“I’m not eating that rabbit food!”

“It’s not a real meal if there’s no meat!”

“Umm, I think we’re missing a food group here.”

So you want to eat a more plant based diet, but is your family on board?

We all know the health and environmental benefits of eating more plants and less meat. While most people would say they want to take steps to take care of their health and that of the environment, most would stop short of giving up their favorite foods. And that’s okay, because there’s no need to go vegetarian or vegan to get the benefits of a more plant-centric diet, but it does mean eating more meatless meals.

What to do if the carnivores in the family aren’t pleased with the prospect of dinner without meat? Here are five tips for getting meat lovers to actually enjoy a meatless meal:

  • When describing the dish, don’t call it vegetarian, vegan, meatless or healthy. Words have a powerful effect on how one perceives taste. Instead, use adjectives that make the dish sound rich and flavorful. Think “seared sweet and spicy garlic tofu and broccoli” versus “healthy tofu stir fry” or “smoky three bean chipotle chili” versus “meatless chili.”
  • Don’t leave off a source of vegetarian protein, or for that matter, a source of fat or carbohydrate. Sometimes when people try to go meatless, they serve a big plate of vegetables and forget to add substance. Aim to include protein, fat and carbohydrate in all meals. Protein and fat are important for satiety and satisfaction, while fiber-rich carbohydrate helps keep blood sugar steady and provides valuable energy.
  • Experiment with different ethnic dishes. In many cultures, meatless dishes are a major part of their cuisine. Think Indian dals, Mexican bean and vegetable enchiladas, or Japanese noodle salads. Present the dish to the family as trying a new cuisine rather than cutting out meat.
  • Making a favorite meal meatless will backfire if you compare it to the original. As delicious as your meat-free version might be, it will never live up to the original, not because the lack of meat makes it taste bad, but because by comparing it your family will look for it to taste exactly the same. Instead, embrace its differences! Don’t say, “I made your favorite macaroni and cheese dairy free” but rather, “I made this amazingly creamy macaroni with a butternut squash and sage sauce!”
  • Don’t forget to add umami, or meaty, savory flavor, to your dishes. Vegetarian sources of umami flavor include soy sauce, tempeh, nutritional yeast, nuts, broth, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Or, use cooking methods that promote caramelization, like sautéing or roasting.

This meaty veggie burger is sure to please the whole family – yup, even the meat lovers! It’s packed with umami flavor from mushrooms, soy sauce, toasted pepitas, and smoky spices like cumin and smoked paprika. Crumble up leftover veggie burger with sautéed vegetables and potatoes to make a spicy hash.

Spicy Mushroom and Lentil Burger
Makes 8 patties


  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, halved
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • Couple pinches of cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ cup pepitas, toasted
  • ½-1/3 cup oats
  • Olive oil spray
  • Burger buns, preferably whole grain
  • Desired toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, mustard, pickled jalapenos, etc)


  1. Place lentils in a medium pot and cover with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper and sauté about 5 minutes until tender. Add mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms are tender and have released their liquid, about 10 minutes. Add cumin, smoked paprika, thyme, and cayenne. Cook 1 minute until spices are fragrant. Add soy sauce to deglaze the bottom of the skillet and turn off heat.
  4. Place pepitas and oats in a food processor. Pulse until they form a breadcrumb-like consistency. Add sautéed vegetables, cooked lentils, salt and pepper and process until well combined. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if desired.
  5. Spray a large baking sheet with oil. Form mixture into 8 patties. Spray tops with more olive oil. Bake in the oven 40 minutes, flipping halfway, until golden.
    Serve on a toasted bun with desired toppings.
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About the Author

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE, CLT

Rachael Hartley is a private practice dietitian and food and wellness blogger at The Joy of Eating. She believes loving every bite of food is central to living a happy and healthy life. Through her practice and blog, Rachael inspires clients and readers to rediscover the joy of eating with nourishment, not deprivation, and to nurture a healthy relationship with food. Follow along on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.