It is easy to make the change towards a predominately plant-based diet if you’re committed to that change, but what if you live and eat with people who are less than sure? Here are seven easy suggestions to help take the rest of your household with you making the switch to a plant-based or at least plant-curious diet.
I eat meat. That is a basic fact about me that I don’t think is ever going to change, but one thing I’ve been actively trying to do for years is to eat much less of it. Eating less meat and more plants is better for our health, our planet, for animal welfare as lower demand lowers reliance on intensive farming techniques. I don’t think it needs to be said that it is also better for your bank balance. Happily, my last cookbook, One Pan Pescatarian, was entirely meat-free, but while I’m the one in charge of meals at home, the only times I get to cook my favorite vegetarian, vegan, and even pescatarian meals is when I’m home alone.
Transitioning to a predominantly plant-based diet is a personal choice and one that can be tricky if you don’t take the rest of your household with you. The kitchens I tend to cook in are my own and my parents and in each, I have a stubborn man who refuses to accept a meal is a meal if it does not contain meat.
I know I’m not the only one who is not even going to get someone to even agree to a 50/50 compromise on meat consumption overnight, so I thought it might be helpful to share some helpful tips on how to take the rest of your household with you when embarking on a predominantly plant-based diet.
Make meat the accompaniment, not the star
While ‘meat and two vegs’ is a very outdated idea of a balanced meal, it is an idea that we can invert when planning dinners that contain meat, but where the meat is not the main event. Yes, you could use a whole packet of ground beef in that pasta bake, but why not use just half, or even a quarter, and up the amount of delicious roasted peppers in there instead? This treatment also works really well for casseroles, chicken salads, anything you can think of really where both meat and veg are present.
Relegating meat to side dish status can actually make for a more exciting meal: I love ribs, and I always keep a stash from locally reared pigs in the freezer, but for me, I also love the grilled corn, wedges of cornbread with whipped jalapeño butter, homemade slaws and potato salads that come with said ribs. I used to serve one rack of ribs between two, but splitting the rack four ways instead, we’re eating less meat, the meat I’m buying is going further, I’m happy as there is more space on the plate for sides, and my boyfriend is always happy when he can smell ribs for dinner!
Embrace meaty garnishes
Crispy fried bacon bits, ribbons of parma ham, crumbles of chorizo. As a carnivore, these still sound good to me, and they’ll also sound good to committed meat eaters, too. You can happily serve up a vegetarian or vegan option for dinner if that option, say a bowl of pasta or even a salad is something you’d ordinarily sprinkle some sort of garnish over if you make that option meat-based. This way you’ll be also serving up a minuscule amount of meat per meal: one rasher of sustainable butcher’s streaky bacon can make enough crumbles for two bowls, and if you roll it up and freeze the slices individually on a tray before transferring them to a zip lock bag one pack will last for weeks this way.
Agree on a set number of plant-based meals a week
I’m a professional recipe developer so dinner is most often either a total experiment or a recipe that is a work in progress. To that end long ago we decided that my boyfriend could choose any dinner one night a week (in addition to his beloved Sunday roast) that would appear alongside all my experiments. When I declared an intention to eat more plant-based meals, we agreed that I could also cook something entirely vegetarian or vegan once a week. This way I’ve started to identify dishes that we both enjoy without meat which I can slide back into our usual rotation at a later date to further cut down on the nights a week where we do eat meat.
Have a backup plan
I know when dinner is going to be risky. While there have been some happy conversions, I know serving meals that go against someone's idea of what makes an enjoyable dinner is always going to be risky, so always have something on hand you know they’ll love and won’t be too much effort for you. You’ve already made dinner, after all.
Perhaps plan a substantial, beloved dessert to serve after the ‘risky’ meal, or else, even though I’m usually a massive advocate of 100% homemade, just to have some root vegetable fries and a packet of sustainable fish fingers to throw in the air fryer at the last minute has saved dinner more than once.
Start with things your family already know and love
I did not grow up eating Indian food and flavors even though they’re a massive part of the British palate, but since moving in together, Indian food has become one of our favorite things to cook and eat at home. So, most of the time, I make our one vegetarian or vegan meal a week Indian food. It helps that much of the Indian diet is naturally vegan.
Focus on more sustainable meat options
Switching to a predominantly plant-based diet is not just about eating less meat in general; it is about choosing better meat when that is the direction you still plan to go in for dinner time. Recently I’ve been cooking with a lot more wild venison, which is reasonably priced and highly sustainable. We’re still having the same steaks, sausages, and burgers, but from a great-tasting and healthier meat that has less of an environmental impact on its journey to our plate. Goat is also a great, low-impact alternative to lamb, though, on the red meat front, lamb will often be a better option than beef as they require a lot less space to graze.
Also, make sure you use every scrap of the meat you do buy. I’m a big fan of enjoying a chicken at the weekend as none of the meat gets wasted as leftovers can go into a pie or into sandwiches, and I use the carcass to make stock with leftover vegetable scraps in the slow cooker. We like a nice duck breast with a massaman curry once in a while, and I’m always sure to collect the rendered fat from the skin to roast potatoes in at a later date.
Accept change is not going to happen overnight
As a professional cook who grows my own veg, I’ve always been more interested in cooking and eating vegetables than I have meat. Before I moved to California when I was 19 I did not even eat red meat, so I was never going to find it hard to switch to a predominately plant-based diet because that is what I’ve always preferred. But you’ve got to accept even for someone committed to change if they’ve been eating their meat for almost every meal their entire lives, change is not going to come overnight. Not only will you create less friction at home by instigating small, gradual changes instead of several big ones, is also more likely your family will happily stick to a new diet if the change has been a slow one, giving people time to adjust, to discover new likes and dislikes, and to stop sitting there stressing about what they’re suddenly missing.
Check out The Mindful Fork Resources page for tips on how to purchase meat that is sustainably sourced. And while making the change to a more plant-based diet, use TMF's Recipe Index as a guide to Eco-Flexitarian meals that are climate-friendly!