“What’s for dinner?” It’s hard enough to answer that question when you’re by yourself, but when you live in a household with multiple dietary restrictions, it becomes a nightmare. What do you do? Cook a separate meal for each person? Let everyone just fend for themselves (ha, wouldn’t that be nice)? The answer is in finding flexible recipes that can be customized on each plate, according to each persons’ needs.
The most common request I get is for households with both vegetarians and omnivores, so I’ve compiled this list of flexible recipes that can feed both vegetarians and meat eaters, to hopefully make dinnertime a little easier. But I’ll also briefly outline how to make your own list, based on whatever dietary restrictions you’re working with.
How to Make Your Own Flexible Recipe List
Although this list was designed for the vegetarian/meat eater conundrum, a lot of these recipes will work for other dietary restrictions as well, especially recipes in the bowl meal category, since each serving is built to order. To make a list of flexible recipes for your dietary needs, first find recipes that satisfy the most restrictive dietary style, then list what you can add to the finished product to satisfy the less restrictive diets. For instance, list dairy-free recipes, then possible additions, like topping with cheese or sour cream, stirring cream or yogurt into a sauce, etc.
Taking a few minutes to research and make your list ahead of time will save you a lot of agony later. For reference, we have categories for dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and soy-free recipes on Budget Bytes.
About Flexible Recipes
Most of these options start with a “base” recipe that is vegetarian, then list options for adding meat to the finished plate. For each recipe I’ll list which types of meat match the best, and any special instructions, if needed.
You will need to cook the meat or fish separately (unless using a store-bought rotisserie chicken), but this is still much faster and easier than cooking two entirely separate recipes. And if this is regular routine at your house, consider batch cooking your meat, dividing it, and freezing it, so small portions can be thawed and reheated each night.
TL;DR: Chicken can be added to just about anything! I reference “grilled chicken” often in this list, but if you don’t have a grill, you can use the quick skillet method for cooking chicken that I used in my Jerk Chicken with Pineapple Black Bean Salsa Recipe. Or quickly bake your chicken breasts like in my Garlic Herb Baked Chicken.
So, let’s get to it!
Flexible Recipes to Feed Vegetarians and Meat Eaters:
Poor Man's Burrito Bowls
Poor Man’s Burrito Bowls – This classic bowl meal is made for customization. Simply brown some ground beef (with or without taco seasoning) or Mexican Chorizo to add atop each bowl. Shredded or grilled chicken also works well with this dish.
Mediterranean Hummus Bowls
Mediterranean Hummus Bowls – The original recipe calls for ground beef, but these tasty and colorful bowls are just as great when you skip the beef. You can add a soft or hard boiled egg for extra protein, and/or double up on the veggies to bulk it out.
Sushi Bowls with Sriracha Mayo
Sushi Bowls – Edamame or even scrambled egg makes a wonderful protein alternative to fish in these delish Sushi Bowls. Each bowl is made to order, so they’re a breeze to customize to each eater!
Loaded Mashed Potato Bowls
Loaded Mashed Potato Bowls – This is a vegetarian take on a dish that KFC used to make, so it only makes sense that chicken would be a great addition for your meat eaters. I love the idea of doing some Baked Chicken Nuggets on top, but to make life easier you could always do shredded rotisserie chicken, or sliced or diced grilled chicken breast.
Coconut Jerk Peas with Pineapple Salsa
Coconut Jerk Peas with Pineapple Salsa – Jerk seasoning goes great with chicken, so simply adding some grilled chicken breast or shredded rotisserie chicken is an easy answer for this recipe!
Bowties and Broccoli
Bowties and Broccoli – This is my go-to emergency meal when I’m too tired to eat or have a nearly empty fridge. It only takes a few minutes more to brown up some flavorful Italian sausage to add to your bowl. Grilled or rotisserie chicken is also an easy addition!
Creamy Tomato and Spinach Pasta
Creamy Tomato Spinach Pasta – We’ve had so many wonderful suggestions from readers over the years about how they like to add meat to this recipe. Italian sausage and chicken are the top picks, both of which you can cook separately and add to the bowl after for those who want it.
Spinach Artichoke Pasta
Spinach Artichoke Pasta – This pasta is like your favorite spinach artichoke dip appetizer turned main dish. It’s just begging for some grilled chicken on top, or even some salmon or crab!
Tuscan White Bean Pasta
Tuscan White Bean Pasta – Another pasta that would be great topped with some sliced grilled chicken breast, but if you have the budget, some scallops quickly seared in a skillet would also be amazing with this pasta.
Lighter Spinach Alfredo Pasta
Lighter Spinach Alfredo Pasta – Grilled chicken breast is the answer again! There’s no question, chicken and pasta go together like salt and pepper. You can also try my Garlic Herb Baked Chicken with this delicious creamy pasta.
Garlic Parmesan Kale Pasta
Dragon Noodles – Dragon noodles are such a classic and they go with so many different proteins! Shrimp and ground pork are my favorite add-ins. While I usually cook those in the same skillet as the noodles, they can easily be cooked separately and added to each plate at the end.
Broccoli Shells n' Cheese
Broccoli Shells and Cheese – Chicken and bacon are both great with macaroni and cheese, but even something like diced ham would be a good add-in.
