Cooking for a Multivore Household

Previously posted on Elephant Journal

Many vegans/vegetarians live in households where not everyone shares the same food ideology.  And, sometimes, those veg-heads are the primary cooks in the house.  In TheVeganAsana house, the spousal couple consists of a vegan and an omnivore with strong carnivore leaning.  The little asanas are a mix of vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, and what I like to call “carbivore.”  So, we are most certainly a multivore household.  Over many many years of being in this situation, I have developed some primary principles that I use in dealing with the day-in-day-out of cooking for 6-8 people with different dietary paths.  (n.b.  Of course, some will opt to say that they will only cook veg food, and/or only have veg food in the house.  In my case, I consider it a compromise of marital and family happiness).

1.       There is a huge difference between meh and retch.

If you have spent any time in the presence of a child, you’ve probably witnessed the “I HATE ____” phenomenon of meal time.   The hated item one day could be peas, the next day mushrooms, then beans, and maybe even a harmless macaroni noodle.   The sentence is almost always uttered with either vehemence or total disinterest.  But, my philosophy on this is that there is a significant difference between “I don’t really enjoy this item,” and “I’m going to gag if I eat this.”  There are many things that I disprefer, including making dinner every night.  But, it won’t kill me and I won’t break a tooth, so I tough it out and do it.  The same is true for food I don’t love.  If I can tolerate it, I eat it, and I expect others to do the same, because ultimately food is fuel.  I never signed on to make everyone swoon with delight at each meal.  There are many ways to deal with the difference between these two states of dislike.  For a while, in my house, we had a 3 item limit on the “this will gag me” foods.  This worked until we had a child with some pretty serious texture sensitivity who would literally hurl at the table if he put foods with a certain set of textures into his mouth.  So, the limit had to go, but we still follow the general idea.  If I know someone will actually gag (said child still cannot consume tofu even chopped into tiny slivers), then I don’t serve that item to him/her.  This policy, obviously, applies to the vegans/vegetarians in the house, who actually would retch if served meat.  So, they aren’t.

2.       You are not a short order cook.

Your house is not Mel’s Diner, and Flo does not work there.  This means that making multiple meals to suit everyone’s desires is just not going to happen.  Again here, there are  multiple options for how this unfolds.  In some households, it might mean that anyone who doesn’t like the meal can help her/herself to a PB&J.  In my house, due to point #1, everyone eats what is served, or they don’t, but it’s what is available for that meal.  In 22 years, we haven’t had anyone starve.   If someone doesn’t get quite as much as he/she might like at dinner, there is always a piece of fruit to have later, or a bigger breakfast in the morning.

3.       Something for everyone.

While #2 means not making a bunch of separate meals, it is utterly possible to manage to have something that each person (typically) can eat at each seating.  Tonight, for example, we had spaghetti squash with cilantro, jalapeno, tomatoes.  I know full well that 2 of the kids are just not going to eat that, because they find cooked tomato gross and also don’t do well with squash (see previously referenced gagging).  So, I served a spinach romaine salad and baked chicken breast on the side.  Everyone at the table had at least 1 thing that they could reasonably be expected to eat.

4.       Protein on the side.

While I’m not sure we really need as much protein in the diet as is often suggested, I do understand that people (myself included) sometimes feel like a meal isn’t quite “done” without a protein item.  So, I often put the protein on the side and let people add at will.  In tonight’s meal, baked chicken was the side dish that was optional.  If I make spaghetti with marinara sauce, I might brown some faux sausage and also some meatballs and let people add it to their pasta as they like.  Edamame, nuts, and garbanzos make good protein side items for salads or rice dishes, or even pasta.  Most dishes that traditionally have ground beef in them can be made without it, and have it added by the individual, and so on.

5.       Develop animal product prep. strategies that you can live with.

This is crucial in a household where the cook is a vegan or vegetarian and others aren’t.  If there is a belief that some meals will involve animal products, decisions have to be made about how that can happen in a way that the cook can tolerate.  This might mean that someone else cooks all the meat items.  It might mean that the herbivore does make meat items, but places some restrictions on what those items will be.  In my house, this has gradually evolved into a basic principle that I will not cook anything that involves complex meat preparation.  I’ll put a chicken breast on a plate and sprinkle some seasoning on it, or I’ll bake some sausage links.  I’ll even throw a roast into a crockpot now and then.  But, I’m not going to do a Cornish game hen or fry chicken.

