Ask a Vegan: How to be Vegan in a Meat-Eating Family?

Ask a VeganDear Christine,

I am a vegetarian in a meat-eating family. I would like to be a vegan but its difficult to even be a vegetarian. I am the primary cook in the family and while my husband and kids are supportive, they still want me to cook meat. How can I make my family happy and start to be a vegan? I have 4 kids at ages 12, 6, 5, and 2 — all picky eaters. I would love some advice. Thank you for you time and consideration.


Hi Sara,

Thanks for writing. I understand that change is hard, especially when it involves other people. I find it hard enough to make changes for my sake. Add family to the mix and it can be downright overwhelming. However, it can be done. First, I’m wondering if you have explained to your family why you want to be vegan? It’s helpful to keep an open mind with these types of conversations, so that others don’t feel defensive. Everyone has a right to their own feelings and forcing change on others is a disaster in the making. You may want to watch Vegucated together? It’s a wonderful documentary infused with humor and facts — building bridges for veganism. This film may help open up your family to the idea of eating less meat.

Now to your real question: How can I make my family happy (at meal time) and start being vegan?

Begin by empowering your family in the kitchen. Teach them how to cook. Even supervised youngsters can learn to cook and help with simple tasks. Knowing how to cook will give them choices. If they don’t want to eat what you’re making for dinner, they can cook for themselves. I started cooking at a very early age because I was a picky eater. Cooking is a skill I wish more people had. It will serve your kids well for their entire lives. When people eat at home, they typically eat healthier — less salt, sugar, fat and calories — then if they eat out.  You may find your family enjoys planning meals and cooking together.

Mark Bittman wrote this wonderful essay in the form of a short e-book a couple of years ago called Cooking Solves Everything. If all families cooked together, the world would be a very different place.

An optimal vegan diet includes a variety of plant-based foods. I believe that everyone can find some vegan options they would enjoy, especially meat alternatives since meat is what your family wants. Seitan is an easy meat alternative you can make at home. The kids could help make this. (Soon I will be posting the best seitan recipe I have ever made.) You may need to experiment with different foods. You can also make a game of it by letting your children pick out a new vegetable to try each week. They are bound to find a few they like. Just make it fun for them.

Or, you could simply draw the line. I never had the chance to meet my husband’s mom. I have heard a lot about her over the years including her approach to mealtime. She had six kids and it’s easy to imagine there was at least one picky child in the bunch. When one of her children would say, “I don’t like this”, she would reply, “You must not be hungry then.” There was no special food offered to the complainer. There is truth in her words. She was teaching them to be grateful for the food in front of them. A truly hungry person would eat just about anything. But, we’re spoiled in our culture. We’re used to having our wants met at every turn. It’s estimated that we waste 40% of the food in the U.S., so there’s good reason to encourage a grateful attitude towards the food on our plates.

Or, you could continue “trying” to keep everyone happy with multiple entrees at one meal and drive yourself mad. I believe a happy mom makes for a happy family. An unhappy mom, not so much. Change isn’t always easy but if it’s important to you, then you deserve the opportunity to be successful at making the change.

Keep me posted,