It all began the summer my daughter was 11. Her friend returned from holiday and immediately filled her in on all she had learned about the path beef travelled on its way to our plates.
My daughter swiftly announced that beef – and hey, why not chicken and possibly fish – would never again pass her lips. They began a two-girl campaign to make the world safe for all things that walked, flew, or swam. I knew from the way she gagged as she spoke about our current food choices that this was going to influence our family meals for years to come.
I needed a plan that would keep plant-based eaters and meat-eaters alike eating healthy meals. Without relegating me to life as a nutritionist and short-order cook.
I had no confidence at all in my ability to ensure a healthy plant-based diet. So the first thing I tried was to get my daughter to recognise the great lengths we went to when selecting our beef. That it was farm raised, free to roam, and with no antibiotics. No go.
Next, I consulted our doctor. Once she said that tofu, eggs, or dairy could serve as proteins, I decided that vegetarian would be the first step – with fish as optional. Then I trawled websites and cookbooks for recipes that ensured her nutritional needs would be met. The newest additions to our plant-based cookbooks are Plant-Powered Families by Dreena Burton and Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann. I also started scoping out recipes for easy soups and one-pot meals.
Meat on the Side
The solution seemed to me to be one in which the vegetables would be the main part of each meal with protein on the side. This way, the protein – or ingredients that were long-standing yucks – could be added in at the table.
Prep time for me was the same, although it did need a few more pots. The result was a healthy meal that met everyone’s needs and likes with just a bit of advance prep on my part.
One of my favourite cookbooks is ‘Meat on the Side’ from Nikki Dinki. With this approach, the veggies are the star. Her cookbook and website have plenty of options that work well for a meat-eating family with a vegetable-based member.
Dinki explains, “My Meat On The Side philosophy isn’t for any one group of people. Eating less meat and more veggies is one of the most important things we can do for our planet. It’s one of the most important things we can do for our bodies and also so important when it comes to watching your budget. It’s not a diet or a trend that will come and go. It is a new way to think about meals and I believe it is truly the way we will all be eating in the future.”
We’ve been mixing things up for nearly six years now. In the process, we’ve all started to eat more vegetables and whole wheat foods. We have fruits and vegetables as regular parts of our day. Our meat, fish and poultry servings are smaller, in keeping with our vegetables first approach to meal planning and eating.
As my kids make their own choices when they’re out with friends, they stick to their plant-based diets under a variety of circumstances. I’m pleased that we all sit down to eat one main meal with modular parts. And my kids are pleased to be heard, and to be eating in a way that’s healthier for the planet.