These simple steps will guide any meat-loving man to enjoy lighter, veggie-centric fare
If you’re a kale-and-quinoa kind of gal with a meat-and-potatoes-loving man, you likely wish you could get a few more greens into his diet. And while you can’t make your husband (or fiancé or boyfriend) drink spinach-spiked smoothies, you can help him give up his conviction that meat is necessary at every meal. A gentle nudge in the right direction with these tips from women who've successfully improved their S.O.'s diets is all it takes. Who knows? He might even start to enjoy the occasional vegetarian recipe, even if he’ll never give up five-meat pizza entirely.
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It may be paleo, low-carb, or flexitarian, but try to avoid referring to the menu you’re guiding him toward by name. “Most men don’t like change, so if you give a name to the change you’re trying to make, it doesn’t tend to stick,” says Nikki Roberti Miller, who blogs at Mrs. Healthy Ever After about her and her husband’s journey to healthy living. While she often cooks paleo-style meals for him, she doesn't label them as such, and as a result, her would never say he's on a diet.
“No one likes to be forced to do anything, so have a talk with your man about your eating habits and why you’re concerned or want to make certain changes,” Miller suggests. For example, Miller showed her husband the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead to explain why they needed to up their veggie intake—and now he loves juicing. Even easier: Ask him what kind of fruit he wants from the grocery store. “If he requests a certain healthy food, chances are he’ll eat it—especially so he won’t be held responsible for it going bad,” Miller says.
“One of my boyfriend’s favorite meals I’ve ever made him is my mac and cheese,” says Serena Wolf, a personal chef who blogs about her healthy, man-friendly recipes (dubbed the Dude Diet) at Domesticate ME. “What he didn’t know—until I told him—is that I used puréed cauliflower with a little bit of skim milk to thicken the cheese sauce,” says Wolf. In addition to significantly cutting fat and calories, cauliflower adds fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and other disease-fighting nutrients to the cheesy meal—and your man won’t even be able to taste it. (Find the recipe here.)
Similarly, Miller likes to add finely chopped mushrooms to bulk up ground beef without added calories in recipes like baked ziti or tacos, and she adds extra carrots, spinach, onions, and peppers to meatloaf. “If your man is really picky, buy a food processer to get the texture so fine, it’s practically non-existent,” Miller says. “Smoothies (try a mix of strawberries, bananas, milk or yogurt, and a cup of greens) and egg scrambles or omelets are also great ways to sneakily add veggies to his diet.”
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Physically, a typical man can (and should) eat more than a woman. And just like you wouldn’t want to split a pizza with him every night, he may not want to live on vegan salads 24/7. If you’re trying to eat fewer carbs, for example, make a chicken fajita salad with chicken, peppers, onions, and lettuce for yourself, and wrap it up in whole-wheat tortillas with a sprinkle of cheese for him, suggests Miller. “This looks more appetizing to him, it’s more filling, and he’s thrilled not to be eating salad.”
“Men tend to think ‘low-fat’ means ‘healthy’ or equate ‘gluten-free’ with 'low-calorie,' so I’ve had to explain to my boyfriend and clients that this isn’t really the case—and no, you can’t eat a whole box of cookies just because they’re gluten-free,” Wolf says. In fact, it can be tastier and lower-calorie to use a little bit of flavorful, full-fat cheese or cream than a larger amount of the low-fat stuff, she says. If you don’t want to play Mom pulling cookies out of his mouth while pointing to the nutrition label, show him instead by whipping up a delectably healthy dessert using nothing but fresh, whole ingredients. He’ll welcome the return back to real food.
Skeptical that you’ll be able to rub off on your guy enough to make a difference? Through making simple swaps and cutting back on processed foods, Wolf found her boyfriend’s cravings for sweets and fatty foods diminished. He’s even lost weight. But most importantly, he’s gotten over the mindset that “healthy” food can’t taste incredible.
“I didn’t expect my red-meat-obsessed boyfriend to start eating tofu,” says Wolf. Instead, she made simple ingredient substitutions to help him scale back on fattier foods. If your guy loves sausage, for example, switch from regular to chicken sausage. Swap brown rice, whole-wheat tortillas, and quinoa pasta for their white counterparts, and Greek yogurt for sour cream. Wolf promises he won’t taste the difference.
Know your man’s flavor preferences and work with them instead of against them. Wolf’s boyfriend liked to eat bagels with bacon, egg, and cheese in the morning, and she knew a smoothie wasn’t going to cut it. “Instead I explained how he could have all the flavors of a breakfast sandwich in a healthier, omelet form—just add turkey bacon, a sprinkle of cheese, and some veggies. Or he could top a sprouted grain English muffin with a mix of scrambled egg whites and one regular egg plus a sprinkle of cheese.”
“Men are very visual—everything has to look like something he would eat,” Wolf says. “For example, when it comes to burritos or tacos, the thought of not having cheese is devastating to my boyfriend. But instead of dousing it, I put a tiny bit of melted cheese on top, which goes a long way, and he can’t tell the difference between 1/4 cup and 1 cup.”
Fortunately mankind’s favorite appliance happens to lend itself perfectly to healthy food prep techniques. “I’m such a proponent of grilling,” Wolf says. “You don’t need a ton of butter or oil to cook meats or veggies on the grill, and it makes your guy feel manly to cook food over fire.” Adding comfort-food flavors like buffalo sauce to grilled foods makes them even more appealing—who needs blue cheese dip when your wings are infused with smoky goodness?
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“Out of sight, out of mind” reigns true, says Miller, who tries to avoid bringing home processed snacks. “If it’s not in the house, he won’t eat it—and neither will I.” The opposite also holds true: If you keep fresh fruit in plain sight in your kitchen, he’ll be more likely to eat a banana or apple when he’s searching for something to tide him over. Miller also packs healthy pre-portioned nibbles like pretzels, almonds, or pistachios in individual plastic baggies that her husband can grab to keep the munchies at bay.