I know what you’re thinking: “I’m fine going vegan/vegetarian but my family will never get on board with the weird tofu thing.”
Whether you’re cooking for two or cooking for 12, getting other people in your household to embrace vegan eating can feel daunting. The kids are picky, your guy is a meat-and-potatoes man and you’re stuck in the middle.
But hold on. It’s not impossible.
As a long-time vegan, I’ve learned a thing or two about getting non-vegans to open up their mouths - and their minds - to the wonders of plant-based eating. Here are some pointers:
1. Substitute. I know there are a lot of people out there that pooh-pooh faux meats and cheeses. Yes, they are processed foods, and yes, you should try to limit how much you eat them. But for your non-vegan loved ones, they can be the perfect “transition” foods. A few days a week, start substituting things like lunch meat, ground beef or chicken with the vegan versions. Show your family that there are alternate options to meat and dairy that still taste good. Personal tip? Trick them with a cheesy casserole made with vegan mozzarella. See if they notice the difference. Chances are, they won’t have a clue.
2. Veganize their favorite foods. One of the fastest ways to convert the kids (or your spouse) is to perfect vegan versions of their favorite dishes. Comfort foods like mac n’ cheese, burgers or spaghetti will usually do the trick. Look for recipes online or be creative and make up your own. When they realize they can have the things they want while still eating vegan, a psychological shift tends to take place. They’ll start to realize that vegan does not equal deprivation or lack. But you already knew that.
3. Have a taste-test party. Let’s face it: people like options. When the kids feel like they’re part of the decision-making process, they’re going to be a lot more open about eating vegan. So hold a taste-test party in your kitchen. Buy several different brands of non-dairy milks, vegan cheeses, vegan lunch meats, soy dogs and snacks. If you really want to get into it, set up a fancy spread with dish labels and cute cocktail napkins. Have everyone taste different products and vote on which ones they like best. Everyone wins.
4. Spice things up. A lot of people tend to complain when they hear this, but if you want to be vegan (and get your family on board), you’re going to have to learn to cook. You don’t have to be a Top Chef, but you need to learn how to make things that don’t taste like cardboard. Some staples in my vegan kitchen? Onions, garlic, cayenne pepper, basil and cilantro. Spices are incredibly useful when making nut-based sauces, flavoring soups or marinating tofu. You have to have flavor in your dishes, so start experimenting with spices. There’s no science to it. Just try different things and find out what flavors your family responds to best.
5. Easy does It. Many people see documentaries like “Forks Over Knives” and immediately declare that they’re going vegan. That’s wonderful — but don’t expect it to be an overnight transition. Go easy on yourself and your family. It’s rare that you’ll be able to make the switch without some challenges. Do what’s reasonable for you. Maybe it’s vegan meals once a week. Maybe it’s four days a week. Every responsible choice helps, so don’t feel like you have be perfect. For most of us, going vegan was a process. For your family, it probably will be too.