Thankfully, it’s easier to enjoy a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) dietary lifestyle today than it once was. But the lifestyle is still so foreign to most Americans that you might sometimes feel trapped on an island, especially if no one else in your household is eating this way.
If that sounds familiar, know that you aren’t alone. It’s my life, too, as my husband has yet to embrace the WFPB lifestyle. Granted, my husband and I have no children or other family members with dietary restrictions, which makes things easier, but it’s still challenging sometimes.
While I don’t have all the answers, here are four solutions that have helped me navigate a mixed-food household without compromising my goals.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking—it’s meditative for me—but I also became the chef when we married over 20 years ago because I wanted to make our meals as healthy as possible. Now that I’m a plant-based eater, this is even more true. I don’t allow meat or most other animal products in my kitchen, and I serve only plant-based meals, even when guests are over. I cook five nights a week—we usually go out on weekends—and my husband has never raised any qualms about these meals. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite, as he’s improved his cholesterol and lost weight without any other changes.
Even if he doesn’t love every meal as much as I do, he’s at least grateful he doesn’t have to cook! Also, if you have family members who do want to cook, remember that cooking is a great time to cultivate an appreciation for our relationship with food. When my nieces and nephew visit, I try to get them involved in cooking. I know other plant-based eaters have found the same approach works with their kids. (New to cooking? Check out our WFPB Beginner’s Cooking Course.)
Finally, if your family members are determined to cook animal-based foods, I wouldn’t recommend that you fight them. It will most likely backfire. Instead, try to be patient and lead by example. You can encourage their interest in the WFPB lifestyle with the second and fourth tips below.
This may be obvious, but the more you can create dishes around ingredients your family enjoys, the greater your chance of winning them over to your side. For instance, my husband hates mushrooms and has little tolerance for tofu, both of which are staples in my daily diet. For his sake, I don’t usually add these ingredients to our dinners, instead saving them for my lunches. Likewise, I build meals around the foods he already enjoys. That said, you can still try introducing new ingredients every once in a while!
Change rarely happens overnight. It certainly didn’t happen overnight for me. Taking the time to educate your family members about the benefits of WFPB nutrition is essential. You don’t need to preach, but prepare yourself to explain how diet affects our health, the environment, and animals. Different people may be more receptive to different approaches. Ask your family to watch documentaries like What the Health or Forks Over Knives and start a discussion of what you learned. My husband has watched all of these documentaries with me, and each one has helped him understand the benefits of plant-based eating more. If possible, taking family members to plant-based restaurants can broaden their culinary horizons.
This one can be tough for many people. In my case, I keep thinking my husband will someday embrace this diet 100 percent. After all, he’s watched the documentaries, read my articles, and listened to me speak at various events. Yet, as I remind myself, we’re each on our own journey. When I met my husband, I was a “clean” eater but not a plant-based eater, and only after we got married did I embrace this lifestyle. Change takes time, and not everybody moves at the same pace, so meeting him where he is now is the best solution. In the meantime, I take comfort in the fact that years ago, he gave me a Meatless Monday pledge for my birthday, agreeing to honor Meatless Mondays for a year (the previous year, he went vegetarian for a week). That was several years ago, and he’s continued to give me this gift, even going so far as to cut most meat, especially red and processed meat, from his diet.
While it’s not always easy living in a “blended” dietary family, it can be done. Let these four strategies serve as a springboard to help you create others that fit your family’s needs.
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