Food Table Healthy Delicious Organic Meal Concept

5 Meals that Won’t Leave You Feeling Like a Short-Order Cook

by | December 25, 2017

Who doesn’t want some easy meals that everyone will enjoy?

All too often, I hear from women (and sometimes a few men) who feel like they’re always cooking multiple dishes at dinnertime. Their kids want one thing, their spouse wants another, and—if they’re lucky—they’ll find a way to squeeze in something for themselves too. It’s time consuming and frustrating to constantly try to please a variety of palates, which can lead to giving up and saying “Let’s just get takeout.”

Instead, why not have some core go-to meals that the whole family will love? And yes—I learned this the hard way so I know just how you feel. My daughter is vegan like me, but has always been pretty picky. I almost always made us separate things for dinner because, well, I was stuck in a rut. I think the lightbulb went off when I realized she’d eat tacos if she could choose what to put in them. Hence, my love of “bar meals” began!
The concept is pretty simple—just create a “bar” experience where you put lots of different options out on your countertop in little bowls. Let everyone choose what they’d like and build their own. This also gives, say, picky kids a feeling of power and makes them much more likely to cooperate! Wink-wink.
Here are my five favorite bar ideas that are usually pleasing to a wide range of eaters:
Taco Bar 
Yep, this is the first one I’m listing because it’s the “lightbulb” one—plus it’s pretty easy to throw together. And who doesn’t like tacos?? Here are some suggestions for your taco bar:
  • Taco or tostada shells
  • Protein of your choice (I use refried beans for myself, and black beans for my daughter, but you could also use tempeh, meatless crumbles, seasoned tofu, etc.)
  • Guacamole (duh)
  • Raw veggies (texture is everything here): Finely chopped cabbage, grated carrots, minced red onions, and chopped cilantro
  • Cooked veggies (grilled or roasted zucchini and red onions are delicious in tacos!)
  • Optional: vegan sour cream and grated cheese
  • Salsa and/or hot sauces of your choice
Burger Bar
Here’s one that’s especially good for busy nights when you just want something quick and filling. Try the following
items for your burger bar
  • Burgers (obviously). We like to keep a few of our favorite veggie burgers on hand in the freezer. Here’s where my daughterprefers a very different type of burger than I do—she likes the “meaty” type of vegan burger, whereas I prefer more of a whole-food-actual-veggies type of burger. It’s easy enough to pop one of each in a pan so we’re both happy! (Or substitute a nicely grilled portabella mushroom cap for your burger)
  • Buns of your choice (heat them up in a hot pan, cut side down, for a much nicer end result)
  • Veggies of your choice: Lettuce, tomatoes, sliced onions, grilled vegetables, roasted red peppers, etc.
  • Avocado or guacamole
  • Vegan cheese slices
  • Condiments of your choice such as ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, vegan mayo (or aioli), etc.​​
Asian Noodle Bar 
This is just plain fun—and a great way to sneak in veggies! Try placing the following items out on your​ countertop for a make-your-own Asian noodle dinner:
  • Asian noodles of your choice (soba, udon, brown rice Pad Thai noodles, etc.)
  • Finely textured raw vegetables: chopped red cabbage, grated carrots, sliced green onions, chopped cilantro, etc.
  • Cooked vegetables such as sautéed shiitake mushrooms, steamed broccoli and/or cauliflower, grilled onions, etc.
  • Baked tofu or tempeh cubes (in a pinch, you can purchase pre-cooked versions that are ready to go)
  • Seasonings: tamari (or soy sauce), toasted sesame oil, lime juice, and garlic
  • Toppings: toasted sesame seeds, sriracha hot sauce, crushed peanuts, etc.
Baked Potato Bar 
You guys. My daughter will only eat a baked potato (happily) if it’s in “bar” format. For some reason, having the choices of what to top a baked potato with makes her bypass her typical “I hate baked potatoes” rhetoric and willingly eat them. I know—so weird, right? Yep. The magic of bars! Here’s what you could try for yours:
  • Hot baked potatoes (you didn’t see that one coming, right?)
  • Vegan butter, sour cream, and cheese (or homemade cheesy sauce)
  • Minced green onions (or grilled red onions)
  • Steamed broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • Salsa
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Vegan bacon (tempeh, coconut, or bacon bits)
  • Vegetarian chili (or chili beans)
  • Salt, pepper, and garlic granules
Buddha Bowl Bar 
That’s sort of fun to say—and even more fun to eat! What’s more satisfying than a bunch of delicious goodies, packed into a big bowl and drizzled with a tasty sauce? Comfort food at its finest. Here are some ideas for what to put out for your peeps:
  • Baby greens (they’re nice to use as a base, as a way of getting in more veggies)
  • Whole grain of your choice (millet, quinoa, or brown rice work well)
  • Protein of your choice (we use baked tofu or tempeh—or simply some beans)
  • Avocado slices
  • Steamed or grilled vegetables (such as cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, onions, etc.)
  • A fun sauce or two (a creamy vegan dressing is usually a good bet)
  • Crunchy elements (chopped peanuts, edamame, kale chips, sunflower seeds, coconut bacon, crumbled flax crackers, etc.)
A final (and important) note: If you’re in a household where there’s someone who eats meat at home, you can put some non-vegetarian items out for them (as part of the bar) if you choose. This is of course a personal decision, and you have to do what works for your family. A nice thing I’ve seen happen with many families using this “bar” approach to dinners is that the meat eaters are often more likely to try vegan options if they’re presented with them in this way. Then, you can even work on phasing out the animal products as they begin to enjoy more and more of the plant-based alternatives.

Tess Challis I’m a vegan chef, five-time cookbook author, and wellness coach. I live in southwest Colorado with my fabulous 14-year-old daughter, Alethea, who makes the best ever vegan pizza and peach pie. She’s been vegan since birth, and I’ve been vegan since 1991—and we both love it! When I’m not writing for VPP, you can find me at Tess Challis.


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