6.       Mealtime is not the time for recrimination.

In a household where there are multiple perspectives on diet, it’s perfectly reasonable that there will be strong feelings about food choices.  I would prefer that no one in my house ate meat.  But, this is not a discussion we are going to have at mealtime.  We also are not going to discuss factory farming, livestock hormones, or potential dietary deficits in a vegan diet during dinner.  Meals together are a time for bonding and enjoying the food, and – while we will engage a lively political debate now and then – arguing over who is right about food choices is not going to enhance either of those things.

Lest this all sound really complex, here are a few specific suggestions for multivore friendly meals that I find quite appealing around TheVeganAsana household:
–  Nachos – create your own with beans, cheese/faux cheese, veggies, salsa, sour cream (dairy or soy), meat or faux meat crumbles, guacamole, corn, jalapenos, olives, etc.
– Spaghetti with marinara sauce, meatballs on the side, and a big salad
Pancakes (vegan), sausages (faux and meat), and fruit
Chili (vegan) with cornbread or other fresh bread
Make your own wraps with hummus, baba ganoush, bean dip, and a variety of vegetables
Black beans and rice with cheeses and sour cream (dairy and soy), olives, hot sauce, etc.
Potato soup and fresh bread

Cooking for a household is stressful, no matter how you slice it, and adding different dietary beliefs makes that even more complex, but with a little forethought, you can avoid turning your time in the kitchen into a total horror, and prevent your house from becoming Mel’s Diner 2.0.  And maybe you’ll never even have to tell anyone to kiss your grits.

Order up!

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14 Responses to Cooking for a Multivore Household

  1. I love this! I’m in the same situation. I’m a vegan, my husband is an omni/junkfoodatarian, and my 3 kids run the gamut in food tastes. I spent years as a short order cook until I had a major meltdown. Now, we meal plan every Sunday, and create meals we can ALL live with. Taco Tuesdays are a favorite, and I get to keep my sanity!

  2. keishua says:

    Great article. I thank that you offer some great tips. My main concern is about guest who come over. I am having a very veggie thanksgiving and having some extreme carnivores over and not sure how to approach that. The invite said very veggie and i don’t want to cook animals but should I tell them they can bring their own?

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  4. This is very impressive: I have no idea how you pull this off! I made everyone in my family a vegetarian, practically vegan to not have to cook meat. 🙂

  5. Tatiana says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Daily cooking for a large group of people is a challenge in itself, and including different dietary preferences seems impossible, but you are actually doing it 🙂

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  7. Debi says:

    This blog post may just save my marriage. 😉 It has been a struggle to find a balance and I find myself expecting everyone to change to what I think is healthy. I see now that it is not logical and there is too much conflict. Thank you for your sharing your thoughts on this topic. It will help a great deal in my house!

  8. Susan says:

    Thank you. I have been getting so frustrated about meals that I don’t want to cook.
    Thank you for your ideas. #4 is key!

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  10. Amy says:

    I know this was posted a LONG time ago but I just found this today and was just what I needed 🙂
    I am a new vegetarian with strong vegan leanings and have a husband and 4 kids (mostly grown) who have all kinds of food preferences. (Love the term carbivore! We DO have that in common-ha!)
    I have always refused to be a short order cook and try to have something on the table that each person likes but even that is hard. You gave some great, concrete advice here that is so helpful for me. Thank you, thank you for another veg mom with a house full!

    • theveganasana says:

      Amy, I just saw this comment (I’ve been having blog issues). Thank you so much for reading and I’m very glad this post was helpful for you. It’s a fine line to walk, for sure! Good luck, mom!

  11. rebekah says:

    I’m so glad I found this and thankful that you wrote it. My husband is an omnivore, I’m transitioning from vegetarian to vegan, and my oldest of two omnivores cant have dairy, which leaves me cooking meals very much like you mentioned. My daughter, 5 (who can’t have dairy) has said several times she wants to be vegetarian, but when grandma makes her home-made chicken nuggets, she caves. I’d love to hear about your kids transitions and any ideas on how I could support her without pushing her.

    • theveganasana says:

      I’m so glad you are finding it useful. Most of my children have been pre-teens or teens when they switched. For us, the key was to make options available (like other good “chick’n” nuggets) and let them know that even being a mostly vegetarian is ok. 🙂

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