Whether it's for ethical or environmental reasons or just simply because plant-powered meals help you feel your best, you are fully aboard the plant-based meal train and you're not getting off anytime soon. The only problem? Your partner (and kids) are picky meat-eaters and nowhere near the station.
I hear about this challenge from readers and clients (usually women) all the time and it was also one of the biggest healthy eating challenges listed in my recent reader survey. You want to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, but you feel like you're getting zero support from family members. Because you are generally responsible for cooking most meals, you often find yourself preparing 2 (or even 3 or 4!) separate meals to fit each person's tastes and dietary preferences.
I have to give a shoutout to my hubby Dan at this point. As the only other human in our household, he bears the main burden of taste-testing all of my recipes and crazy food concoctions, plenty of which are not nearly tasty enough to be published on the blog.
Thankfully, the man will try just about anything put in front of him and even though he ate very differently when we first met (hello daily frozen pizza rolls and fried chicken tenders) these days, he even seeks out plant-strong meals while traveling and often eats veggie-packed meals at restaurants without me. (Fellow dietitians, I know what you're thinking - but he's taken.) 😉
I don't mean to be braggadocious but instead hope to encourage you back at home to keep cooking with more plants, even if it feels challenging for you and your family at the moment. Our tastes and thoughts surrounding food are constantly changing and we may need to try new foods a few times (or more) before they really stick.
So don't give up! With a few simple tips and tricks, you can make plant-based meals that even the biggest meat-eaters and picky palates will love.
3 TRICKS FOR COOKING PLANT-BASED MEALS FOR PICKY MEAT-EATERS
1. Find new ways to add meaty flavors
Part of understanding how to make a delicious plant-based meal is knowing which flavors and textures might be lacking without meat. One such flavor is umami, the savory/brothy or "meaty" 5th taste, which you can mimic with plant-based foods like soy sauce, mushrooms, tempeh, miso, kimchi, and toasted nuts and seeds. If you're preparing a dish that might typically include a smoked meat like bacon, try including a dash of smoked paprika or liquid smoke to mimic the flavor. Many plant-based foods can also be prepared on the barbecue to add smokiness. If it's more the dense, chewy texture your family is missing in plant-based meals, try cooking with more tempeh or seitan, which tend to be a little firmer in texture than other plant proteins. Find more plant-based flavor boosting tips here.
2. Meal prep and batch cook ahead of time
Even if you're not cooking for a crowd, getting some meal prep out of the way ahead of time can be a huge time- and energy-saver but its especially helpful if you're cooking for a variety of taste preferences or dietary restrictions.
Remember, nutritious plant-based meals don't need to be 100% vegetarian or vegan, so especially if your family is putting up some resistance, it can be really helpful to cook some animal proteins (try grilled chicken breasts or burger patties) in advance so they can be easily added on top of whichever plant-powered dish is already on the menu.
You can prepare other parts of the dish in advance too, like pre-cooking whole grains or pre-chopping veggies, to help streamline mealtimes. Get creative with how you can swap or add similar foods to something you're already cooking. For example, if you're already roasting brussels sprouts for dinner but your husband can't stand them, could you fill a second roasting pan with carrots or another veggie he enjoys more? When cooking vegetables, you can often use the same exact seasonings and cooking techniques, so you can save lots of time by batch cooking them together. Make enough for leftovers to save even more time in the long run!
3. Utilize customizable formula meals
You guys, formula meals come to my rescue all the time, especially when I'm hosting carnivorous family and friends. A formula meal is basically a meal you can make a million different ways without a recipe. These meals are life-savers for picky palates because they can usually be easily customized in a variety of different ways depending on tastes.
Three of my favorite formula meals are personal naan pizzas, tacos, and buddha bowls. Parts of these meals can be prepared ahead of time and then pieced together when you're ready to eat. You can also assemble everything buffet-style, so everyone can choose his/her own favorite toppings and fillings. (This option is great for parties!)
3 Formulas for Customizable Plant-Based Meals
Tacos = tortillas + protein (beans/tempeh/tofu/fish/meat) + chopped vegetables + optional toppings (salsa/guacamole/sour cream/cheese)
Buddha bowls = whole grain or starch (brown rice/quinoa/sweet potatoes/mashed potatoes) + protein (tofu/chickpeas/beans/fish/chicken) + roasted vegetables + sauce (tahini/vinaigrette/favorite store-bought dressing)
The more you cook, the more formula meals you'll have in your back pocket, so keep at it!
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