If your family’s meals are meat-centric and you’re craving a change, join the world for Meatless Monday and Meat-Free Mondays. The latter was launched by Paul McCartney and his daughters Stella and Mary in 2009 and is still going strong. This organization has recently released a short film, One Day a Week, to show how impactful it can be to go meatless even once a week to help mitigate climate change.
Of course, we at The Vegan Atlas would prefer that every day is a meatless day! When I’m asked how people can ease into a more plant-based life, I suggest making vegan versions of dishes and meals you and your family already like. These easy and delicious sizzling tofu or tempeh fajitas are a case in point.
Fajita dinners are so much fun that those you’ve made dinner for will hardly notice that for the most part, they’re actually making their own meal, right at the table. This festive meal makes very little work for the cook, and everyone can tailor their fajitas to their own tastes.
Before we get to the recipe, here are some of the benefits of incorporating more plant-based meals into your weekly repertoire:
Well-being: With rampant childhood and adult obesity and a rise in other lifestyle-and diet-related ailments, one thing we have control over is what we eat. Research has shown that people with primarily plant-based diets suffer from a fraction of disease compared with their meat-eating counterparts.
Ecology: Livestock agriculture depletes enormous land and water resources and is a major contributor to the greenhouse gases associated with climate change. There’s much to be said on the subject, but consider just this one statistic: It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, as compared to 390 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
Compassion: Animal agribusiness is one of the cruelest practices imaginable. Millions of sentient creatures are subject to confinement, overcrowding, and disfigurement only to face an equally cruel demise in the slaughterhouse. For slaughterhouse workers, the job is tough and dangerous.
Recipe from Plant Power by Nava Atlas; photos by Hannah Kaminsky
- Shredded lettuce (romaine works well)
- Salsa (your favorite variety)
- Fresh cilantro sprigs Vegan sour cream, optional
- Picante sauce, optional
- 8 fajita-size (6- to 8-inch) flour tortillas
For the fajitas:
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons good-quality chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- One 8-ounce package baked tofu, or one 8-ounce package tempeh
- 1 medium green bell pepper, cut into long, narrow strips
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
- Prepare the items for serving before starting, as the rest of the preparation goes quickly: Place the lettuce, salsa, cilantro sprigs, and optional sour cream in separate serving bowls on the table. Place a bottle of picante sauce on the table for those who like hot stuff.
- If you’d like to warm the tortillas, wrap them in foil and heat for 5 minutes or so in a 300º F oven or toaster oven. If they’re fresh and pliable, you can skip this step, but do bring them to room temperature.
- Combine the lime juice, oil, chili powder, and cumin in a medium mixing bowl and whisk together.
- Cut the tofu or tempeh into narrow strips about 2 inches in length. Add them to the mixing bowl, and toss gently with the dressing (if you’re using tempeh, you might want to add a pinch of salt; you won’t need it if using baked tofu). Add the bell pepper strips and toss again.
- Heat a large skillet, then add the tempeh or tofu mixture, liquid and all. Turn the heat up to high and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes to 7 minutes, or until sizzling hot and touched with brown spots. Remove from the heat and cover.
- Distribute one or two tortillas (depending on appetite and what else is being served) to everyone. To assemble the fajitas, have everyone place a few strips of the tempeh or tofu and peppers in the center of their tortillas and garnish them as they wish. Roll up the fajitas and pick them up to eat out of hand.
How to get the kids on board the Meatless Monday train
The ever-present question is how to get the whole family on board with enjoying plant-based meals. Raising my own two children first as vegetarians and then as vegans, and often hosting their friends for meals, it was always clear that most kids are more adventurous than their parents give them credit for. The keys were keeping food simple, serving it in a welcoming setting, and offering choices. Some might call this pampering, but it’s actually quite empowering.
Even if a child chooses to go vegetarian or vegan on his or her own, that’s no guarantee that they won’t be finicky. Plant-powered kids can be as picky their omnivore counterparts. Start by introducing familiar dishes in plant-based versions. Regularly introduce and revisit a wide variety of natural foods and fresh produce. Here are some more tips:
Give kids choices, and teach them to make good decisions. This doesn’t mean letting them dictate meals. But seriously, put yourself in their shoes. What if, day after day, some authority figure made all of your meals and made you to eat them, whether you liked them or not? Give kids a role in the process of choosing good foods for meals.
Embrace teachable moments while shopping. At my local natural foods store, I regularly see a parent ask their child, “Do you think we should get some [broccoli, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots …]?” It’s a teachable moment, and a way to familiarize kids with a variety of good-for-them foods. Farm markets are a fantastic setting to get kids to understand the connection between the foods we buy and the people who grow them.
Encourage kids to help with meal planning and preparation. Even the most stubborn eaters can be swayed by giving them some say in meal planning. Show them colorful photos of tasty dishes in books and on the web, and ask them to help plan, shop for, and prepare one meal a week. If a child has helped plan and/or make a meal, their pride and sense of accomplishment will inspire better eating habits. If kids feel invested in the process, they’re more likely to enjoy the outcome.
Be inspired by restaurant favorites. If you’re stumped about where to start, consider: What does everyone in your family like when you go out to eat? Pizza, pasta, Chinese, burgers, tacos? There are so many ways to make plant-based veggie-filled versions of restaurant and take-out favorites at home.
Serve delicious vegan food! The best way to win your family over is to show them how delicious meatless meals can be. Soups, pasta dishes sandwiches, wraps, and potato dishes — not everything benefits from being meaty. Most everyone loves pizza, lasagna, and chili, all of which are easy to make in plant-based versions. There’s much common ground in plant-based meals that can be shared pleasurably and peacefully.