Slow Simmered Black Eye Peas and Greens
Slow Simmered Black Eyed Peas – This recipe is so filling and hearty that your meat eaters probably won’t even miss the meat, but if they do, a little sliced and browned smoked sausage would be ah-maz-ing with these scrumptious stewed peas.
Garden Vegetable Lasagna Soup
Garden Vegetable Lasagna Soup – What goes better with lasagna than Italian Sausage? Simply brown up some Italian sausage in a separate skillet and add a spoonful or two to each bowl for those who want it. Sweet, spicy, or mild Italian sausage would all be great.
Vegan Peanut Stew
Vegan West African Peanut Stew – I actually had a comment just the other day from a reader who said they routinely make this recipe to satisfy their household of mixed eaters. Shredded rotisserie chicken is their add-in of choice, and I have to agree. The soup has such powerful flavors on its own that you want to use a more mild meat.
Chunky Lentil and Vegetable Soup
Chunky Lentil Vegetable Soup – This is another recipe that often gets high marks in its vegetarian form from both meat eaters and vegetarians. But I also have a similar soup that contains Italian sausage, so I think Italian sausage would be a great add-in here as well.
Thai Red Curry Vegetable Soup
Thai Curry Vegetable Soup – Shrimp! This one is begging for shrimp. Quickly sauté some shrimp in a separate skillet, or use pre-cooked frozen shrimp (thawed, of course) to add to individual bowls. I think rotisserie chicken wouldn’t be so bad, either.
Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad
Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad – As I established earlier, grilled chicken goes with just about any pasta dish, but I think smoked sausage would be a more interesting choice here. Slice and brown some sausage in a separate skillet, and add to the plate for those who like it.
Apple Dijon Kale Salad
Apple Dijon Kale Salad – Chicken is a natural fit for cold crunchy salads. Shredded rotisserie, sliced, or diced grilled chicken are all great.
Cold Peanut Noodle Salad
Cold Peanut Noodle Salad – Chicken wins again with these cold dishes. The peanut lime dressing in this salad has wonderfully strong flavors, so you don’t want to overpower it with a meat choice that is overly flavorful. Shredded rotisserie chicken would stir really well into the textures of this salad.
"Sweep the Kitchen" Pasta Salad
Sweep the Kitchen Pasta Salad – Literally any meat you have already cooked! Okay, I say that not knowing what you have in your fridge, but the idea behind this salad is that you’re using up your leftovers to make a monster pasta salad. Salami and other deli meats tend to go great in pasta salads!
Creamy Lemon Dill Greek Pasta Salad
Spicy Coconut Vegetable Stir Fry
Spicy Coconut Vegetable Stir Fry – Again, chicken is going to be the obvious answer (I’d do shredded rotisserie chicken here), but shrimp is more fun! Sautéed in a separate skillet, then added on top of your bowl, or pre-cooked frozen (thawed) shrimp stirred in.
Sweet Chili Stir Fried Tofu Bowls
Sweet Chili Tofu Bowls – Chicken takes only minutes to stir fry, so cook some up in a separate skillet, add a little extra sweet chili sauce, and then you can easily build two versions of the same bowl.
Salad Bar Vegetable Lo Mein
Salad Bar Vegetable Lo Mein – Chicken or shrimp, quickly sautéed in a separate skillet is your ticket with this meal!
Simple Mushroom Broccoli Stir Fry Noodles
Simple Mushroom Broccoli Stir Fry Noodles – I love the idea of ground beef with this recipe. Make a double batch of the sauce, then brown one pound of ground beef and add half of the sauce once browned. Continue to cook until that sauce thickens up, then spoon the sauced beef over the mushroom and broccoli noodles!
Roasted Vegetable Couscous Meal Prep
Roasted Vegetable Couscous Meal Prep – Although it was designed as a meal prep, you can actually serve it on a regular plate for dinner. #sarcasm This recipe has both the vegetarian and meat-eater versions built right in, so click over to the recipe to read the details!
Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Lime Crema
Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Lime Crema – These loaded sweet potatoes are kind of like a self contained bowl meal! Each person can customize their potato to their liking. Browned Mexican chorizo would be seriously amazing with these flavors!
Easy French Bread Pizza
French Bread Pizza – Who doesn’t love a “Make Your Own Pizza” night?? Probably the easiest customizable dinner around. Plus, you can grab a handful of whatever toppings you want from a salad bar, and not have any leftovers. Try adding pepperoni, sausage, chicken, ham, or any deli meat to your pizza.
Spicy Baked Black Bean Nachos
Spicy Black Bean Nachos – Bake the vegetarian nachos as written, then top the individual plates with browned ground beef or Mexican chorizo. YUM.
Easy Oven Fajitas
Easy Oven Fajitas – This is a chicken recipe as written, but you can separate the vegetables and chicken onto two baking sheets so eaters can customize their fajitas to their liking without having the ingredients touch. I also do a version with sliced portobello mushrooms, so you can also add that to the vegetable mix!
Make Ahead Bean and Cheese Burritos
Make Ahead Bean and Cheese Burritos – Each burrito can be easily customized to include ground beef, chicken, or chorizo. Just make sure to keep everything properly labeled so there are no surprises later!
What about you? What are your favorite ways to customize recipes to meet the needs of your household, without having to cook multiple recipes every night? Share your expertise in the comments below, and help a friend out! :)