Maybe you aren't ready to lead your family from being meat eaters to becoming plant people.

Sarah Matheny was, and her husband and two small daughters followed her example. She chronicled the process in a blog and then cookbook extolling vegetarian cooking, "Peas and Thank You."

But her advice to mothers looking to change the family diet is hardly revolutionary: start small.

Try a meatless recipe once a week, Matheny suggests. You don't even have to think of yourself as part of the international "Meatless Mondays" movement that's all about convincing people to try vegetarian meals. Once they survive, the dining landscape starts to look different.

With recipes like Pea Daddy's Jambalaya, made with meatless sausages, Tempeh Chili, with burgerlike soybeans replacing ground beef, or Black Bean Burgers, Matheny urges home cooks to replace the satisfaction of meat with vegetable forms.

Catering to her two young daughters, who star in the stories preceding her recipes, has reinforced Matheny's belief that you don't have to hide vegetables from kids. "Not every child is going to love every vegetable," she writes, "but if you give your kids options, they can almost always find a vegetable they like."

Once you make vegetarian food part of your family's routine, kids will ask for their favorites, she observes.

She serves them concoctions like Chickpea Strawberry Mango Salad, Cashew Carrot Ginger Soup, and Skinny Elvis Sandwiches, with almond butter as a healthier alternative to peanut butter, and sliced strawberries instead of sometimes-mushy bananas.

Many of the recipes are enticing even if you're not looking to cut flesh from your diet. Lulu's Mac and Cheese can be made either vegan or dairy-licious, the Teriyaki Tofu looks likely to scratch your Chinese takeout itch, and Mama Thai's Cashew Pineapple Stir-Fry would be a contender for company.

There's plenty of healthy desserts to choose from as well, like Mango Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Icing, and Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding, with silken tofu taking over from the traditional beaten eggs.

The amount of time Matheny spends telling cute stories about her family might be too much for some readers. But the recipes themselves are relatively simple for ex-carnivore crossover cooking, and accessible to beginning vegetarian cooks. She does call for a few relatively exotic ingredients, like agar-agar, but those can be found in local bulk food sections or health food stores.



Peas and Thank You: Simple Meatless Meals the Whole Family Will Love

By Sarah Matheny


255 pages, $21.95