I was raised to “eat what’s on the table” and I raised my girls the same way. Lately, however, I revisited the “eat whatever’s on the table” philosophy. There are families where one or more members have special dietary needs. If a child, for instance, is allergic to seafood, no sane mother would cook a seafood meal and insist that the child “eat whatever’s on the table.” Why not just ban seafood in the house? That wouldn’t be fair to the other members of the family, would it, because that would be depriving them of the nutrition they can get from seafood. So, there’s no escaping the work — two dishes for every meal. And I wondered how much work it entailed to do that three times a day and seven days a week. For those who can afford to hire a separate cook and nutritionist for every family member with a peculiar dietary requirement, it might not be a big issue. But in an average family, how is it done?
The epiphany was actually brought on by Sam’s decision to turn vegetarian. I respect her decision and I promised to be supportive. That meant the “eat whatever’s on the table” rule needed a re-interpretation. But saying I’d be supportive was different from actually doing it. During the first month of Sam’s vegetarian diet, I struggled. I really struggled. Not only was I not well-versed with vegetarian cooking, I also struggled with cooking two sets of meals on weekends when the girls were home. It was twice the work. Twice the prepping, twice the cooking, twice the time I spent in front of the stove. So, what was I to do? Tell Sam to cook her own food? That didn’t feel right.
So, what did I DO? I developed a system. The two-in-one system. Two versions of the same dish, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. It works. The trick is to create a base dish, split it into two portions, add meat to one portion and leave the other portion meatless. For example, when I cooked vegetable curry, I set aside a portion for Sam (see the post) and, to the remaining portion, I added cooked pork. That’s what you see in the photo above.
A second example.
I made spring rolls, Vietnamese style with rice paper, with a kani salad-inspired filling. Meaning? Minus the crab sticks but plus chilies. I had the salad in one bowl and, in another bowl, I had the shredded meat of boiled chicken. I made four spring rolls with the salad filling. That was for Sam.
Then, I made another eight spring rolls with the salad and chicken as filling for Speedy and myself (Alex wasn’t home). Easy peasy.
A huge part of the system rests on having pre-cooked meat for the meat eaters in the family. But since I had been cooking meat in bulk for several months already (I divide the cooked meat into portions and keep them in the fridge until needed), it’s become just a matter of identifying dishes that taste good with or without meat. I’ve cooked Bicol Express with vegetarian and porky versions in one go. I’ve done stir fries and soups. And I’ve taken photos because I do intend to share how it’s done — satisfy the dietary preferences of everyone in the family without killing myself in the process with too much work.
It’s not like that every time though. There are occasions when I do prepare two dishes, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, for a meal. But those occasions have become more and more rare as I add to my list of “dishes that taste good with or without meat.” And the list is growing really fast.