October 09, 2022

Meal Compromises to Please Everybody

I just posted a ton of food ideas last week (you can find that post here), but I don't think this is redundant. When I started working on a questions and answers post about my recent weight loss (I promise to get it done soon), there were several responses I wrote that referred to meal prepping and planning and executing--I realized it could probably be a post of its own.

When I became vegan in January, I was kind of clueless how I was going to be able to do it while still making meals for my (meat- and dairy-eating) family. I didn't want to force my lifestyle on them, so I tried to find compromises that would make cooking dinner more convenient.

As time went on, I tweaked things here and there to make it simpler and more stream-lined. I feel like we have a pretty good system down now, so I thought I'd share some ideas that have really helped us.

First, a little background on why I hate meal planning so much:

Eli (meat-eating) - Extremely picky and wants to live on practically nothing but junk food. Also eats at work frequently (he works at Qdoba). A lot of his shifts are last-minute, so it's hard to count on whether he'll be here for dinner.

Jerry (meat-eating until August, now entirely plant-based) - Will eat anything I make and even if he's not crazy about it, he never complains. He's honest about his thoughts on a new recipe, which is helpful. He'll eat vegetables, but only if they are there in front of him; he never requests them and I know he doesn't love them. He takes leftovers to work for his lunch, so I try to plan meals based on his schedule as well.

Noah (meat-eating, but very open to plant-based meals) - Willing to try anything I make, but rarely cooks for himself. He doesn't like cereal or sandwiches or other no-cook things for breakfast and lunch, so he makes a lot of ramen. He likes junk food, but is very good about eating only a little at a time. The big issues? He doesn't like Mexican or Indian spices and he is grossed out at the thought of reheating leftovers. (There are a couple of Mexican-inspired things he will eat, though)

My first time experimenting with making vegan cheese. My nachos with vegan nacho cheese versus Noah's very, very sad nachos with cheddar. I think vegan wins on this one, haha.

Me (vegan) - Willing to try anything and everything that doesn't contain animal products. Even if I tried it before, I'll try it over and over again to see if I like it. There are foods I love and foods that are just "eh". I'm definitely not a salad eater, though! I'm not anti-salad, and I'm always willing to try it, but I really don't like it.

My kids are 16 and 18, and Jerry is obviously an adult, so I don't really *have* to try to please the whole family. But I want to! I want to make meals that everybody will like. And unfortunately, I overthink everything--which just causes me to get frustrated when trying to plan dinner.

Here are some go-to meals that are easy to please a wide variety of tastes. These are things I make frequently because all four of us can tailor them how we want. And they are so versatile! 

Personal Homemade Pizzas

Whole wheat crust, tomato paste, vegan mozzarella, peppers, broccoli, olives

This is the most convenient, easiest-to-please dinner ever! I make a batch of whole wheat pizza dough (my recipe is here). It takes next to zero times. I divide it into four portions (we like thin crust, but if you like thicker crust or you're making more than four, I'd multiply the recipe). You could even just use pita bread if you don't want to make crust.

I have some mini pizza pans, so I just spray those with some non-stick spray and dust with flour, then press the dough out to the edges of each one. I pre-bake the crusts at 450 F for about 6-8 minutes and then I can put them in the fridge for each of us to prep our own pizzas when we want to eat (if we're not eating together).

We each use whatever toppings we like (vegan or meat-eating): Italian-style tomato paste (I like this much better than pizza sauce), mozzarella or homemade vegan mozzarella, pepperoni, Bac'n Buds (the Kroger brand is vegan, and I think several other brands are, too; Jerry loves them), whatever vegetables I have on hand, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, etc.

Then we just bake them until they are done--at 450 F for about another 10 minutes. This is super easy to prep ahead of time (keeping a bunch of crusts in the fridge or freezer) and easy for "kids"--even if they are grown--to make whenever they want.

Burritos/Burrito Bowls

This is my go-to when I want to please a crowd of people. It takes quite a bit of prep work, but it's easy to do a little at a time rather than cooking everything at once. I prepare all of the ingredients/items/toppings and put them into separate bowls, then everyone can simply make up a bowl with what they like.

