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Need help with menu- Vegan mom, picky dad...

So my folks are visiting this weekend. We'll go out to eat Saturday night but they arrive late Friday afternoon and I'll be cooking dinner for 5 (my folks, my hubby and I, and our 3 year old son). Here's the thing- my hubby and I will eat pretty much anything, and we can always nuke up some nuggets for our son. My father, however, is a fairly picky (unadventurous) eater- a meat and potatoes kind of guy. My mother has recently adopted a pretty vegan diet- occasionally she'll eat seafood or dairy but very rarely.

In the past (prior to this new diet) I've done make your own pizza, or make your own panini, or some sort of pasta dish but have no ideas for this weekend. Was considering pasta of some sort with grilled chicken or something on the side for the non-vegans to add but it just sounds kind of boring. We're celebrating Christmas early so I'd like it to be something more than pizza or sandwiches but at the same time I'm home with a 3 year old and can't spend the day cooking... Was really hoping to throw something in the crock pot but haven't found anything that seems right...

Thoughts and ideas?

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  1. The first two things that come to mind are spaghetti (meatballs on the side if necessary) and salad or soup w/ vegetable broth as the base. Or what about meatless chili--very filling, I presume you can make it in a crockpot, chili sauce isn't hard to make but if you make your own it's more special.

    1. I made this a few months ago when we had a very picky eater over for dinner (she only ate steak well done, skinless chicken breasts, etc).


      It was really good and we didn't miss the meat with the beans and the squash! We also had a salad. We used can beans to speed it up. If you get some nice pappardelle, it makes it fancier looking.

      1. How about a vegetarian cassoulet with a selection of sausages and roast chicken thighs on the side? It'll be plenty satisfying for her without being boring. And while beans may not be his ideal side dish, the flavors will be familiar for him. I'm sure the beans could be adapted for the crockpot and the meats can go in the oven 30 minutes before eating.


        1. Thanks guys! These are great suggestions and I'm definitely booking the butternut squash pasta dish for the future! I'm thinking of doing meatloaf with some sort of vegetarian cassoulet on the side for mom- can always throw a potato in the oven for dad if he won't eat the cassoulet...

          Thanks for the help! I used to really enjoy cooking for my family when they come but this new vegan/meat and potato combo just stresses me out!

          1. I watched Giada make Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree this afternoon. It looked terrific and has positive reviews.

            1. would your picky eater eat curry? a cauliflower and potato curry would be really good!

              or, if that doesnt work, what about fondue? all you have to do is make the broth or melt the cheese, and then everything else (almost literally) cooks itself!

              tacos or quesadillas might not be a bad idea either

              6 Replies
              1. re: mattstolz

                The vegan couldn't eat the fondue.

                1. re: Muchlove

                  even a broth one made with veggie broth? is that because meats would be cooked in it? or would this just depend on how strictly vegan they are?

                    1. re: luciaannek

                      the liquid of fondue can be hot broth, or even beer/ale. it certainly does not have to be cheese. however i don't think this type of communal dining lends itself to wide-ranging dietary restrictions.

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        mattstolz specifically mentioned cheese in his post. I just thought he may have mistaken vegan for vegetarian. No big deal.

                        1. re: Muchlove

                          i actually rarely have the cheesey version of fondue. normally when i think of it im picturing a hot broth (or chocolate!!) to cook meats and veg in (hence make the broth OR cheese). but i understand the mistake, and always forget about vegans+cheese haha

              2. A great blended vegetable soup (butternut squash with sage and thyme and caramelized onions) or eggplant or cauliflower. Don't use cream, and use veggie stock. Easy.
                nice green salad with nuts and fruit.
                Put out some great cheeses and charcuterie for the non vegans. Some nice bread. Very easy.

                This is a little more work intensive but wild mushroom pot pies are my deal right now. Get awesome mushrooms, make a nice vegan pie crust (lots of recipes online), cook down the mushrooms maybe with some beer gravy, pop em in the crust, bake until done. Serve with a green salad, maybe some veg soup. Super comforting.

                2 Replies
                1. re: luciaannek

                  Make the butternut squash soup, but use coconut milk! Regular if you want it heavier, light if you don't. Most people can't even tell the difference and its delicious and vegan!

                2. More great ideas! I'm going to have to keep a list so that next time they visit I know just what to do! Dad won't eat curry I don't think- although I could maybe convince him to try it (got him eating goat cheese a while ago and now he loves the stuff)... Think he'd go for the wild mushroom pot pies though !

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: emskyrooney

                    Hi emskyrooney,

                    There's another way of looking at this. Your dad isn't picky - he is EASY. Meat + Potatoes ... Ok, cool - but that doesn't have to mean boring.

                    MASHED CAULIFLOWER. Your dad will think that this is mashed potatoes, guaranteed. Your mom will be impressed at your creativity. You will be happy at how easy it is. This can EASILY be done the day before, then reheated in crock pot / oven / whatever.
                    - Cut cauliflower into decent sized chunks then drop in to boiling water until soft enough to mash - probably 8-10 min. If you like, feel free to add some potato chunks as well - but no more than 50% of total weight. When I mix the 2 I use 1/3 potato to 2/3 cauliflower.
                    - strain and mash it up
                    - While you are boiling the heat up 1/4 cup of olive oil and half stick of butter. Melt that up and then sautee 3-4 TBSP minced garlic or garlic puree. Pour this over mashed C mixture and fold in. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Sea salt is ok but not table salt - toss out anything iodized. IF it needs some creaminess - fold in some heavy cream at the very end while it's nice and hot - this should not be done the day before, if you prep in advance.
                    - top if you like with some fresh chopped scallions

                    SQUASH. I'd suggest acorn or butternut squash. OR ... 1 of each. Slice off skin and toss out seeds and such. Then cube the meat and steam it up. Or roast if you like. Then melt some butter and season with honey, brown sugar, and cinammon. Pour over the cooked squash and fold. A touch of salt is ok if you like.

