Most of the time these days, my mouth is so stuffed full of vegetables that I can’t really talk. It’s probably a good thing, because when I start talking, it’s usually about vegetables and how we eat a lot of them, and isn’t that exciting. Then, if anyone is listening, god bless them, they tend to ask questions such as, “WTF do you feed your family for dinner? My kid only likes bread, yellow peanut M&Ms, and the left chicken leg when the butt side is facing up.” I tend to mutter some lame response about how at least he likes peanuts, which is good!, and then I go look for more vegetables to cram into my mouth and a few extra kale leaves to hide my eyes. What people tell their spouses about me after their kids go to bed, I really don’t want to know.
I can understand why someone might register alarm on her face and run in the other direction when I walk into the room, sure. Nobody likes a mom whose kids eat their vegetables voluntarily. I don’t even like me that much sometimes. (Like right now, though that may have more to do with my menstrual cycle. Forget I said that.) But what I can’t understand is why, in 2011, people are so mystified by what a nutritious, plant-based dinner for a family would look like on a typical weeknight. That’s why I took a picture of our actual dinner tonight, processed it to look like people have been eating this dinner since circa the Brady Bunch pilot episode, and slapped it on my food blog. This is what our dinner looked like. Mmm-kay?
In all seriousness, I’ve been surprised by how often I’ve heard variations of that question recently, and I’d love to help guide more interested families toward healthy plant-based dinners. This one took about half an hour to make, and everyone ate it, albeit not all of us at the same time. On the way home from school, we popped into the local market and picked up four zucchini, a red onion, a bag of brown basmati rice, and like a zillion bags of baby spinach. At home, I cooked the rice according to the package directions with a little splash each of soy sauce and olive oil. While the rice cooked, I sauteed chopped onion, zucchini and garlic in a little olive oil until softened, seasoned with a little Himalayan sea salt, pepper, and dried dill, and poured in two 15-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes. I covered it and simmered for 10 minutes or so, during which time I made a green salad (spinach, carrots, red peppers, and cucumber) and a little vinaigrette with chopped shallot, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It might have been the least mysterious dinner in the whole entire world. But no one ran away, and no one asked for any peanut M&Ms — so I’m counting it as a success.
One bit of advice, not that you asked for it, on incorporating more healthy, plant-based meals into your household. Change is hard. That’s true for both adults and kids, right? So if your family isn’t used to eating a meal that looks like this, you might need to persist for a few weeks before it becomes the norm. Every family and every kid is different, I know. (Our two kids couldn’t be more different from each other, so believe me, that message is a-knockin’ with its little hands at my locked bathroom door every day.) But I truly believe that with a little cajoling and maybe an occasional bit of strong-arming, young family members will learn to appreciate, enjoy, and eventually crave and expect healthy foods. Kids want to be healthy and strong, and ultimately they look to us to help them do it. I say, let’s give it a try.