Happy Herbivore Blog

Plant-Based (Vegan) Meals for Meat Eaters

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: FAQ

This same question kept popping up on Happy Herbivore this week. 

First Diane asked, "I make dishes for myself separate from my family, unless it's your muffins or cakes, which they eat. I was wondering if you have any tips on how to make my family eat the same as me without them feeling like they are giving up something and resenting me for it?"

Then Ember asked, "Any tips on cooking meals for a non veg husband without cooking 2 separate meals? He is very flexible. I thought someone might have good recipes that are easy to add a meat portion to on the side?"

and many others along those lines.

Here is my advice:

1. Serve something that is familiar, and

2. Inherently plant-based (vegetarian)

That means picking meals that don't involve meat substitutes. I love gardein and lentil loaves and seitan, but I recognize that they're a little weird and strange to a newcomer, especially if that newcomer loves his or her meat products and identifies them self as a "carnivore." 

You should also skip over anything that involves tofu unless the tofu is hidden. (People are often afraid of tofu or put off by it. I know I was, even when I was a vegetarian.) 

Anytime I go to a party where the food is vegan but not all of the guests are, I notice the omnivores (especially those totally new to vegan fare) tend to huddle around things like fruit salad, bean dip, chips and salsa, hummus and veggies. That's because these are "safe" foods. Some might dare label them "normal" foods. Point is, they are foods we're all familiar with.

It doesn't even really matter about the whole herbivore vs. carnivore thing. Most people are pretty timid about trying something new so serve up a dish they already know and love.

Not only will this create a harmonious meal time, it'll open up their eyes to how awesome plant-based (vegan) fare can be and help dissipate the notions that vegans subsist on weird foods, iceberg lettuce salads and smelly boca burgers.

Everyone loves Mexican food so Mexican dishes are always a safe bet. Black beans, pinto beans, rice, salsa, guacamole---rock on! My husband's boss was over for dinner last night and I created a build-your-own-nachos bar with chips, tomatoes, black beans, corn, jalapenos, green chilis, black olives, guacamole, salsa, Mexican Chorizo (p. 147 HHC) and Mexican Quick Queso (p. 263 HHC).

I know serving the chorizo goes against my "rule" but Scott said his boss really loved taco meat, so I thought it was a safe bet since it would be slipped in with everything else... which brings me to my next point.

The more you know about the person you're feeding, the easier this is. If you know what they like or don't like, you can cater around that.

Next up, pasta. Pasta is also a crowd pleaser (and really easy!). Never forget that a beautiful pasta dish can really go a long way! 

Another good thing about pasta: If someone wants to add meat or cheese to it, they can. I went to a dinner party once where the host served a really wonderful pasta dish that was inherently vegan, but she'd left a plate of grilled chicken and a bowl of shredded cheese on the counter so the other guests could add it to their helping. 

Vegetable casseroles are also generally well received, along with soups and stews. Even bean chilis tend to go over well, especially when they are served with cornbread.

I've complied a list of all the dishes I've served my rather skeptical family and friends in hopes that it will help you feed yours.

I also recommended the Mexican Dip (p. 230 HHC) to Diane and she reported back that her husband and two teenage sons LOVED it and couldn't get enough. 

A Herbie also sent this email in: Tonight I made your black bean burgers... and as a precaution some beef burgers for my kids. Guess which burgers were left over, not even touched. The neighbors dog will be happy!

Top 10 Vegan Dishes to Feed Omnivores:

  1. Sweet & Spicy Butternut Soup (p. 59)
  2. Creamy Carrot Soup (p. 62) <-- good chilled too, btw!
  3. Chili Sans Carne (p.81) & Cornbread (p. 49)
  4. Chickpea Tacos (p. 97)
  5. Portobello Steaks (p. 148)
  6. Vegetarian Delight (p. 116)
  7. Cheater Pad Thai (p. 117)
  8. Hawaiian Chickpea Teriyaki (p. 127)
  9. Tamale Casserole (p. 167)
  10. Chickpea Noodle Soup

For the Love of Food

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Advice

To sort of piggy back on my earlier post about dealing with negativity, this post is for Dave, who left this comment on the blog:

Dave said: "Please write a blog about how everyone treats us "Happy Herbivores" like we are freaks or something that don't like food."

Let me start by saying, I am guilty of sometimes forgetting what I was like as an omnivore. I've only eaten a plant-based (vegan) diet for 5 years. Five years ago I was a vegetarian and a year before that I was an omnivore. Six years wasn't that long ago...

