What to do if your whole family isn’t vegan? There are more women than men who are vegan, and also more women than men who are in charge of cooking dinner. As vegan and plant-based diets become more common, we shouldn’t be surprised when this family situation arises: Mom wants to eat plant-based foods, while Dad and the kids don’t necessarily feel interested in changing what’s on their plates. Sometimes, after a while, they come along for the vegan ride… and sometimes they don’t. Not yet, anyway. Still, they have to eat.
Different family cooks have different ways to deal with those conflicting food preferences. For myself, after a few months of being completely vegan, I decided not to cook any more animal products. Others approach things differently and choose instead to cook two completely different meals, or make animal-based “add-ons” available to those who want them. Sarah Hayes, of the plant-based blog Bad to the Bowl, chooses to accommodate her husband and children. She kindly accepted to share her kitchen reality with me.
Tell me a little bit about your family. Especially who’s in it (age/occupation), and how vegan they are.
Hi! I am Sarah. I am a wife, mom, digital marketer and plant based food blogger. I am 37 years of age (where does time go?!). I have been a plant-based vegan for just over a year. My husband works in machine tooling and, while he loves plants, he eats meat too. We live in Michigan and hunting is a big part of men’s culture here so… I guess you could say we are couple that is 1/2 hunter and 1/2 plant gatherer. As for the rest of our family, our pediatrician says we are a typical all-American family: one boy (8 years old), one girl (6 years old) and a dog (pretty ancient now at 14 years!). The kids are not 100% plant based.
What did you eat for dinner last night?
I tested a new recipe for Bad to the Bowl: Bean, Vegetable and Basil Bake, served over a bed fresh greens, a small side of oil-free roasted butternut squash and some cranberry relish.
Sounds delicious! What kind of food might I find on your dinner table on a normal weeknight?
Since I am the only 100% plant-based family member, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I might have uttered to my husband and kids a time or two “Well, if you all ate plant-based…” On the other hand, it is a good thing that I do love cooking. While my son did declare a few months ago, that “We should all eat like mom one night a week!”, after making a plant based Alfredo sauce for him to try, he decided that maybe plant based was not for him right now. So back to the kitchen for me…
A typical dinner for us usually includes loads of vegetables for me (roasted, grilled, stir-fried or baked), a salad, some type of bean and a carbohydrate. My husband will have some lean meat along with whatever vegetable dish I am serving. My kids normally have the same lean meat the hubby is eating, fresh fruit and a side dish of green beans, broccoli and cauliflower, parsnip mashed potatoes or some type of pasta side dish. My husband gladly eats those carb heavy sides as well! I love to make bread on the weekends, so on Saturdays or Sundays, you might also find homemade crescent rolls or braided bread gracing the table as well.
Were you vegan at the time your child/children came along?
No, I was not. I am not sure I had even heard of being 100% plant-based vegan. I was aware of the organic food movement, eating seasonally and locally and had grown up with a health conscious mom. So although not plant-based at the time, we did focus (and still do) on including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables during our meal times.
Your preferences differ from those of your husband and children. How do you manage the evening meal menu?
A lot of time is spent in the kitchen – but now that my 6 year old daughter wants to help, I love to think I am modeling good meal prep behavior! I use my weekend to meal prep a lot of food so we have easy meals all week. I live in a remote area in Michigan, so running through the drive-thru is neither convenient nor something I want to do anyway… although I am not beyond using that as a treat or on long road trips! I am also not beyond a using convenience frozen food if I am really short on the time. Realistically speaking, there is only so much fresh food meal prep you can do, especially when both parents in the house work full-time and our kids are at the age where we are involved with after school activities.
If I hear you right, you are saying that you make a separate vegan meal for yourself. Have you ever tried to get your kids and/or husband to eat more vegan meals?
