Meal planning. Ugh! The weekly chore I love to hate. Each week, I sit down with the grocery store sale flyers, my trusty whiteboard, and I start planning out our dinners for the coming week, as I have for years now. Apparently, I enjoy making my life unnecessarily hard and complicated, because over the last year or so, I have slowly transitioned myself to a mostly vegetarian diet. Why, you ask? Because something in me deeply craves the path of most resistance, and I hate making things easy. I kid! The truth behind my progressive change has been threefold: 1) I’ve been reading so much about global water shortages, and meat production uses such a huge amounts of water…especially beef! 2) I’ve also been reading lots about how a well-balanced vegetarian diet can lessen so many common health risks, and 3) I take huge issue with our dependence on factory farms in the U.S.A. I don’t agree with the practice from an animal welfare standpoint or an environmental standpoint. There are lots of great options for responsibly-produced meat products, but they are very expensive. If I can’t swing the ethical choice, I’d rather opt out.

Now, I say all of this not to sway you to a vegetarian, or partially-vegetarian diet. If that’s your choice, great! But if not, that’s fine, too! In fact, my husband and children are happily carrying on their lives as omnivores. Why am I sharing this with you? That goes back to meal planning.

Have you ever tried to plan meals for 1) an omnivore, 2) a mostly-vegetarian, 3) two small children? It’s the stuff of nightmares. I get home first 99% of the time, so dinner falls on me. I could take the “my way or the highway” approach and say if I cook, you all eat my vegetarian dinners, but I don’t want to steamroll my family’s preferences. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some favorites that please us all! They are meals that can easily include meat, and also function without it. I present to you…

Our Favorite “Meat-Optional” Family Meals!

Homemade Pizza

Hands-down the easiest way too keep our entire family happy! If time allows, I make a simple pizza dough…if not, I buy one from our grocery store’s deli section. Most pizza restaurants will also sell you really good dough for a few dollars, too– little-known fact! We top it to suit each of us. Plain cheese for the kids, some kind of meat for my husband (often leftover BBQ chicken, steak and onions, sausage, etc), and lots of veggies for me.

Crock Pot Tikka Masala

I take the easy way out here, and simply buy a jar of tikka masala sauce at my local grocery store. I pour 2/3 of it in the crock pot, thin it with a little water, add diced raw chicken breast, and cook it on low for about 8 hours. I save the remaining 1/3 of the jar in the refrigerator. About 10 minutes before dinner, I combine 1/2 a can of chickpeas, a handful of broccoli, and the remaining 1/3 jar of tikka masala sauce in a small saucepan for myself. We all eat our chicken-optional meal over basmati rice.

Lasagna For Everyone!

Because I’m not a “true” vegetarian, I don’t mind if my food is prepared alongside meat products; I simply don’t eat them myself. So when I make lasagna, I compromise. I use this recipe, but I use only about half the amount of browned sausage as I previously used (equivalent to about one handful). I only include sausage in the layers on one half of the lasagna. On the other half, in place of the sausage, I add some peppers, baby spinach, diced broccoli, and finely-chopped fresh garlic. I sprinkle parsley on top of the cheese on the veggie side so I know where it is after it’s baked.

Black Bean, Corn, and Optional-Chicken Enchiladas

We really love enchiladas. My previous standard filling was chicken. Now, I use one small chicken breast, cut into strips and sautéed with olive oil, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and cilantro. I mix the cooked chicken with 1/2 can of drained black beans, 1/2 can of drained corn, and about 1 cup of shredded cheddar. I fill 3-4 tortillas with this mixture, and omit the chicken to fill the last 2 tortillas with only the black beans, corn, cheese, and a sprinkle of the spices I used to cook the chicken. I top all of them with a can of our favorite enchilada sauce, more cheese, and bake.

Meat-on-the-Side Chili

Disclaimer: I think vegetarian chili is every bit as good as beef chili. My husband does not agree, and I can respect that. My go-to chili recipe includes a large can of diced tomatoes, a packet of vegetarian chili mix, a can of corn, a can of kidney beans (drained), a can of white beans (drained), and about 1 cup of my favorite “meatless crumble” made with black beans to replace ground beef. If I have peppers on hand, I like to add chopped bell peppers, too. Now, since my husband misses the beef, we often have this chili on nights when we have leftover beef in the refrigerator. He simple chops up the already-cooked beef (often leftover steak) and adds it to his bowl. Everyone is happy!

Any other meat-optional families out there? If so, share your recipes! Because good grief it’s hard keeping everyone happy!! 🙂