Your Personal Meal Planning Assistant
October 23, 2017

One Recipe, Many Ways: Cooking for Different Dietary Needs

Black bean and feta-burrito

Mom eats fish. Dad eats red meat. Kelly will eat dairy and eggs, but no meat or fish. Ryan is vegan. Jasper eats everything.

How to feed everyone and (occasionally) eat the same meal together? What’s the secret to adapting a recipe to different dietary needs, and satisfying everyone even when their preferences span vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous?

Simple. Start with the lowest common denominator: plants.

Because each of these diets incorporates some level of plant-based ingredients, you afford yourself some creativity and cut down on mealtime squabbles by using vegan cooking as a foundation to make your family’s favorites, with some swaps or substitutions for each person’s unique preferences.

Here’s how to cook for different dietary needs, from vegans to omnivores alike.

Make Meat on the Side

Cooking meals that are inherently vegan means that the meal can be dished out and meat added separately. Consider dishes like soups, stews, curries, stir-frys, pastas or big salads.

Cook meat on its own for the diners who want it. Think roasted chicken, cubed beef, bacon, spiced ground pork and smoked turkey, all of which can be added separately to each diner’s plate. (If you’re comfortable with it, these could also be added near the end of cooking after a vegan portion has been set aside from the batch). You might also prepare individual fish filets, chicken strips or burgers to accompany a veggie-heavy meal.

Swap Out Dairy

In place of tallow or butter, swap in plant-based fats like coconut oil or avocado oil. (Check out our guide to oil smoke points for more plant-based oils and how to use them.) You can also adapt sauces, soups and dressings to use cashew cream, coconut milk or almond milk in place of milk or heavy cream.

Keep in mind that not every nut milk will work in every recipe. Think about flavor: a subtle touch of coconut might be out of place in Italian dishes, for instance, so these might be better if made with a neutral-flavored cashew milk. Curries, sweeter sauces and baked goods will taste great with coconut.

Choose Plant-Based Staples

If chicken and beef broth make regular appearances in your household cooking, make the swap to vegan or vegetarian brands instead. Taste will rarely be compromised, but if your dish needs a deeper flavor or more umami, consider adding miso, nutritional yeast, roasted mushrooms or savory spices.

Remake Easy Family Favorites

Many family favorites are just as delicious in vegan form. Consider things like burritos (beans, rice and veggies, with the option to add vegan or dairy-based cheese and sour cream) and veggie burgers, which can be topped with condiments, veggies, your cheese of choice and even bacon for those who feel so inclined. Because they’re cooked separately and topped to each diner’s liking, you get a little more flexibility.

Consider, too, revamping breakfast time to appeal to all preferences: staples like scrambles can be made with tofu instead of eggs and filled with the same hearty fillings. These are also easy to customize by making small, quick batches. French toast can also easily be veganized using a mixture of chia, agave and almond milk instead of eggs.

When all else fails, smoothies are a great place to start, particularly if you live with eaters who are resistant to giving up animal products. Use nut milk and tons of tasty smoothie add-ins like nut butter, berries, hemp seeds and greens.

- Amy Height

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