A few weeks ago, I headed into Paris to meet four ladies who wanted to cook more veggie food and wanted a few tips on menu planning. I was so engrossed in the class I took zero photos!! It was such a fun day thanks to the company and the generous hospitality of our host.
People are more and more interested in getting more plant based meals on to their menu. This is in part connected to the huge increase in vegan eating which has risen exponentially in the last couple of years and the real concern about the effect food production has on the environment. I am in no way suggesting that everyone becomes vegan or vegetarian – I am not either and it is a personal choice that people need to think carefully about – but I am happy to see plant based meals and vegetarian food featuring more and more when we share recipes and talk about food. Not just as a less interesting, less tasty but worthy sibling to meat containing meals, but as the star of the table – that looks and tastes good, is filling and not just salad (nothing against salad by the way).
Increasing the number of vegetarian and plant based meals we have in our week is a great way to eat more fibre, vegetables and pulses like beans and lentils. More of this is great for our health. People want to do more of this but people find it hard for lots of reasons.
We talked a little about what gets in the way of eating more plant based foods and vegetables generally. Kids only like a small number of vegetables, someone in the house not seeing a meal without meat as a complete meal, lack of inspiration, finding recipes that are not filling or difficult to find ingredients for interesting meals, not using fresh veg up and wasting food, not having enough space for all the veg needed for the week……any of that sound familiar?
Meal planning can help. It doesn’t have to be all planned out in a spreadsheet. Every meal doesn’t have to be cooked from scratch. Nor does the meal plan need to be etched in stone. But having a bit of a plan can help with some of those barriers to making changes to the way you and your family eat, make you feel like your meals are a bit more balanced, can help reduce waste and save you some cash. It is not something that you will find easy at first and you may have a few attempts that just don’t work but don’t give up. Even if it is just scribbling on a scrap of paper while waiting for your kids to finish their swimming lesson can make a difference.
A couple of questions to ask yourself to start with:
What are my crazy days and what days do I have a little more time?
The days you have a little more time means that day you can make a big pot of something that can be turned into another meal on another day. Bolognese that on the busy day gets kidney beans, spices and more tomatoes to become chilli. Or becomes baked potato topping. Leftover curry being put into wraps to make roti. Or add a can of tomatoes, maybe some chick peas and coconut milk so it is more like soup to eat with bread (a tablespoon of garam masala in the sauce to just keep that Indian flavour from being lost). Cooking extra pasta to make pasta salad another day, extra veg to be thrown into an omelette, too much mash to make shepherds pie with the remaining bolognese from another night…..think of meals in pairs.
What are the meals and ingredients (fruits, vegetables, pulses) that are acceptable to everyone?
It is good to have these included in the menu plan so one day you challenge them and another they have something easy to eat. If every meal has some ingredients that you know are accepted then the fussy ones can still eat something.
What meal and ingredients would I like to have more often but avoid because of complaints?
There are ingredients that you want to add more of but always get complaints so you avoid them. You need to get them in the meal plan – repeated exposure is the only way that you will be able to have those foods featuring regularly without complaint. The key is to not put pressure on those who don’t like things to eat it nor to put too much of a new or difficult food on the plate of the fussy one. It helps that the menu is known beforehand, that they know that on other nights dinner won’t be so challenging. It is important that they are not forced to eat it, that there is not an alternative meal for them and that there is enough on their plate/on the table that they accept (maybe not their favourites). Positively commenting on any good behaviour e.g. accepting the food on their plate without a fuss, tasting something new etc is better than bargaining with them and pressuring them to eat.
If you have the total carnivore for whom a meal is not a meal if there is no meat, then the way forward can be to make the vegetarian part of the meal to be the focus with a little meat on the side. Most vegetarian meals can easily have a little bit of meat or fish added but keeping the benefits of the extra veg and pulses. This can make meals cheaper.
The other thing that can be a challenge if you want to change the way you eat, is finding meals that you can easily include into your meal plan. Social media makes it so much easier to share and find recipes, there are also quite a lot of menu planning apps available. Trying to add a new recipe in each week is a great thing to do, much more realistic than creating a menu for the week with every recipe a new one. We all get stuck into ruts with maybe 10 or 12 recipes rotating with some being made every week without fail. This can get really dull but this happens because it is easy. Changing completely is hard work, but adding a new recipe each week can really liven things up. Get the family to be involved with the choosing. Sometimes just adjusting a regular meal by the way it is served – so put the chilli into a buritto instead of with rice, using different vegetables in a stir fry, adding different things into an omelette – can be enough.
So what did I inspire the ladies with in the class? We made chick pea yumminess with cumin roated potatoes and chunky refried beans along with freshly made salsa and guacamole served with tortillas and creme fraiche. Everyone enjoyed the food and some have tried the recipes at home. The aim of cooking sessions for me is real every day home cooking – things that can be thrown together after work or a day of chasing kids around. Yes they can be dressed up and made posh for dinner with friends, but my sessions are not where you were learn how to make the perfect roux for white sauce or prepare restaurant quality pastry. I am not a chef. Just a food geek who likes to cook and get others cooking. With a bit of nutrition thrown in, of course!