Almost Vegetarian-ish

My kids can be pretty annoying sometimes. Last week at dinner, for example. They started talking about how they wanted to eat more vegetarian dinners. I was like, “Are you kidding me?”

I found this suggestion particularly galling for a number of reasons.

First, we have significantly reduced our meat consumption at dinnertime already, and it has been no easy task, let me tell you. I cook really good dinners. These kids are spoiled by my earnest efforts and my flexible work schedule, and they are used to having awesomely delicious meals. But you can’t always tell if a meal will be delicious, and for every new yummy meal that we add to our repertoire, there are usually two or three meals that are rejects. Which means that I’ve researched a meal and bought ingredients and figured out how to cook the meal–it always takes longer to cook when you follow a recipe for the first time–and then it tastes bad. And the kids try to be polite, but sometimes it’s so bad we have to laugh. And then there are leftovers that I don’t want to waste, but nobody else wants to eat it, and so I am eating mediocre food that reminds me of my failure for days. So I reminded the girls that this is quite a bit of work, and I told them I’d be happy to let them take over the kitchen and try some new recipes. Which is obviously not going to happen because they arrive home from track practice exhausted and ravenous, and then they have homework and sometimes a second practice that night. But the suggestion felt enough like a threat to make them see that they were in dangerous territory.

Another issue is that these kids still like to eat meat. Last week, for example, when this conversation came up, I had planned five different meals for the week, and three of them were entirely vegetarian, and the other two meals, which included chicken, had been specifically requested by the girls. So, one minute they say they want vegetarian meals and another minute they’re asking for some meat-alicious favorite, which is fine, but then, as I said to them, don’t try to act like I’m the one who’s bringing y’all down, kids!

Third, it’s very easy to ask your mom who is an excellent cook to come up with vegetarian meals that are as delicious as our old meals and feel all virtuous, but that’s a lot of effort for me and pretty much zero effort on their part. There are so many other ways we can help the planet. For example, they can start walking to school instead of having me drive them. Wouldn’t that be terrific? I suggested. And what’s funny is that no, they thought that that was a terrible idea. . . but since that conversation, M has walked home several times when she’d normally ask for a ride.

And one last thing that aggravated me about this whole conversation is that, even among our non-vegetarian meals, many times I’ve either reduced the amount of meat that I’m serving or I’ve chosen meals in which meat is more like a condiment than a centerpiece. For example, here’s our oh-so-yummy black bean soup:

I’ve already ladled out a bowl or two, and the little bit of ham is over there in the white bowl, a teensy fraction of the meal overall, especially since the point of this soup is that it’s just a base and you throw in tons of extras like cilantro, onions, cheese, lime juice, or sour cream. And notice, please, that I’ve thoughtfully and conscientiously kept the ham separate so those family members who don’t want it don’t even have to eat it.

The point is, I am doing an excellent job and these kids are lucky to have me, and if they are inclined to go more hardcore, well, they can dang well start cooking more themselves. All of which I said at dinner.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! First of all, tonight I scored with yet another new vegetarian recipe that’s a “keeper”: Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Black Bean Tacos. Just keep in mind that the “optional” pico de gallo is absolutely essential and must be included.

And here’s a Life Hack that I’m throwing into this post because I took the photos a while ago, and nut butters are vegetarian favorites. We like the natural nut butters that contain only nuts, or maybe nuts and some salt. The big bummer about them is that when you first open the jars, there’s that big layer of oil floating on the top that you have to stir back in. It’s gross-looking, it’s hard to stir it without slopping some over the sides and spilling it, and it’s a struggle to distribute the oil to the bottom reaches of the jar — I used to always end up with dry stuff at the bottom. But. . . ta da! The secret is to take your jars home and store them in the pantry upside-down before you’re ready to use them!

When you do that, the oil redistributes itself from the top to the bottom again, but usually it’s spent way longer right-side-up than it’s upside down in your pantry, so it’s pretty well mixed when you open it. For example, here’s a peanut butter jar I just opened:

I didn’t mix this up at all. I did take a spoonful out, because I opened the jar and reveled in how wonderful my life is now that I know to store my peanut butter upside down, and I joyfully scooped out a spoonful of peanut butter, and then I thought, “Hey, I must tell the world about this!” and that’s when I took this picture. But really. It’s a wonderful life improvement that I wish I’d known about 20 years ago. You are welcome, friends.


  1. Claire

    I do that with Sunbutter (similar to peanutbutter, but made out of sunflower seeds) for my son who has a nut allergy. I still end up having to stir it, but it’s easier after storing it upside down.

  2. sunny savannah

    Maybe the peanut butter companies will wake up and put the labels on upside down so that it comes naturally to store the jar on the lid. You are such a smarty pants!

  3. Big Sister

    Two words: Mississippi Vegan. I bought this cookbook from the author when he was visiting Fox and Fig in Savannah. Girl, he uses a lot of ingredients, but everything is beyond delicious. It will improve your success ratio on trying new recipes. But you might also have to move a rung farther out on your belt.

  4. Claire

    Well, it’s more expensive than peanutbutter. I like it, but many of my family members don’t like it when I use it for substitutions in recipes. I probably wouldn’t get it if it weren’t for my son’s nut allergy.

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