My usual set-up (when serving a crowd; I cut back when it's just my family):

-cilantro-lime rice (I just cook rice, then add salt, lime juice, and chopped cilantro to taste after it's cooked)
-black beans (from a can, drained and rinsed)
-pinto beans (same)
-corn (from a can, drained)
-chipotle chicken (I make the marinade and freeze it, then take it out when I'm ready to marinate the chicken--about 24 hours ahead of time. You could also make the chipotle chicken and freeze it, as well.)
-taco-seasoned ground meat
-vegan taco "meat"
-shredded lettuce
-salsa or fresh pico de gallo
-sour cream
-tortilla chips and/or tortillas if making burritos
-pickled jalapeño slices

For my vegan bowl, I love the rice, black beans, pinto beans, corn, lettuce, pico de gallo, crushed tortilla chips, guacamole, and pickled jalapeño slices. Yum!

This is a great meal when cooking for a crowd of people, too. Who doesn't love a burrito bowl? Here are my recipes for the chicken marinade and pico de gallo:

Chipotle Chicken Marinade

2 tsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. flavorless oil
2 Tbsp. adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Add all ingredients to a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and seal it. Then mash it around with your fingers to combine (it saves having to use a bowl to mix it, haha). The marinade will be thick, like a paste. Pound out about 1.5-2 pounds of chicken breasts very thin, and then put them in the bag with the marinade. You'll have to use your hands to mix it all together and make sure the chicken is coated well. I marinate them for about 24 hours. To cook, I like to grill them on the stove top (they cook quickly), then chop into strips or bite-sized pieces.

Pico de Gallo

1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup roma tomatoes, diced (the roma tomatoes are perfect for this because it's easy to remove the seeds and the tomatoes hold their shape well)
1 bunch cilantro (just the tops), chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste

Just mix together in a bowl! (I make this right before serving, because if it sits too long, it gets very watery.)

Here is a document with the burrito bowl recipes and ideas.

Stir-Fry, General Tso's Chicken/Tofu, Sweet & Sour Chicken/Tofu, and other Asian-inspired dishes

Asian food is so versatile! Thankfully, everybody in my family likes the basic flavor profile. I make a lot of dishes that consist of a protein (chicken for meat, tofu for vegan), vegetables, and a sauce (basic stir-fry sauce, peanut sauce, orange sauce, sweet and sour sauce, General Tso's, etc.). All of the sauces can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge until cooking the stir-fry. I like to put the sauce ingredients in a mason jar with a lid, shake it up, and put it in the fridge for that evening's dinner. The sauces that I make are all vegan (not on purpose--they just happen to be vegan).

When making stir-fry, I cook the meat (usually chicken), as well as the tofu, separately. Eli likes chicken, Jerry and I like tofu, and Noah can go either way. The sauces that I make are super fast to throw together. I just put the ingredients into a mason jar with a lid, then shake it until I'm ready to pour it in. I like to make the sauce early in the day so I don't have to measure things out while cooking, since stir-fry cooks so quickly.

I put some basmati rice in the rice cooker and while that's cooking, I heat a little oil on the stove. I add whatever veggies we like (sometimes I just use frozen medleys) and cook until the desired texture. Then I pour in the sauce and cook another minute or so until the sauce thickens and coats the vegetables. I separate the stir-fry into two batches, then add the tofu to one and chicken to the other.

When the rice (or any other grain) is done, we just help ourselves to rice, then top with the tofu or chicken variations. 

Since I was the only one eating vegan at first and I was kind of clueless how to do it with my family still eating meat, I made a bunch of sauces and poured them into these cupcake molds--then put them in the freezer.

When I made dinner for the family and I didn't want to adapt it to a vegan version for me, I could simply take one of these out of the freezer and put it in a small pot on the stove, add half a can of chickpeas and some broccoli, and cook until thickened. Then pour it all over barley or rice or other grain. So easy! It took a few hours to do all of the sauces, but I was able to use them for a long time out of the freezer. It's just as convenient as a frozen dinner.

