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What do Vegans Eat? A Typical Plant-Based Family Dinner

Tip

Good-quality protein is hidden almost everywhere you look among whole foods, and you probably don't need as much as you think.

"WTF do you feed your kids?"

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.

This is what our dinner looked like, mmm-kay?

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?

Interested in plant-based meals?

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. 

Shopping for plant-based ingredients

This dinner 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. 

Cooking our plant-based dinner in about 30 minutes

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 sautéed chopped onion, zucchini and garlic in a little olive oil until softened, seasoned with a little 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.

Introducing your family to plant-based eating

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 is different

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

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.

A few of our favorite easy plant-based dinners

Here are a few of our favorite easy vegan recipes that we make and eat for dinner all the time.

Roxane's 20 Minute Vegan Sushi Bowls

Layla's Lentil Soup

Smoky Vegetarian Chili with Pinto Beans and Corn

Vegan Chicken Noodle Soup

Brown Rice with Mushrooms and Spinach

Hearty Vegan Instant Pot Chili

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out. 

Carolyn xx

Comments

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  1. Chris

    I love that comment about the elephants and where they get their protein. I never thought of it that way. And thanks for the chart. I’m printing it now for handy reference. I’ve already narrowed down my animal protein to primarily chicken and fish. Getting ready to ditch the chicken, and I only eat wild salmon (fussy with fish).

  2. Leslie

    Here’s a protein chart showing protein values in a variety of different plant based sources. http://www.vegparadise.com/protein.html

    She’s got protein in the lettuce, the carrots, the cucumber, the rice, tomatoes, spinach, etc.

    1. Leslie, thank you! We were posting our comments at the same time.

      That chart is terrific. It’s nice, though, too, that if we mostly eat whole plant-based foods, we don’t really need to count grams of anything!

      1. Leslie

        Exactly. In fact, once you start keeping track of all your protein sources, it’s pretty clear that it’s difficult not to get too MUCH protein in a day, provided you eat a well-rounded diet that doesn’t subsist on vegan things such as Tostitos and Oreos.

  3. Leslie

    @Chris, the brown rice has plenty of protein. Westerners eat way more protein than we need. We only need about 30g a day, which can be easily done with grains and vegetables.

    After all, elephants and cows are vegetarians and they’re huge! No one asks them where they get their protein!!

  4. Daphne

    Carolyn – I love that the dinner you featured has rice as its
    Starch & not pasta – my brain is wired such
    That when I take animal protein out of the
    Equation of what’s for dinner, I replace it with
    A pasta…how much do you use tofu & beans for your
    Weeknight 1/2 hour dinners…..?

    1. Hi, Daphne! I think a lot of people [insert pasta here] by default. Pasta is one of my number one comfort foods, but I try to replace it with intact grains as much as possible because there sooooo nutritionally superior.

      We eat quite a lot of beans and lentils, and way more hummus than anyone has any business knowing about. I cook tofu once in a while, too, but not all that often.

      When I’m really feeling like I can conquer the world, sometimes I boil up a pot of beans from dried on the weekend and make a few dishes out of them over the course of the week.

  5. Chris

    This looks great, and I love adding more veggies to my plate. But I feel like I’m failing if I don’t add a little protein. Is there any here? Did I miss it?

    1. Hi, Chris! I’m really glad you asked that question. I thought about addressing it in the main post, but (1) I thought I’d maybe done enough poking and prodding for one day and (2) it was after midnight, and I wanted to go to sleep.

      Here’s the thing. The more reading and research I’ve done, the more I’ve come to believe — like really, really believe — that the amount of protein people act like we need these days is not only totally unnecessary but, where excess animal protein is concerned, also potentially quite harmful to our bodies.

      I should say right away that I am not any kind of scientist whatsoever, only a skeptical beeyotch who likes to think critically — and these are just my own conclusions after having read way too much on the topic and chosen a position that makes more sense to me than the rest.

      I could talk about this for hours, and now that you mention it may do a post on it one of these days. But the conclusion I’ve come to is that for the best protection against the diseases of civilization, most of us only need about 10 percent of our calories from protein. High-nutrient plant foods contain more protein than most people realize. Did you know that most green vegetables are almost 50% protein?

      Getting enough protein is really not a concern for us modern folks living in civilized countries, despite what we keep hearing. Hope that helps and doesn’t sound like a religion! 🙂

  6. Great post. It has taken us baby steps over the last 3.5 years to get where we are in our plant based way of eating. It hasn’t been easy, but like you said kids eventually come around. And truthfully, ours have become more adventurous eaters in the process making it a lot more fun. Sent by Cheryl…love your site!

    1. Hi Alison, thanks for visiting. I’m happy to have some corroboration for the idea that kids will be flexible if we encourage them.

      I just poked around on your website, which I’ve seen around before but never had a chance to spend enough time with. I love it sort of unnaturally much am thinking I may go ahead and move right into it with my family if that’s cool with you. LMK.

  7. Hi! This is my first time here (thanks to my friend Cheryl!). I love your writing style and wish we could sit down, have a cup of tea and hang out for an hour or three. Nice to meet you 🙂
    Michelle

    1. Hi, Michelle! I would gladly have tea with you any day. It’s a bit of a commute from the Bay area to London, but you’re welcome any time. 🙂

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