So I Married a Meat Eater: How to Merge the Family Menu

Ahh...the crunch of raw celery. So crisp. So healthy. Now, too often, the splatters of grease from my frying pan drown out the sound .
Since my husband and I married, my once vegetarian dinner menu has transformed into a smorgasbord of greasy gravies, buttery baked goods, and huge hunks of beef. 
Merging the family menu can be a challenge, particularly when family members have different nutritional needs. Here are a few tips.

Re-examine the Family Diet
Creating a healthy menu for a family in which everyone has different eating habits involves a great deal of compromise. It means not only cutting fat content, but also working to merge a protein-rich diet with vegetables and meat substitutes. 

Increasing fruit and vegetables is the first step in creating a healthy menu. leading nutritionists say. Dr. Ruth E. Heidrich, fitness trainer, tri-athlete, and author of A Race for Life: From Cancer to the Ironman, says healthy menus maximize plant foods while minimizing unhealthy substances, such as cholesterol and saturated fat. 
"If scrumptious, mouth-watering plant food dishes are offered first, there is less of an inclination to want more of the not-so-good foods," Heidrich says, "Plus, though

I can't prove it, theoretically, if all the body's nutrient needs are met in nutritious, high-fiber dishes, the appetite signals that we can stop eating now."
Dr. Charles Attwood, author of Dr. Attwood's Low-Fat Prescription for Kids, agrees. "When one increases vegetables and fruit, this usually replaces some of the meat and--don't forget--dairy products."

But many twenty-somethings argue they need the protein that meat and milk products provide. Besides, they say, active, healthy, young people do not need to worry about heart disease and high cholesterol levels. 

Not true, Attwood says. "By the age of 12, 70 percent of children already have fatty deposits in their coronary arteries, if they've consumed a standard American meat and dairy diet. This increases to virtually 100 percent by the age of 20."

And if these statistics don't make you re-examine the family menu, Heidrich has a different approach. "What usually does get [younger people's] attention are the two issues of maintaining slim, attractive bodies and feeling good," Heidrich says. "If we can convince them that they'll not have to worry about getting fat and having all the energy they need, I think we'll meet their primary concerns."

Merge The Menus
We all need to address our meat consumption, whether we aim to bypass future health problems or to promote overall fitness. Merging menus between meat-eaters and vegetarians is easy if you are both willing to compromise and to stick with a long-term plan. 

"Maybe both are willing to give up dairy products and limited fish and seafood," Attwood says. His "Four Stages to an Ideal Diet" details steps couples can follow together to achieve greater health. This plan helps couples eliminate meat, fatty milk products, and fried foods gradually. 

Once you reach Stage Four of Attwood's plan, or as you integrate healthy vegetarian dishes into the family menu, take a look at new recipes. 

Or try Heidrich's solution. "I thoroughly believe in sneaky cooking. In a spaghetti dish, I chop up broccoli chunks about the size of small meatballs. Most people will never notice that something is missing. Chili sans carne is another dish where 'missing carne' may not even be noticed."

The best way to make it through the first few months of menu merging is to discuss your lifestyle and eating habits within the family so you each understand your choices. Expose one another to a variety of foods. If your spouse goes for couscous one night, agree to try a bite or two of grilled chicken. Experiment with marinades and spices. Prove that non-meat dishes aren't boring and that it is possible to modify your menu without greatly modifying taste. 

More tips
Keep a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables so you can easily incorporate them in prepared foods. 

Experiment with preparation techniques. Instead of deep frying, bake, roast, broil, boil, blanch, barbecue, pressure-cook, and stir-fry.

Try cooking vegetables in flavored broth.

Reduce the amount of meat in a recipe to 3- to 4-ounces per serving. Try to keep meat servings to the size of a deck of cards.

Substitute legumes (peas, lentils, peanuts, dried beans) for meat in a recipe. Legumes provide the "full feeling" meat-eaters are used to. 

Substitute turkey for pork and veal. 

Replace sour cream with non-fat yogurt.

Remove skin from poultry, and keep it moist by reducing the cooking time. 

Use eggless pasta.

Buy fresh herbs. Or dry your own herbs in a shallow baking pan in a low oven. Before using, soak the herbs to revitalize. If you replace fresh herbs with dried herbs, use twice the amount. 

Instead of sautéing in oil, cook your vegetables in a non-stick pan with broth, wine, or water.