Here are my go-to sauce recipes (you may want to double the recipe, depending on how saucy you want it):

General Tso's

1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 Tbsp. corn starch
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (use less if you don't want it to be as spicy)

Spicy Peanut Sauce

4 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
3 Tbsp. peanut butter
1-1/2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2-4 tsp. sriracha (less if you don't like it spicy)
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/8-1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (less if you don't like it spicy)
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Sesame Sauce

2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1-1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1-1/2 Tbsp. corn starch

Simple Stir-Fry Sauce

2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sriracha
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Sweet & Sour Sauce

1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 can (about 15 oz.) pineapple tidbits, with juice
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water

Here is a printable document with the sauce recipes!


While making an entirely plant-based chili to please everyone is definitely feasible, I've made it several times for feeding a group of people who are vegetarian/vegan as well as meat-eating. I basically make a big batch of vegan chili, and then separate it into separate pots. To the vegan chili, I usually add a couple of extra cans of beans or textured vegetable protein (like in the photo below).

And for the meat-eaters chili, I can cook up some ground meat to add to it. Toppings are always helpful when making food to please everybody, too--for the chili, I like to offer cheese, chopped onions, sour cream, jalapeño slices). That way, I'm not cooking entirely separate dishes but everybody is happy!

I've used lots of different chili recipes, but a very simple starter recipe (that is easy to adjust and add things) is here on my blog. This makes four servings, so you'll want to double it if making a larger batch.

Vegan on the left, and meat on the right:

Spaghetti Sauce

I do the same for spaghetti sauce as I do for the chili. I prepare one sauce, then divide into two pots. To one pot, I add ground meat; and to the other, I will either leave it as a marinara or add TVP (textured vegetable protein). The TVP requires no prep--just a little extra liquid to rehydrate it. Since I'm the only one in my family that likes mushrooms, I usually pan fry some mushrooms on the side to top my sauce.

I don't have a particular recipe for spaghetti sauce. If I come across San Marzano tomatoes--the "real" ones, that are DOP certified--I'll buy 3-4 cans and save them for a good marinara (just onions, garlic, tomatoes, salt, and a little sugar if needed). Otherwise, I use any canned crushed tomatoes + diced tomatoes, or even a vegan jarred spaghetti sauce.

Well, those are some of our favorites! I hate all things having to do with cooking (except tasting, of course) so I always try to keep prep work minimal or something I can do in stages (like prepping the sauce or cutting the vegetables in the morning, marinating overnight, etc.). I've also found that meals where people can put together their own (like the burrito bowls and pizza) are perfect for when everybody has different tastes or has to eat at different times.

It took a little while to get the hang of being vegan in a meat-eating family, but once Jerry started trying all of the vegan recipes I made, he decided to eat challenge himself to eat entirely plant-based for a month. At the end of the month, he liked it so much and said it was much easier than he ever thought, so he's continued the lifestyle as well! I'm not going to push my kids (or anyone else) to make the switch, but of course I would love it if they even started eating less meat and more veggies--they don't have to go all in.

If you have ideas for eating with dietary restrictions in a family who doesn't have those restrictions, please share!


  1. I make a vegan pineapple chili that is super simple- basically all the ingredients are out of cans so you can just have everything on hand for when you need a quick meal. I use a can of diced tomatoes, a can each of kidney beans, chili beans, and black beans, a can of pineapple tidbits, and a can of sliced olives (olives are optional or can be added to individual bowls). I will normally cook up some diced onions and garlic, then add the tomatoes and beans, a bit of broth (I like thick chili so don't add much), chili powder, and a bit of cocoa powder, and let everything simmer together for a bit to combine flavor. Then I add the pineapple and olives and cook a few more minutes, then serve. It is super flexible, so you can use whatever kinds of beans you have on hand, or use onion and garlic powder instead of fresh if you need to, etc. It is vegan, but it doesn't seem at all like it is missing anything.

  2. Once again, you almost made me want to cook. Almost. My attention span issues keep me from trying since I have ruined so many of Ed's fancy pans (including warping a pressure cooker which neither of us thought was possible) and once set the microwave on by leaving the convection oven wire rack in while making popcorn. So, I'll just watch from a safe distance.

  3. This is fabulous!! Thank you SO much!


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