When folks learn that I eat a vegan diet, one of the first questions they ask is, “Is your whole family vegan?” And, the short answer is, No. I wish I could say that they are vegan by association because I cook most of our meals and I do most of the grocery shopping. But, no, instead I usually end up cooking two meals–one for me and one for them. I am not only alone because of my vegan diet, though. I’ve eliminated junk food, soda, and most processed foods from my diet, but that is not the case for my husband and 12 year old son. My husband wants to eat healthier, but on many occasions, he has his stash of Reese’s peanut butter cups, Twizzlers, and orange cream soda. My son treats dessert like it’s its own food group in the food pyramid. Yes, I’d like for both of them to eat healthier, and I work hard to provide nutritious options in our house. I work hard to meet all of our needs and wants (because junk food is not a need!). I maintain a vegan diet, but I don’t want to impose my decision on them. So that I don’t pull my hair out in the process, here are a few ways that I’ve learned to deal with being the sole vegan in a meat-eating household. These are also tips for encouraging more healthy eating among all members of the family.
1) Eat more fruits and vegetables. This is something that we all need to do in my house. So, whenever and wherever I can, I include fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet. In theory, I try to have 2-3 servings of vegetables and fruits at every meal. That’s in theory, but I’m working toward that. During the summer months, we visit local farmers markets weekly to stock up on what’s in season. Next year, I plan to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where each week we’ll get a box full of vegetables and fruits from a local farm.
2) Make smoothies. For some reason, while my husband won’t eat fruits raw, he loves smoothies. This is one way that we’ve been able to introduce more fruit (and sometimes veggies) into our diets. Our favorite blend: frozen strawberries and blueberries, a banana, and coconut milk. For added protein and nutrients, I may add a spoonful of almond butter and a handful of spinach. We drink smoothies daily.
3) Replace butter with other oils. Becoming vegan, this was a hard one for me. I love soul food. And, I’d grown to believe that you just can’t replace butter in most soul food recipes. It won’t taste the same. For example, how can you make sweet potato pie without using butter? How can you make cornbread without using butter? I can go on and on. I used to cook just about everything with butter. I changed my mind after I read Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine. I’ve since learned to enjoy cooking and eating foods made with organic coconut oil. I also use other oils like olive and canola oil.
4) Learn how to make family favorites vegan style. I try to cook vegan meals that anybody will love. I turn to recipes from Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen and Moosewood Restaurant for new ideas. My husband loves my tofu scrambles and tears up my black bean, spinach, and rice quesadillas. And, I make a mean vegan apple pie that satisfies my son’s expectations.
Our kitchen is a work-in-progress. I still cook meals with meat and animal products on a regular basis. Thanksgiving was rough–I cooked the turkey. It is difficult to cook meals that I cannot taste. My husband has a few signature dishes that he prepares each week, like his turkey burgers and pancakes with sausage. He’s also learning to cook more. And, we have pizza night at least once a week–there’s is a cheese pizza with turkey pepperoni and mine is vegan crust with tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms. It takes time to figure things out as a family with diverse dietary needs (and wants), but we’re doing it day by day. Right now, I have to go get the turkey ricotta lasagna out of the oven.