                    Pillsbury or generic crescent rolls. Everyone loves them ... EVERYONE ...

                    Protein ... Your mom won't like it but that's ok - this should be something that your dad will love. Figure out what he would most want and give it to him. Think of it as partial payback for all the BS he put up with while you were a teenage girl. Sorry but it is what it is. If he wants BEEF ... make it so. Roast Beef is easy and awesome. Pulled pork is easy and awesome. Steaks are easy and awesome .... See - your dad isn't picky - he's EASY.

                    If you really wish to avoid dairy entirely that's no worry - just skip the butter and cream in all the above and just use MORE extra virgin olive oil. Don't go easy on it - it's good stuff - fat is your flavor and it's healthy. You can always add in some cream at the very end - once you set aside a good portion for your mom.

                    Have fun!


                    1. re: jkling17

                      I don't see the need to substitute cauliflower for potatoes given the OPs constraints; potatoes are perfectly vegan. And I will say that, having eaten mashed cauliflower on a number of occasions, I would never confuse it with mashed potatoes. It's meh compared to mashed potatoes. The texture and flavor is different. Just to warn people who also might notice the difference....

                  2. Thanks Jeff- those are some great ideas! I might just try out the cauliflower- I've never been a cauliflower fan myself but perhaps masquerading as mashed potatoes everyone would like them! And you're right, I should see my dad as easy, not picky. Which is true because I know what he likes and doesn't like and if it's buttery/cheesy/meat/potatoes he's good. My mother is the tougher one for me because she used to be easy too- would eat literally anything we made but now has all these restrictions... Not sure what the heck she's cooking at home for just the two of them!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: emskyrooney

                      lol...that is what I was wondering too...what are they eating at home?

                      1. re: emskyrooney

                        My pleasure. Even your mom is easy to cook for. Perhaps it seems tricky since she's a "Vegan" but it's only one dinner - not a lifetime of cooking. Bottom line - make 2 veggies instead of just one and she'll be thrilled.

                      2. If you're open to having a more casual meal, lentil tacos in crunchy corn shells are great, and your mom can easily skip the cheese and load up on radish, jalapenos, lettuce, salsa, avocado, etc. They're a pretty convincing substitute for meat if you season the filling well.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ChristinaMason

                          I do a lime a chili tofu that i put in tacos. It's not a convincing substitute for meat but it's awesome.

                          1. re: luciaannek

                            I'd love to hear more about that. Is there a recipe you follow?

                            1. re: luciaannek

                              I did a couple of pretty tasty vegan taco fillings recently.

                              First, this one:
                              Potato tacos with green chiles -- omitted the cheese, but did sneak in some Field Roast brand vegetarian chorizo.

                              I also made stewed mushrooms (hongos guisados
                              (using water and coconut oil


                              I also love vegetarian "fish" tacos made with battered / pan-fried frozen / thawed tofu - the recipe is my wife's so I can post it here.... http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/2008/...

                              “Fish” for the fish taco
                              1 box firm tofu
                              1/2 cup chickpea flour (or 1/2 cup all purpose flour
                              )1/2 cup all purpose flour
                              1 ts cayenne pepper
                              1 cup water
                              1 Tb salt
                              1 cup panko
                              & enough oil (I used peanut this time) to pan-fry

                              Slice the firm tofu into whatever type of fish pieces you want. I just sliced them sideways. Put them in a tupper ware (or back into the tofu box covered with foil or plastic wrap like me) and freeze it overnight. I usually take it out and leave it out to thaw all day if I plan on making it for dinner. Squeeze the thawed tofu to get rid of the rest of the liquid and put it in a colander or strainer to drain.

                              There are actually 3 things to batter the tofu in. The best way to do it is to have 3 flat containers a wide enough to fit 3 pieces of tofu. In the first batter, mix the chickpea flour, all purpose flour, and cayenne pepper. If you don’t have chickpea flour, just sub in 1/2 cup all purpose flour. The second battter should be just water and salt mixed together. The last batter is plain panko.

                              Coat the tofu in the first batter, dredge it in the water of the second batter, shaking it a bit to get excess water off, then shake it around in the third (panko) batter. Shake the loose panko off the tofu and put it in pan/skillet to fry until golden on one side, and then flip over and repeat.

                          2. i would roast off a bunch of winter/root vegetables, using plenty of potatoes in the mix for your dad, and roast a chicken or pork belly for the omnis. call it done, or throw in some more vegetable sides your mom can supplement with, like a bean dish or a hearty whole grain, if you wish. on the easy side, but still feels seasonal and celebratory.

                            1. Personally, I think it is best for everyone to enjoy the same meal instead of having you go through the bugger of making separate sides, etc. Both of the following meals are tasty and quick to make but look impressive. :)

                              My suggestion would be to make a vegan version of Smitten Kitchen's Mushroom Bourguignon. Familiar, delicious yet quite glamorous.

                              Chickpea picatta by Post Punk Kitchen could also work overtop mashed potatoes.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: blinknoodle

                                <make a vegan version of Smitten Kitchen's Mushroom Bourguignon. > Doesn't that recipe rely heavily on lots of butter for its flavor? I am not sure that subbing olive oil, for example, would result in quite the same deliciousness.

                                1. re: ChristinaMason

                                  You could try Earth Balance margarine instead of butter.