two people cooking in a kitchen: one is cracking an egg and the other is slicing cheese.

The Family Flexitarians

Last Updated on September 17, 2023

Whenever I mention the way our family eats, I get some friendly eye-rolls and comments like, “what ever happened to everyone eating the same meal for dinner?” 

I can’t answer that question but let’s chalk it up to the all-American ethos of having it your way. I know my parents didn’t customize meals for every member of our family growing up, but I also know that we didn’t have one pescatarian, one on doctor’s orders for a low-cholesterol diet, one highly selective eater, and one plant-centric omnivore in the house like we do today. 

By definition, we’re a flexitarian family. There are only a few one-size-fits-all dishes in our house, so we tend toward an approach that lets all of us customize our meal. Lucky for us, this approach is also pretty meal-prep friendly, since it’s really about combining components in different ways. So it sets us up well to have plenty of good food ready for not just dinner, but throwing together any meal of the day. Here are some of our tried and true tactics: 

Decenter Everything 

Gone are the days of starch and meat being at the center of the plate. We like a something-for-everyone approach, where multiple veggie-based dishes share the table with whole grains and meats. Condiments and garnishes round out a flexitarian table in the best way, by stretching the customizable factor as far as it can go. 

Start with a Starch

When you’re trying to eat less meat, whole grains come into sharper focus. Brown rice, sweet potatoes, or a bowl of noodles can anchor the meal without being its center. One of our most popular family dinners is baked sweet potatoes served with shredded spicy chicken, black beans, avocado, and a variety of other toppings. 

White or brown rice – or quinoa or barley for that matter – can be a comforting landing pad for a few slices of steak or seared fish, some shredded or roasted veggies, and a dab of some kind of sauce. 

And if nothing else seems to stick, having some crusty bread and good butter on the table will help round things out for the person who only likes white rice when you’re serving brown, or only likes roasted sweet potatoes when you’re serving baked. 

Double Down on Produce

I’m a fan of more than one veggie choice on the table at every meal, even when the mental hurdle of all prepping all that veg seems insurmountable. One way I get around it is to double my output whenever I can. If I’m shredding cabbage, beets, or carrots for salad, I’ll do more than I need and stash the overflow in the fridge for next time. If I’m already turning on the oven, I’ll throw some cauliflower, broccoli, or sweet potatoes in there to roast alongside whatever’s for dinner that night. Then, down the road, we have options. 

In a perfect world, we have sliced raw vegetables on the table every night, alongside a salad or a roasted or sautéed vegetable situation. This just gives a little more flexibility for how to compose a plate of dinner, and keeps us all in the habit of eating our vegetables! 

Meat on the Side

We like to make it so meat is just one component of the spread, no more or less significant than the other things on the table. This could be a sliced seared steak, or poached shredded chicken, or some lovely seared scallops. People can put that protein over their salad, or alongside their roasted vegetables, or into their grain bowl with some shredded veggie toppings and a drizzle of herby sauce – or not, if they’re not eating meat, there’s still plenty to choose from. 

Finish it Off

Sauces and garnishes are a key piece of the flexitarian puzzle. A simple salsa verde, for example, can get drizzled over a rice bowl full of shredded veggies and sliced steak, and works just as well with a salad and roasted vegetables. Along with sauces, little bowls of chopped herbs, nuts, seeds, and even breadcrumbs add texture, flavor, and of course, flexibility to any build-your-own dinner.