Adding vegan and vegetarian meals to your meal plan is a great way to cut down on your meat-intake, reduce your grocery budget, and introduce new variety into your meal plan. But feeding you family meatless meals can seem overwhelming! This simple guide will show you how to make it easy-peasy!
Meatless Monday may seem like a great way to cut down in a family budget – but the actual process of incorporating less meat and more plants into your meal plans may seem a bit overwhelming! I am super excited that my friend Lauren from Chronic Plant is here to teach us about how we can start adding more meatless meals into our regular meal rotation -in easy, actionable ways!
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD is a plant-based lifestyle strategist for families and freelance health/nutrition writer in Colorado. She is on a mission to normalize veganism as an option for people of all ages, and is an aspiring author of a book on how to raise awesome plant-powered children. Find Lauren at www.chronicplanet.net or on Instagram @chronicplanet.
How to Make Plants the Star of Everyday Family Meals
Since becoming a parent, making dinner in my house is usually a combination of nearly impossible (because of two small children) and semi-cathartic (because it allows me to do something “adult” and creative to wrap up my day). But as every other parent out there knows, this is hardly a unique experience.
Being that I’m raising a vegan family, however, I get a lot of questions about meal planning and preparation for a diet that excludes animal products. Friends often ask for advice around how to get their kids (or spouse!) to eat more vegetables, but there is overall a misconception that plant-based meals are complicated, time-consuming, and even boring.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be any of those things! In fact, cooking with plants can actually save time, be cheaper, and pack some fantastic nutrition for growing kids. Vegan meals can be so delicious that people will be asking for seconds, sometimes without even realizing they are animal-free.
So where to begin?
My best piece of advice is to start with familiar recipes, and adjust ingredients from there. Whether you want to go totally plant-based, meatless once a week, or just add some vegan meals to your recipe arsenal, here are some ideas for substituting plants for animal products in everyday family meals.
5 Easy Ways to Swap Plants For Meat:
- Instead of a veggie stir fry with chicken, try it with cubed tofu or sliced tempeh. If using tofu, be sure to purchase firm or extra firm so it keeps its shape. Both tofu and tempeh will take on the flavor of the sauces and seasonings in which they are cooked. They can even be marinated beforehand if you have the time, but this isn’t required. Cook the veggies first, then throw in the tofu or tempeh until it starts to brown, and voila!
- Instead of spaghetti with meat sauce, try it with cooked green or brown lentils mixed into the sauce. The cook time is the same and the lentils add a nice texture (and a lot of protein!). If you’re feeling crafty, you can even make meatless balls by combining brown rice, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and seasonings in a food processor, then shaping and frying them.
- Instead of a beef burger, try grilling a portobello mushroom, a thick slab of cooked and seasoned beet, or a veggie burger made with beans and grains. The same great pile of messy toppings can be used, and you don’t have to check these for doneness with a thermometer!
- Instead of making roast beef or meat loaf, try making homemade seitan. This is as simple as making a dough consisting of vital wheat gluten, seasonings, and broth, slicing up and boiling in a cooking liquid. Do a quick search for “seitan meatloaf”.
- Instead of pulled pork sandwiches, try barbeque jackfruit sandwiches. Jackfruit comes pre-flavored, canned in liquid, or as the giant raw tropical fruit if you’re particularly adventurous (but I wouldn’t recommend it for a Tuesday night!). If you get it pre-cut but unflavored, marinate in barbeque sauce for later. Either way, all you have to do is heat it up in a pan and serve on a bun – I suggest with some quick avocado coleslaw and a side of sweet potato fries!
How to Substitute Plants for Dairy:
There are so many awesome plant-based dairy products available now, that it’s almost overwhelming.
Instead of cow’s milk, try plant milks. Though some of them will have a more distinct flavor (like coconut milk), most plant milks can easily be swapped in place of cow’s milk in virtually any recipe. Some of my favorites to use in cooking are almond, cashew, soy, and hemp. Choose the plain, unsweetened varieties for the most subtle tastes.
- Substitute full-fat canned coconut milk in recipes that call for whole milk.
- To make buttermilk, simply mix together 1 cup of plant milk with 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and let sit for 5 minutes.
- Use soy, oat, or cashew milk to help thicken up a creamy tomato soup, cornbread, sauce, or pancake batter.
- Use almond, pea, or hemp milk as a neutral base for smoothies or in breakfast cereals.
How to Substitute Cheese:
Instead of dairy cheese, make your own nut-based cheese sauces. There are also some really great ready-to-eat sliced and shredded vegan cheeses on the market, but making vegan cheese sauces at home takes little time. There are a ton of great recipes online for how to do this.
- For a dipping cheese, blend cashews with tahini, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, plant milk, mustard, turmeric , garlic, onion powder, nutritional yeast, and cornstarch. Heat and stir on the stove until it thickens a bit. This is great dolloped on a pizza, spread on sandwiches, or to dip soft pretzels or tortilla chips.
- For alfredo sauce, blend cashews with water, garlic, lemon juice, onion, nutritional yeast, rosemary, salt and pepper. Mix into pasta!
- For a mozzarella sauce, blend cashews with plain non-dairy yogurt, lemon juice, plant milk, nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Drizzle over a pizza or pasta dish.
While incorporating more plants into your family’s diet can be easy, budget-friendly, and nutritious – it also has the added benefit of being a great conversation starter around the dinner table, especially when kids are included in the meal planning and prep process. So go forth, my friends, give some of these ideas a shot and share your plant-powered successes!
Great Books to Help Feed Your Kids More Meatless Meals:
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- Vegetarian Food for Healthy Kids: Over 100 Quick and Easy Nutrient Packed Recipes by Nicola Graimes – This book
- The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids: Over 60+ Easy Plant-Based Recipes Kids Can Make to Stay Healthy and Save the Earth by Ruby Roth – this book is adorable! Is is loaded with cute illustrations, humors, cool facts, and tons of color!
- The Forest Feast for Kids by Erin Gleeson – this is one of those books that you just want to look at over and over. Filled with gorgeous photographs, simple fare, and full of recipes that are full of fresh, lively flavors.
- The Plentiful Table: Easy, From-the-Earth Recipes for the Whole Family by Andrea Duclos – these awesome weeknight options are amazing! Packed with great tips so that one meal feeds everyone, plus how to handle leftovers, this book is a must have for your cookbook collection!
- But My Family Would Never Eat Vegan by Kristy Turner – This fun book is packed with tons of recipes that are full of flavor, easy to make, and will win over even the pickiest of eater at your table!
Vegetarian Recipes for Families:
- Fried Chickpea and Arugula Pitas – This meal is a summer staple! It is quick, almost no-cook, healthy, and has awesome flavor. Plus it makes a ton, so you have lots of leftovers!
- Roasted Cauliflower Fettuccine – This easy pasta recipe has a light and fresh recipe with roasted cauliflower.
- Rainbow Veggie Sushi – This easy sushi for kids recipe is inspired by Princess Mulan! These vegetarian sushi rainbow rolls are easy to make, fun to eat, and are a great starter sushi recipe for the whole family.