With our history of colon cancer, I decided to switch our family to a “mostly meatless” diet (or vegetarian diet) about 8 months ago. It can be a challenge to cook a mostly plant based diet (or vegetarian diet) when you’ve got picky eaters and when you’re short on time. But, I’ve come up with 5 HELPFUL TIPS that will make you feel confident about cooking vegetarian meals for your family–even on a weeknight!
Cooking vegetarian for a family isn’t rocket science, but these TIPS & TRICKS can help make you feel like a genius in the kitchen!
Cooking Vegetarian for a Family
Let me be clear: we have NOT stopped eating meat. I just try to keep it to once a week—this is usually when we eat out. But, that leaves a LOT of room for veggies the rest of the week.
It can create a bit of a challenge—especially with littles. And, the easy “salad” just isn’t a typical menu item. No kid (or mama) is gonna be happy with that protocol on a daily basis.
So, how do you EASE your kids (and you) over to a mostly meatless diet without feeling deprived or like you’re spending way to much time in the kitchen?
TIP #1: Dried Beans are your New BESTIE
You and beans are gonna be like peas and carrots.
Black beans. Cannelini beans. Garbanzo beans. Lentils. You name it, you’ve got them on your list. So, what that also means is you’re gonna want to put that crock pot of yours to use—unless you like watching beans cook for like two hours.
Added bonus: Crock pot beans are cheap, delicious, and easy. No brainer.
Want to make those beans have that delicious pork flavor without the ham hock or pork fat? My secret weapon to make all beans to die for is…Goya’s Jamon, which is just a ham flavor concentrate seasoning. Throw in a pack of that with the beans and water—BAM. Done.
One bag of beans will give you an abundance of fresh beans that you can divide and freeze for use over a couple of weeks. You’ll use these beans in SO many things, but here’s just a sampling of some of my favorites: Chili, Toquitos, Brownies, Chowder, Sloppy Joes–the list is serrrriously endless.
TIP #2: Embrace the FAKE
You’ll be able to make a more seamless transition to the veggie world if you’ve got a little help from your friends at Morning Star Farms.
Veggie burgers (“Grillers” are my fav) are super easy and delish. Adding meatless “crumbles” to spaghetti sauce or as a substitute for taco meat are essentials for busy weeknights. And, fake “chicken nuggets” make for a protein packed meal when the babysitter comes for the night.
Added bonus: these are perfect for those busy weeknight dinners that need to be done like 20 minutes before you even start.
Trust me: slap a little cheese on those patties, and nobody will know the difference! Look at you–cooking vegetarian like a pro:)
TIP #3: Power Greens Pack a Punch
My kids have been eating power green side salads with their dinners since they practically came out of the womb. They didn’t even know iceburg was an option until recently. Suckers.
Yet, alas, salads just don’t tempt the 7 year old taste buds on a daily basis. But, when you buy the monster bag of power greens from Costco, you just can’t let them go to waste, amiright?
So, I have discovered they work brilliantly in two other key recipes I adore! Popeye Muffins & Power Greens Pesto. My kids love the muffins because they are bright green, and they love the pesto because, well, it’s green, too!
(Sidebar: Kids are sometimes a lot easier to please than we think. Fun colors can be a HIT instead of a miss.)
TIP #4: Sweet Potato All Day
I have never once had the thought, “Oh, man I could just KILL a whole sweet potato right now!” That’s not what the sweet potato is all about.
Sweet potatoes are sort of the dark horse ingredient in the kitchen. In cooking loads of different types of vegetarian foods like casseroles, stews, and soups one ingredient can make all the difference. And, I have found that more often than not—the sweet potato is my clutch choice.
The sweet potato gives a heartiness to vegetarian dishes. It also adds a natural sweetness to acidic dishes. It has the ability to make you feel full and satisfied every time.
That’s what the sweet potato is all about. They add a little something extra to some of our family favs like vegetarian chili, sloppy joe casserole, and black bean and sweet potato burritos.
TIP #5: Nuts are the New Black
Nuts are just essential to the daily life of a vegetarian. Or, at least at my house they are. I have become reliant upon them for breakfast, lunch and dinner protein.
Breakfast: almonds or pecans in the granola. Lunch: any kind of nut or seed butter under the sun is a staple for us. Dinner: Cashew is King (thanks to this ah-mah-zing cashew alfredo recipe by Minimalist Baker).
I mean, snack time is infused with nuts and nut butter (energy balls are a favorite around here). Smoothies with nut butter are a no brainer, and granola / nut bars are also ALWAYS a hit.
Plus, you can always add nuts to banana bread, pumpkin, or sweet potato bread for an added protein boost, which can be served for breakfast or snack time.
Tip Toe into Mostly Meatless
It’s not easy starting off down this vegetarian or “mostly meatless” path. It’s not. I’ll be the first to admit it—especially when you’ve got picky eaters.
Stick to the hearty comfort foods that good home cooked beans can be used in. Or, try swapping out just the burger patty for a meatless one—keep everything else on the plate unchanged. And, instead of meat sandwiches for lunch time, try a nut butter one.
There are lots of little changes you can make using these 5 tips above to make the transition smoother for everyone in the family.
Keep these tips in mind when you’re wondering what to make for dinner or what to buy at the store! (Also, if you’re a Costco fan—check out my post on the Ultimate Costco Shopping list for Vegetarian Parents!).
And, remember – you’re not going for perfection here! Meatless Mondays are a great way to acclimate you (and your family) into cooking vegetarian. Check out my Family Favorite Meals Made Meatless for some inspiration.
Remember: Baby steps girl!