A Professional Chef Talks About Feeding His Vegetarian Family

©. Wayde C.

From pasta bakes to gourmet snack trays, this busy dad keeps meals simple and quick, without sacrificing nutrition or meaning.

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. Today we hear from Wayde, a professional chef who avoids a strict meal plan because he prefers to cook based on what's available.

Names: Wayde (33), Elizabeth (31), Anson (9), Atticus (7)

Location: Frostburg, Maryland

Employment: Wayde is a full-time contracted chef, typically working within large resort properties, as of late The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. Elizabeth is a full-time front desk administrator for boutique hotel.

Weekly food budget: USD$150-175

1. What's a favourite or commonly prepared meal in your house?

We try to keep things simple and quick, but nutritious and meaningful as well. We do a lot of 'bowls'. These could be simple rice and sauteed veggies, mixed grains of quinoa, amaranth, and marinated tofu, or roasted potatoes, broccoli, cheese, and 'soysage'. Pasta bakes are always a favorite, as we can make ahead and have them ready to go. We get home and put them in the oven while we are doing homework and housework, and there are always leftovers for other dinners or lunches.

Many meals will simply consist of what we call a 'snack tray'. However, it's not just a snack – definitely a meal in itself. Usually there is a base of fruits (apples, pears, berries, mango, kiwi), veggies (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers), cheeses, homemade hummus (black bean or garbanzo), slices of crusty bread or crackers, dried fruit and nut mix, and whatever else might find its way over from the leftovers shelf in the fridge.

Carder snack tray

© Wayde C. – A decadent-looking snack tray

2. How would you describe your diet?

We are definitely a vegetarian family. However, with me being a professional chef, I do try meats and will consume tiny amounts, but I just do not make meals of it. There are times when the boys will also have a craving for something animal protein-based (occasional sausage link, bacon, hot dogs, grilled chicken leg). We try not to intervene and allow them to make their own allowances, within reason of course. From time to time Elizabeth and myself will also treat ourselves to a sushi night, or the Sunday family dinner of venison or braised local beef of some sorts at my parents who are not vegetarian. (They most certainly have what you would consider a meat and potatoes diet.)

We also tend to stay away from milk products unless they are of a higher quality, like Trickling Springs or something of that nature. We stick with almond, oat, and cashew milks. We belong to an amazing local CSA, Savage Mountain Farm, which is a small, diversified, certified naturally grown farm in the northern Appalachian mountains of Somerset County, Pennsylvania. They structure themselves based on a point system rather than dollars in your account and the more you buy, the higher a percentage of points you will receive, essentially giving free points to spend with them.

We are also very fortunate to say that none of our household members have any known food allergies, and with two young boys born in this generation we can say that we are truly blessed.

3. How often do you shop for groceries?

Grocery shopping is done weekly by myself. I love to go grocery shopping. I make a game of it. I have my list and budget, but in the end I'm there to get as much as I can for as little as possible, while still keeping a stocked pantry and refrigerator. Again, food being my trade, I get to pick the best for the family and what "I" or "we" actually get to eat, and not be concerned about feeding and pleasing others for a rare bit of my time.

I typically stick to the outer walls of the grocery stores and focus on spending at least a third of our budget on fresh foods and meat alternatives. For meat alternatives I try to keep to a wide variety of items and not limit us to just soy-based, such as Field Roast Grain Meats products, three-grain tempeh, fresh jackfruit, lots of beans, and seitan (bought and homemade).

4. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

Typically we will go whenever we can squeeze it into our day. Sometimes it will be me by myself, power-shopping to get done and get home, but sometimes we will make it a way for me and Elizabeth to spend a morning together if we are both off. Other times it will be the whole family together in the evening. So, all in all, whenever we can get the time to go.

Carder family fridge

© Wayde C.

5. Do you meal plan?

Meal planning isn't really something on our radar, as we tend to stick to a typical routine, if you will, of foods we know we can and will eat. Also, I find it way more enjoyable to dig through the cabinets and back of the fridge or freezer and put together new dishes and meals. This gives us the ability to use all the random items we accumulate from impulse buying on my part, as well explore new combinations and flavors the boys may enjoy.

6. How much time do you spend cooking each day?

The great part I find about vegetarianism is that meals seem to happen much quicker and easier than they used to. It's not like we are preparing roasts, thick cuts of beef, or pan frying half-chickens any more. Many complete meals can come together for us in just under 45 minutes from start to serving on the table. Often this is closer to 30 minutes, depending on what we are making. We also try to cook our foods as minimally as possible to retain the integrity and nutritional value that the food has for us. Our kitchen is usually the gathering space for us when we have friends and family over. We have always organically based the center of our home around our kitchen and, as I'm a chef by trade, I just always find myself there.

kid stirring a pot

© Wayde C.

7. How do you handle leftovers?

Leftovers are typically eaten for lunch around our home. Most of the time they end up in a large mixing bowl with a bed of mixed greens of some sort and a ton of veggies for Elizabeth and me, or in the boys' lunch boxes for school, as we do not do the whole school lunch program thing.

8. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?

We find this to be one of our biggest challenges, not for a time or laziness factor, but because Elizabeth and I 'grew up' in the restaurant industry and we consider it one of our pastimes and something we truly enjoying doing. We love to go out to new restaurants and have the boys try new things, as a way of culturing them within the realm of food. With that, I would say we consistently enjoy 5 home-based dinners per week and maybe one eat-out and one take-out per week to fill in the voids. But after a recent discussion we are going to be limiting these non-home meals to better fit our budget.

9. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and your family?

Trying to keep things simple enough, so as not to take too much time away from family time and spend it all in kitchen. Another large challenge is to give the boys a vast variety in diet; basically, how do we feed growing boys on a vegetarian diet and keep them healthy and happy?

bowls of food

© Wayde C.

10. Any other information you’d like to add?

We are a very active family, to say the least. Ansen, Atticus and myself regularly train jiujitsu and are at the academy 4-6 days a week when on our regular routine. Elizabeth finds herself at the gym or doing yoga 2-3 days a week. During the warmer months we are always looking and waiting on our next hiking, biking, or camping adventure.

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