5 Great Tips for Cooking a Plant-based Meal: A Meat-Eater’s Guide

My wife loves to cook, and both of us like having friends over for meals. And while we believe that everyone should feel free to eat the way they choose without being judged, we often have a tough time figuring out how best to feed our friends who follow plant-based diets.

So to help out your omnivorous friends, here are five simple tips for cooking vegan.

 Farro and carrots // Photo by lacey althouse

Farro and carrots // Photo by lacey althouse

1. If you cook from scratch, use whole ingredients

This one’s as simple as it is important. Any time you need to exclude something from a meal — be it gluten or meat-based products — your best option is to use whole ingredients instead of packaged or processed products. By following this tip, you’ll know exactly what you’re putting into each dish; and even if things go completely awry, you’re bound to gain some brownie points for attempting to make something from scratch!

 Tempeh tacos // Photo by scott wittrock

Tempeh tacos // Photo by scott wittrock

2. If you’re not cooking from scratch, do your research

If you don’t have the time, talent or patience to cook from scratch, you should at least make sure that you’re researching the packaged products you want to use in your dishes. For example, items such as “natural flavoring” could mean a wide variety of things, and often include animal products. So before deciding to use a product, check the label and make sure you know what each ingredient term really means.
 

 purple carrot's Potato tortilla with escarole // photo by lacey althouse

purple carrot's Potato tortilla with escarole // photo by lacey althouse

3. Start with a favorite recipe, and then swap ingredients

Everyone likes to share their favorite dish with friends, but if that dish contains meat or other animal products, your vegan friends get left out. To try and be more inclusive, we’ve taken some of our favorite recipes (that don’t rely on items like cheese for the majority of their flavor) and found ways to swap out ingredients to make them vegan-friendly.

For example: my wife has a stuffed eggplant recipe that we both love, but it calls for sausage and cheese. On a night when we invited vegan friends for dinner, my wife prepared two versions of the dish: one made as usual, and another where she removed the cheese, increased the amount of veggies, and then added the sausage seasoning she had made for the “standard” version of the dish. The result was everyone enjoying the same flavors while still being able to eat according to their own diet.

 sweet potato fries and salad // photo by lacey althouse

sweet potato fries and salad // photo by lacey althouse

4. The Internet is Your Friend

Since you’re reading this on a plant-based blog, I’ll make this short: look around!

Plant-based blogs like Forkful are great for finding suggestions, tips and recipes that come in handy when planning vegan-friendly dinners. They can also provide great tips on how to improve your diet without giving up the occasional hamburger: for example, my wife and I often enjoy Lacey’s Chia Seed Pudding as a way to incorporate more fiber into our diets!

 Purple carrot's yuba cake // photo by lacey althouse

Purple carrot's yuba cake // photo by lacey althouse

5. Relax and Have Fun!

If you’re not used to cooking with vegan-friendly ingredients, that’s okay! Cooking requires practice, so it’s important not to let yourself get caught up in the stress of “getting it right.”

For example, people who follow a strict plant-based diet may need to pay very close attention to how they eat in order to make sure they’re getting enough protein and vitamins. This is not something you need to worry about. You’re not their nutritionist; you’re just a friend doing your best to make a delicious, one-time meal. Trust me — even if your recipes are slightly lacking in carbs or protein, your guests will understand that you’re making a special effort and will appreciate whatever you bring to the table. So instead of stressing out about balance, just focus on having fun and making something flavorful!

Robert Becka is a freelance writer living in Minnesota, though he enjoys the occasional trip out to New York to visit friends. He exists on the interwebs at RobtopiaCreative.com.