dishes, placed alongside the meat dishes in the oven or on the stove top to cook everything simultaneously.
Quick Cooking Tips For Tasty Vegetables Every Night
For root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes as well as some cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, chopping or slicing and baking/roasting them in the oven at 400˚ F in a little olive oil gets them done quickly and with a lot of flavor. The spice you add will elevate the taste of vegetables even further. Za'atar, dill salt and some spice blends that include chili pepper, add a lot of additional flavor.
Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, and spinach can all be cooked quickly on the stove top. Note that the smaller you chop your vegetables the faster they will cook. If you want to quickly sauté kale or spinach, heat a pan on medium high heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add a diced clove or two of garlic and onion, and heat until desired tenderness. To include more protein, add a 1/2 cup of drained chickpeas, lentils or beans. Be sure to add enough additional water (just enough to cover and soak the lentils). Add more flavor by stirring in a good tomato sauce, or vegetable broth. Cook on low heat until the lentils are tender (15-20 minutes)
To quickly steam vegetables, add a cup of water to a sauce pan, turn on medium high heat and once simmering, add your vegetables and seasoning and steam until tender (less than 10 minutes).
To boil potatoes of any kind, fill a pot of water, chop your potatoes into cubes and boil for 20 minutes or until tender. Then, mash, add olive oil, salt, pepper and or additional seasoning and enjoy.
A sliced sweet potato seasoned with avocado oil (as I did here) with a spice blend along with cleaned Brussles Sprouts, can roast quickly at 400˚F for 15 minutes and your meat can be done in the same amount of time. If you like your vegetables with a bit of sweetness toss in a tablespoon of maple syrup (instead of refined white sugar) and mix it in.
Cook spinach quickly by adding a bit of water to the bottom of a pan or pot on high heat. Add the washed spinach, and watch as it swiftly reduces. Squeeze lemon over the top, add a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper and that's it.
If you're cooking broccoli, chop it into tiny pieces to get the most nutrition, and flash cook it until it's bright green in a hot pan. Toss in olive oil and a seasoning to bring up the flavor.
For family members that are new to vegan food, it's food that is not a product of byproduct of animals -- dairy, eggs, meat, pork, fish, shellfish, cheese and butter are all foods that people who follow a diet consisting of plants do not eat.
The Western diet is considered a diet where meat is a significant portion of daily consumption. A family member that has chosen to eat vegan will find it challenging to eat at some restaurants, at school, at social events, and even at the home's of friends. Many people are unfamiliar with what the vegan diet entails and may have negative feelings towards the diet or lifestyle (where an individual also chooses not to wear any clothing or use products made from (or tested on) animals.
It can be ostracizing for a child to choose to follow a diet that excludes animal products or that requires adjustments for food sensitivities, such as allergies. As with anything that is unfamiliar to most people, choosing to eat food that is not considered conventional can draw unwanted attention and even bullying.
Creating an environment that is comfortable and accepting starts at home where healthy food options, (not solely highly processed faux meat and cheese) including whole foods derived from plants are available for snacks and meals.
Amongst siblings or parents that are non-vegan, establishing tolerance for diversity in food consumption by catering to specific dietary needs, can also help create an environment that builds acceptance and awareness for differences.
Mixing more healthy plant based sweets, meals and snacks into the family diet might be challenging, but with practice and a few easy to make meals, can be healthy for all.
This meal includes sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts mixed with avocado oil, lemon and no salt spice blend, then roasted in the oven for 15 minutes at 400˚F. The spinach was flash cooked on the stove top in a 1/4 cup of water, Mediterranea Seawater, pepper and olive oil. The spinach reduced quickly and was ready to serve with a squeeze of lemon.
The locally raised, grass fed beef was spiced with a blend and roasted sesame oil, it was a great treat for the meat eaters at the table. I added a portion of the veggies to the pan when cooking the meat and cooked all of the vegetables in separate cooking pans.
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