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6 Tips for Peaceful Dinners: How to Improve a Multivore Mealtime

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

Most families have members with different dietary preferences and/or requirements. Sometimes, the differences are subtle, such as a preference for whole-grain vs. white pasta. 

Other times, a person with Celiac Disease lives with someone who loves gluten products. A person with South American heritage lives with a descendant of Eastern Europe. Or a vegan/vegetarian lives with omnivores.

Blending two or more dietary/culinary styles can be difficult, but it can be done. Below, I’ll share tips we use in my household too blend a vegetarian and two omnivores.

Communication is always the most important tip. But here are some ideas to get the conversation flowing. 

Tip #1 – Utilize Faux Meat

Some of the meat substitutes taste pretty good and are easier to prepare than their meat counterparts. Do some experimenting with products at your local grocery store and figure out which ones you and your family prefer.

If your regular grocery store doesn’t have much variety, look elsewhere. Some stores carry more vegetarian and vegan products than others.

Soy crumbles can take the place of ground beef in tacos, Italian dishes like spaghetti and lasagna, or casseroles. We probably utilize these most often.

You can find vegetarian burger patties, meatballs, chicken strips and nuggets, even fish substitutes. There’s bound to be at least a few products that everyone can agree on.

It is important to remember that mock meats work best for aiding in the transition to a vegetarian diet and as a “sometimes” food for when meals need to get on the table quick.

Overuse of these products can potentially harm your health.

Tip #2 – Search for Vegetarian Versions

Do an internet search for vegetarian recipes in general or be more specific, such as vegetarian lasagna or vegetarian sloppy joes. Or better yet, check out my recipes!

Nutritionally, I like these better than meat substitutes. Try to find a recipe that utilizes beans, lentils, or soy as a source of protein.

I’ve noticed a lot of recipes using cauliflower and jackfruit to sub for meat. While the recipes may look delicious, they are almost entirely devoid of protein.

I actually had buffalo cauliflower nuggets at a party recently. They were phenomenally good, even the meat eaters loved them. But again, cauliflower is not considered a protein food.

Tip #3 – Let Them Add Meat

Plan a fully balanced meal, and allow the others to add to it if they want.

Say you’re making a pot of rice and beans to eat with a side salad. Your meat-eaters can heat up some ham to go along with it.

I made a mushroom stroganoff recently, and the hubby browned up some beef stew meat to add.  

Just make sure that the dish you are creating is nutritionally complete for the vegetarian, meaning it has enough protein, healthy fats, and fiber.

Generally, this works best if the meat they are adding is very easy to cook. 

Most often, my husband will season some salmon or chicken and throw it on a miniature baking dish in the oven.  That way it doesn’t interfere with everything else cooking!

The meat eater would reduce the amount of the main dish and supplement with 3-4 ounces of meat to create their own nutritionally complete meal.

Don’t let them get away with cutting out their veggies though!

Tip #4 – Vegetarian Dinners, Let Them Choose Lunch

Consider making dinners strictly vegetarian, but let the omnivores pick up lunch at school or work (or make their own).

Sandwiches, carrots, fruits, and nuts are easy lunches even the littles can put together. Rice, a veggie, and some meat is easy to put together and eat on for a few days.

Actually, kids making their own lunch is an excellent way to teach them about healthy eating. They can learn to pick a fruit, vegetable, protein, and whole grain for every lunch they pack.

Tip #5 Protein on the side

In this setting, the main cook is in charge of the vegetable, starch sides, and their own protein. 

Anyone who doesn’t want this protein should speak up during the planning process (or at least before the cook starts prep work). They will be responsible for cooking their own protein (as well as for anyone else who doesn’t want the expected protein). 

Keep this to 1 option. There is no reason to have fake chicken, real chicken, fish, tofu, and beef all going for one meal!

Tip #6 Consider your sides

Believe it or not, it’s possible to make green beans without bacon! Not that any restaurant ever has got that memo…

In a multivore household, the easiest option is to keep all the sides vegetarian or vegan. I promise, it’ll work out. Here are some common easy “fixes”:

  • Vegetable broth instead of chicken broth
  • Coconut milk instead of heavy cream
  • Liquid smoke, soy sauce, or smoked salt (plus another fat) instead of bacon
  • As much as it may pain me, cheese doesn’t *have* to go on everything. Leave it out of the food prep (along with butter, cream, etc) if a vegan is coming for dinner. Others can sprinkle it on if they want!

Remember that even the meat eaters should have a greater proportion of veggies!

Other types of multivore families

My blog focuses on families with vegetarian, vegan, and non-vegetarian members.

 

However, often times a multivore diet can mean something different.  Allergies, preferences, special nutrition needs, and more can all cause difficulties in maintaining a peaceful mealtime.

 

For instance, a person with Celiac disease doesn’t just prefer a gluten-free diet. They absolutely need it.  It may honestly be easier to keep gluten out of the house completely in this case.

If this is not agreeable to the entire household, consider separate utensils, ingredients, and cutting boards for the person with the allergy.

Putting gluten free bread on top of a surface that had regular bread will cross-contaminate and make the gluten-free bread unsafe! So will going back in for a second bit of peanut butter. Please be careful out there!

 

Wherever possible, I will offer options to switch out the major allergens and gluten in my recipes.

 

If you household is blending two or more cultures, consider taking the time to plan when each genre of food will be utilized.  Maybe take turns making dinner according to each person’s family recipes. 

Or assign certain days to certain people or meals, such as Person A always cooks on Mondays and Wednesdays, etc.

This likely takes more planning for the grocery store, but it can definitely be done!

 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas to get started. It is definitely possible to combine two eating styles into one household. Here are a few more tips for cooking at home:

  • Keep at least two cutting boards. We use a red one for meat and a green one for veggies. This isn’t really a vegetarian/omnivore thing, but a food safety thing that all home cooks should be utilizing.
    • Not only will this keep meat from accidentally ending up in a vegetarian dish, but it prevents cross-contamination of raw meat with vegetables.
  • If you’re making a vegetarian and non-vegetarian version of the same dish, make sure to clearly label leftovers. You’d be amazed how hard it is to tell the difference between the faux and real meats in things like meatballs or lasagna.
  • Combining different food patterns takes planning, even more than other families.  Sit down together and plan out your meals for the week.
  • Expect that every dish won’t be a hit! Learn from the misses. Did you need more seasoning? Did you choose the wrong protein source? Did the recipe just suck? All cooking takes some trial and error to get it right.
  • If tofu is on the menu, try to find the super firm variety, sometimes called high protein. The texture is much better accepted by most meat eaters, often without taking time to press it.

Did I miss anything? What does your family do to integrate different meal patterns into a cohesive, peaceful family dinner?

Look at some of my recipes, such as Barbecue Tempeh or Roasted Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie, for an example of using a meat substitute.

Or enjoy a recipe in which they won’t even miss the meat!

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