This question is one that is constantly on my mind. I would love for them to cut out non plant-based food for health reasons (although overall, in any general, non-vegan doctors’ eyes, they would consider us healthy). I have discussed this with my husband at length, but he does not feel the conviction to go all plant-based at this point. That being said, if I were to say, “tomorrow I will not be serving anything that is not plant based in this household,” he would totally be 100% behind me. Have I mentioned he is a GREAT GUY? As for the kids, my focus is on small wins and leading by example. For example, for years, I tried in vain to get our son to eat green beans. For Pete’s sake, we belong to a local CSA in the summer and my mother-in-law has a huge garden brimming with fresh vegetables throughout the summer. He would not budge though in trying them. So I just keep putting them on my plate. Last summer, he finally tried them again and declared he loves them! Win by example.
My approach is: “what I want to eat, I want to eat.” I don’t expect my kids to want to try Harissa spice or Berbere spice on their vegetables – but I love to try new spices. If I want to eat those, why not make them into a dish for myself? My husband is a huge fan as well of new vegetable dishes and spices, so in reality he is eating what I am eating – just as his side dish. Why should I limit what I want to eat just because another member of the family turns up their nose? Sometimes, they ask to try a teeny bit. When that happens, I do a happen dance regardless if they happen to end up liking it or not.
I know not everyone will agree with my approach here, but in the end we are all just trying to get through the day and do what we feel is best, or what we have time for, etc. Life can be messy at times.
What is your approach to grocery shopping?
Make a list and stick to it! I only go to the store once a week, too. I often get asked at the grocery store: “WOW, all this for one week?” And my answer is always “yes, when you eat fresh food and are focused on healthy eating, the produce in the cart fills up quickly for quite a load each trip to the store.”
Do you use any strategies to save time when it comes to meal preparation?
Weekend meal prep. This is a must with our schedules. I joke with my extended family that I prep on Saturday and Sunday for meals on Monday and Tuesday and by Wednesday or Thursday we just eat leftovers. Then I am back to the store again Friday! So it is really not a joke – it is reality.
How do you manage to avoid food waste?
Wasted food irritates me! Luckily, my husband has hollow legs and will eat any leftovers for his lunch at work. I also freeze items that I know we will not eat before they go bad – you should see my freezer! Tiny labeled containers of all sorts of food items. I always feel like I could be doing more. I have a bag of vegetables scraps in my freezer waiting to be made into stock but always seem to be running out of time…
What about lunches (for adults and kids)?
My husband takes leftovers in his lunch, which is great to prevent food waste. Our kids have bento lunch boxes and take fruit, peanut butter sammies, celery & carrots and this all fits so nicely in those cute boxes!
Is there a kitchen/food habit you would like to develop, or a skill you’d like to learn, but haven’t quite managed to develop yet?
I am what you might call a vegetable hacker – it always amazes me when people cut their veggies for roasting or grilling with such precision and all the same size! I wouldn’t mind getting better. I would also love to learn to make more nut-based cheeses.
What is your best tip to share with anyone new to vegan cooking and/or to family-cooking?
Start with a vegetable and food you already like. Don’t feel like you need to go out and buy all the ‘vegan processed food’. Fill up your plate with as many greens and beans as you can. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store not the aisles. Also, remember, it takes 21 days to form a habit and don’t feel like if you “mess up” one day that it is all downhill. Life is forgiving. If you are new to family cooking, plan everything! And remember it takes a kid 7 to 15 times (or more) to like a new food. So just keep trying…and overall kids are watching everything you do – modeling good eating habits does pay off.
Are all of your recipes gluten free?
For the most part, yes. All the recipes under my author name, Sarah Hayes are gluten free. I am gluten free! I just feel better eating that way. I started a few years ago, trying to determine if that might help with my sinus issues (I have horrible sinus issues). I am not sure whether that helped or not. Many of my extended family members are intolerant to gluten, so I just chalk it up to one more thing that can help me be overall more healthy. I was never a big bread fan (although I love to make it – ironic, huh?), it wasn’t really that hard to give up gluten. My niece is about 80% gluten free, so a few recipes under her name have gluten in them.
Sarah Hayes blogs with her niece Rachel at Bad to the Bowl. Subscribe to their newsletter to receive their plant-based, (mostly) gluten-free recipes!