It's challenging to juggle two different diets, but this family does so with ease, while also prioritizing sustainable and ethical food choices.
Welcome to the latest post in TreeHugger's series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.
Parents work so hard to feed their children and themselves, to put healthy meals on the table, to avoid spending a fortune at the grocery store, and to fit it all around busy work and school schedules. It's a feat worthy of more praise than it commonly gets, which is why we want to highlight it – and hopefully learn from it in the process. This week features an interview with Karly, who balances her own vegetarianism (and occasional veganism) of 22 years with her family's meat-eating, as well as a very busy work schedule.Names: Karly (40), Jon (36), Kai (7)
Location: Ontario, Canada
Employment status: Both Karly and Jon work full-time shift work (12 hours, different shifts).
Weekly food budget: We spend approximately CAD$120-$150/week (USD$90-$113) on groceries.
1. What are 3 favorite or commonly prepared meals in your house?
Jon and Kai really love tacos, and they are an easy dinner to get together when it is a busy weeknight or if I'm working. I make a lot of vegan soups and stews that we pair with a salad, and in the summer we do BBQ a lot.
2. How would you describe your diet?
Jon and Kai eat meat and some dairy (yogurt and sometimes cheese) and I am vegan. We try to buy vegetables in season, and local when we can, which is hard in Ontario in the winter.
3. How often do you shop for groceries? Is there anything you absolutely have to buy every week?
I shop once per week for groceries, always to replenish fruits and vegetables, yogurts (dairy and non), and cereal and bread for Jon's breakfasts.
4. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?
I wait for the flyers and try to shop the flyers, loosely meal planning depending on what is on sale and looks 'fresh' in the store. Ideally I like to shop on Thursday or Friday, but sometimes that doesn't happen, depending on my shift schedule that week. I do the grocery shopping; however, Jon is the one who deals with two local farmers when it is time to buy meat (organic, grass-fed beef, organic heritage breed pork, and occasionally chicken).
5. Do you meal plan? If so, how often and how strictly do you stick to it?
Although I do like to meal plan, it doesn't happen every week. I will peruse my many cookbooks looking for meals that will be easy to whip together on busy nights or that I can make a batch of for upcoming work days.
6. How much time do you spend cooking each day?
We usually spend 45 minutes to 1 hour cooking every night. Jon bought an Instant Pot which has helped on busy nights, and we used our slow cooker often before that.
7. How do you handle leftovers?
We love leftovers and will intentionally make a big batch of soup or curry if one or both of us is working the next 2 or 3 shifts. They have been a lifesaver more than once!
8. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?
We don't eat out very often, at most twice per month. There isn't a lot of variety or options for eating out and it is very expensive. Kai doesn't love fast food or restaurant food, although he does love the idea of it! That being said, he does like eating at restaurants that are a little more fine dining, where his options aren't just chicken fingers, pasta and grilled cheese.
9. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and/or your family?
Kai is our biggest challenge when it comes to feeding our family. He isn't a big breakfast eater, and refuses to eat cereal, toast, eggs, or oatmeal. His breakfast usually consists of a mango and cherry smoothie with pea protein and spinach. Time is also a challenge for us. Kai is involved in a lot of sports, which means practices and games take place at a traditional dinner hour (5-7pm). He isn't a big snacker, so we need to have dinner ready for him when he gets home from his sports. If one of us is working, the other needs to be prepared and have it ready ahead of time.
Jon likes to have muffins or granola bars as part of his work lunch (working 12-hour shifts means taking snacks, lunch and dinner). I don't like to buy those items because I think they are overpriced and not super healthy. Instead I will make big batches of granola bars or muffins (always vegan) and we store them in the freezer. This way I can cut way back on the sugar that goes into the muffins. The same goes for hummus. I can't justify spending $4 or more dollars on a small container of hummus, so I make my own. Kai will eat homemade hummus, but not store bought, so it's a win when I need protein for his lunch.
10. Any other information you’d like to add?
I have been either vegetarian or vegan for the past 22 years. We let Kai choose whether or not he wants to eat meat. Since he does occasionally choose to eat it, it is important to both Jon and myself that he gets good quality, ethically-raised meat from local farmers. On average, Jon eats meat three times per week. Kai always has the option to choose meat or veg, and surprisingly he often chooses 'to be vegetarian with mom'. If Jon cooks meat, he has it alongside the veg dish that I have prepared.