Being a whole food, plant-based eater is easier today than it once was. Yet, this way of eating is still so foreign to most Americans that even today, you may feel like you’re on an island, especially if you’re the only one in your household following this diet. Sound familiar? It’s actually my life, as my husband has yet to embrace the whole food, plant-based diet. Granted, we don’t have children, which does make things easier, but it is still a challenge. It is even more of a challenge if you have children or other family members with dietary restrictions.
While I don’t have all of the answers, here are four solutions that have worked for me:
- Be the chef: I’ve always taken pleasure in cooking—it’s a type of meditation for me—but I also became the chef when we got married over 20 years ago because I wanted to make our meals as healthy as possible. Now that I’m a plant-based eater, that’s even more true. As a result, 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 quite the opposite, as he’s improved his cholesterol and lost weight without any other changes.
- Appeal to their taste and flavor profiles: 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 only a small tolerance level for tofu, both staples in my daily diet. For his sake, I don’t usually add these ingredients to any of our dinners, instead saving them for my lunches. I do build meals around foods that he does enjoy, and I also don’t shy away from introducing new ingredients.
- Educate them: Change rarely happens overnight. It certainly didn’t with me, which is why taking the time to educate your family members about the benefits of whole food, plant-based eating is key. Don’t preach, but be prepared to explain how diet affects our health, our 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 with you and then perhaps discuss what you saw. 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 also broaden their culinary horizons.
- Try not to judge: This one’s tough, as 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, even vent in private about how the rest of my family (like my mother, father and sister) eats. Yet I have to remind myself that we’re each on our own journey. When we met, 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. I just 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 year before 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.
Granted, he may not love every meal as much as I do, but he is grateful that he doesn’t have to cook! When my nieces and nephew visit I try to get them involved in the cooking process, which can help cultivate a greater appreciation for food. I know other plant-based eaters have found the same approach works with their kids.
If your family members are determined to cook their own, non-plant-based food in your house, don’t fight them. It will most likely backfire. Instead, try to be patient and lead by example. You can encourage their interest in a plant-based diet with tips 2 and 4 below!
While it’s not easy living in a “blended” dietary family, it can be done. Let the four strategies I’ve suggested serve as a springboard to help you create others that fit your family’s needs.