Yet it feels like a lifetime ago --- many, many lifetimes ago. Sometimes I'm in total denial and pretend like I've been a happy herbivore my entire life (I wish!)

Point is, when I was an omnivore, I was a horribly picky eater. Impossible even. My mom will tell you horror stories and Scott will too. 

I wouldn't try anything new or out of the ordinary. At least not with ease and optimism.

I can distinctly remember Scott asking me to go to an Indian restaurant once and I said something awful like "ew gross! I don't want to eat curry!" and now, Indian is one of my most favorite cuisines to cook - and eat. I feel really bad about that, still.

I am always quick to tell people that I eat a much wider variety of food now than I ever did as an omnivore. 

I'm also quick to try new things and explore new cuisines. Since adopting a plant-based diet I've fallen in love with Ethiopian, Thai and Indian foods -- three cuisines I'd have never - ever - tried as an omnivore. I was really missing out! 

When I adopted this diet something happened deep inside of me. I became a foodie. Someone who loved food. 

I used to go to a restaurant and I'd sit there angry and frustrated because not a single item on the menu appealed to me -- even though every option was a possibility.

Now when I find myself at a veg restaurant, where again every option is a possibility, it takes every effort to hold myself back from ordering everything. I have been known to order several entrees because I just couldn't limit myself to one.

My, my how the tables have turned. 

I love food more now as a herbivore than I ever did as an omnivore. I eat more variety now than I ever did as an omnivore and I never quite enjoyed a meal as much as I do now. 

For the love of food!

How to Withstand Negativity

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: AdviceFAQMinimalist

This comment was left on HH's Facebook wall the other day, and I felt inspired and motivated to talk about it (again). To put it in in context, we were talking about the terrific documentary, Forks Over Knives, which I can't recommend enough. 

Robert said: Now we need a film that teaches us how to withstand the negativity from our friends and family over our plant-based diet. Not just negativity, but real hostility. Why would someone get angry over another's choice of food?

My heart aches for Robert, and anyone else who has experienced this. I've written about the hostility I experienced when I first switched to a plant-based (vegan) before. I talked about how one friend stopped inviting me to her parties (thereby making it awkward not just for me, but our mutual friends) and another kept canceling plans with me for no good reason and it wasn't until I asked her about it that she said she just didn't want to hang out with me anymore because I didn't "eat real food."

Most of my friends and family have been supportive and even those who were not supportive initially, or who teased me, or were highly suspect, have since come around. They might not eat a plant-based diet themselves, but they don't fuss about it anymore -- so hang in there! 

I lost a few friends, true, but I feel that they must not have been true friends any way if what I put on my plate could unravel our friendship so easily. 

Of course, that doesn't take the hurt away, or the sting of rejection I felt back then but I survived it. I came out of it a better person with more awareness. I was able to see who my real friends were and in many ways, that allowed our relationships to blossom further and reach a new level they might not have reached otherwise without this experience. 

I think the "trick" in getting people to power down requires two very distinct actions from you:

1. you can't get defensive and lose your cool. 

2. you must lead by example.

Regarding the first action, understand that when people act this way towards you (angry, hostile, etc) know that its because your mere existence makes them reflect back on themselves and they don't like what they see. They then attack you to make themselves feel better.

Gaby replied to Robert, "People get upset when you do something they wish they did. I think they see it as a threat." 


I have found when people are so dogmatic about something, or they get so upset about something you are doing for yourself, it's never about you or what you are doing. It's about them and their own inner demons.

I like that saying the worst thing someone can say about you, reveals a little truth about them.

And for the second action point, you must always lead by example. 

Since adopting a plant-based diet, Scott & I have both lost a lot of weight, our skin has cleared and is glowing, we both reversed or drastically reduced health and medical issues we had. We have ran marathons, taken up snowboarding --- we are healthy, happy people. We are thriving and you just can't argue with that.

Seeing how healthy and happy we are shushed the naysayers and the suspects because these are clear, tangible and physical results you just can't argue with. 

At my last family reunion, a few years since they'd seen us -- many of my relatives who were on the naysayer side quickly shuffled over to our table with curiosity, asking questions about being vegan or eating a plant-based diet. They were interested and wanted to learn more -- we'd inspired a curiosity.

You will attract people to our way of life if you lead by example, kindly encourage and be supportive. Answer questions, never get angry or defensive and always keep a cool head. THIS WORKS! 

I've watched it happen within my own family and group of friends. Five years ago I was the only one. Now there are 13 of us -- and that is really the most beautiful result of all. 

For more on this topic, See my post, The Secret to Handling Confrontation and Outward Negativity.