Feeding A Vegetarian Amongst a Family of Carnivores

My daughter Mia, now 14 has been Vegetarian for nearly two years now. She gave up eating meat & fish because of her animal and environmental ethics but if I’m honest even when she was a small child, she never loved meat. Whereas my boys craved steak, anything containing mince & roast chicken, Mia would always fuss over the meat on her plate. She never loved the smell of bacon cooking as most carnivores do and towards the end of her meat eating days she only ate mince in Bolognese and chicken breasts.

Mia decided she was no longer going to eat meat two summers ago. It couldn’t have been a more challenging time in my life. My father was terminally ill and I was spending 3 days a week nursing after him, juggling my working from home job and meeting the needs of my three children and husband. “I’ve decided I’m no longer going to eat any meat or any product containing a meat product”. That included jelly sweets (gelatine) and Parmesan! My first reaction was “What?! Now of all times?! I’m already ready to break!” With hindsight maybe Mia’s decision to become 100% veggie and the fact that the family was going through an emotional time were not unconnected.

I researched the nutritional implications of becoming vegetarian at the age of 12 and spoke with a friend who is a Paediatric Nutritionist as in the back of my mind I was concerned about the possibility of an eating disorder and my daughter using Vegetarian eating as a means of controlling her food. The advice was to let Mia continue with her desire to become a Vegetarian as I didn’t want another more serious battle on my hands. I reassured Mia that I would support her and accommodate her mission but that she had to become part of the solution and get involved in the kitchen. Mia agreed.

Initially Mia wanted to replace all meat with cheese. Any type of cheese! Cheese is a good source of protein and of course calcium but both Mandy and I agree that a healthy diet is a varied diet. We were also concerned about her iron intake and her becoming anaemic. She has always been pale (and interesting!) but in the early days Mia looked even paler and lacked energy. So again we had to revisit the foods that she was eating and those that she wasn’t eating enough of. We incorporated lots of green veg and spinach in her meals. Broccoli on the side of each meal & spinach stirred through everything possible!

The biggest change to Mia’s diet was the onslaught of beans and pulses – black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas & lentils all play a big part in the dishes Mia eats. Oats are a great source of protein. Mia makes her own overnight oats soaked in Almond or Cashew Milk and tops them with fruits and Greek Yogurt, which is another great source of protein. Nuts are high in protein as well as being a good fat. We make fresh pesto using pine nuts or cashews and Pecorino (the best Vegetarian alternative to Parmesan) and if you’re in a hurry Peanut Butter is a great breakfast ingredient either added to a smoothie or spread of toast.

The end result is that Mia is a great cook and now eats a greater variety of foods than she did prior to becoming a vegetarian. She can produce at least a dozen vegetarian recipes from scratch by herself and is constantly experimenting with Vegetarian menus.

Mandy and I have discussed at length ways in which accommodating a vegetarian amongst a house of carnivores can be manageable. It’s not unusual for a teenager to decide they wish to be vegetarian, normally due to animal rights ethics. It is not decision that should be taken lightly and food choices need to be balanced and sensible.

So how do you accommodate a vegetarian amongst a family of carnivores or how do you eat vegetarian when the rest of your family eats meat? So from my story, you’ll gather that initially it will seem like a daunting task but follow these few simple tips and hopefully the transition will be easier.

  • Try and make the whole family eat Vegetarian one day a week – we do a Meat Free Monday on our blog. Don’t think rabbit food! Think risotto, pasta, homemade pizza, hearty roasted vegetable salads with lentils or quinoa, curries tagines, Shakshuka (tomato based stew with poached eggs)
  • Make veggie alternatives to family staples such as Bolognese, Chilli, Shepherd’s Pie, Lasagne & Curries. Have two pans on the hob, throw everything apart from the meat into both pans. In one pan add the meat, in the other pan add Quorn, lentils or chickpeas. My family love a chicken, chickpea and spinach curry. I make Mia’s in exactly the same way minus the chicken!
  • Do “pick and mix” lunches and dinners. As an example, for a family roast, do a tray of roasted vegetable and cauliflower cheese. Just ensure there is some consideration as to how the vegetarian is going to get their protein.
  • Make meals that require the meat or fish being added at the end. Remove a portion before the meat or fish is added for the vegetarian eater and add either a pulse, bean or cheese to it.
  • Likewise Pasta dishes are so easy to adapt for a vegetarian eater. Make a simple tomato sauce (see our recipe section). Add Mozzarella, mushrooms or aubergines to half tomake a more hearty meal and add cooked chicken, chopped sausages, bacon lardons or prawns for the meat eaters.
  • Rice is cheap and so versatile. Make rainbow rice (sautéed onion, garlic, red pepper, peas), add mozzarella, edamame beans or kidney beans and almonds for the Vegetarian eater to ensure there is enough protein. For the meat eaters add flaked salmon, prawns or cooked chicken.
  • Risotto’s are great one pot family meals. Make a simple mushroom or pea and edamame bean risotto and add chicken for the meat eaters after taking a portion out for your Vegetarian eater.
  • Get children involved in the cooking. It saves work (maybe not on the washing up as kids like to use as many pans and utensils as possible) and it encourages them to try a wider variety of dishes.

Our Favourite High Protein Vegetarian Foods

Quinoa – in stuffed peppers, salads, Buddha bowls

Chickpeas – Houmous, in curries, tagines and stews, beanie burgers

Lentils – again in curries, stews, salads and veggie burgers

Eggs – the options are endless. Scrambled, poached, omelettes, frittatas, Shakshuka (one of our favourite Meat Free Monday choices!)

Beans – kidney beans, black beans (great antioxidant too!), borlotti beans. All are great in stews, Shakshuka, salads and veggie burgers

Nuts – Peanut butter, cashew butter on toast or rice cakes or in smoothies. Sprinkle salads, stews & tagines with flaked almonds, peanuts, pine nuts & cashew nuts. Make pesto using cashew nuts or pine nuts.

Cheese – halloumi, mozzarella & feta in salads with vegetables and a grain. In omelettes and frittatas.

Buckwheat – either as a grain in salads or Soba noodles are made from Buckwheat which contains a surprisingly amount of protein

Soy beans – either in their true form or via Quorn

Greek Yogurt – make flatbreads from it, serve it for breakfast with nuts and fruit, in a smoothie or as a topping to overnight oats. Use it in place of cream – it’s much healthier.

Milk – either dairy, cashew or almond milk in milkshakes & smoothies

Oats – porridge, overnight oats, flapjacks, granola bars

Broccoli – surprisingly broccoli has the most protein compared to other vegetables.