Are you a parent? Are you interested in healthy plant-based eating? We've asked some experienced plant-based parents to share their knowledge, insight and practical tips with you!
A number of our readers are convinced of the health benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet, but are faced with the difficulty of feeding their (possibly unwilling) families as well. Most people making major dietary changes find it hard enough when doing it alone, so we understand that those with children- no matter what age- face an even greater set of obstacles. It is our hope that our plant-based parenting interviews will help families transitioning to a plant-based diet by offering first hand experience with menu ideas, overcoming common obstacles, and ensuring that children are happy and healthy too!
Our first interview is with Deb, a mother of two living in Australia. Deb is interested in both the ethics and health benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet, and has kindly offered to share a little about her family and their journey.
We'd also like to mention that Deb has her own blog, "Plant-Based Family Down Under". There, she shares delicious oil-free plant based recipes that are ideal for families- including some of the tastiest pasta dishes we've come across!
Hi Deb! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey to plant-based eating?
I went vegetarian at 17 in 1982, for ethical reasons, having watched The Animals Film. I’ve always been interested in health and nutrition so have always read those kind of books. I read Fit For Life in 1997 and did that for a year and felt great (no dairy!) but then had babies and slipped back into old ways. I knew that dairy was generally not good for you after that, but I kidded myself into thinking we didn’t eat much of it. I happened across Eat to Live (by Dr Joel Fuhrman) one day in 2011 and that was pretty much it, I then read Forks Over Knives and (eventually, when I could get it!) watched the movie. My husband joined me pretty much straight after reading the book, in Oct 2011.
How old are your children? Do they also eat a plant-based diet?
My daughter Sicily is 16. She is vegan mostly (sometimes has cheese at a friend’s house, etc.) but more and more is choosing not to eat dairy, as she knows it doesn’t agree with her. She feels (and looks! – skin in particular) better without it. She’s at a difficult age however and now has to make up her own mind. She is ethically vegetarian but I think she does miss the dairy and I just hope the health benefits will continue to convince her. She is at that junk food age so does love the chips, sugar, etc. along with all her friends, but they are always outside the house and I rarely buy that kind of thing anymore.
My son Luca is 11. He loves fruit and is much easier, I guess maybe because he was younger when we cut out the dairy. Now he actively chooses not to eat it, even at friends’ houses. He will order cheese free pizza! I am so proud! He is also a much less picky eater, so I can pretty much give him anything and he’ll eat it. So he is more plant-based than my daughter, really, and will mop up the raw veggies and hummus!
What about their knowledge and understanding of your food choices?
Sicily understands more about the ethical issues and is more curious about reasons for things, but as it’s since birth she doesn’t question it anymore. She did have problems giving up dairy and still would rather not, I think, but perhaps mainly because it’s not “cool” to concern yourself with your health, so ethical reasons are easier for her to deal with as opposed to health reasons. I did have to educate her a bit on the ethics of the dairy industry which really upset her, she really didn’t want to believe it.
Luca is more straightforward (boys for you!) and just thinks it’s plain wrong to eat animals for food. He also understands that it’s really bad for you too. We always sum it up as “bad for you, bad for the animals, bad for the planet", and he likes that. Having said all that, I will sit down with him in the holidays and watch Forks Over Knives again, as he’s old enough to understand more of it now.
What are some of their favourite plant-based meals and snacks?
Sicily loves Kale chips – only homemade though; anything involving spinach, fruit smoothies (mango, banana, mixed berries), tofu, stir-fries, Buddha bowl (steamed veg over rice or noodles with Asian sweet/sour sauce), pasta of any kind, mashed potatoes and gravy.
Luca loves fruit, fruit and more fruit! He can honestly just keep on going until it’s all gone! Also smoothies, hummus and crackers or veggies to dip; sushi, baked potatoes, pasta of any kind, lasagne, cheeseless pizza, etc.
(You can check out Deb's Buddha Bowl recipe by clicking here.)
Do you pack school lunches yourself? If so, what do they normally include?
Yes I do. Favourites are homemade lentil veggie burgers in a wholemeal bun, mini pizzas, salad rolls and wraps (sometimes with tofu or a veg schnitzel), sushi with avocado, cucumber, carrot and tofu; pasta with tomato sauce or pesto, soup with a wholemeal bread roll, pasta salad, small baked potatoes, grilled tofu, and corn on the cob.
For you, what difficulties have arisen from following a plant-based diet and having a family?
Having friends over for meals and eating out. Friends tend to stop asking you over! And if they come to our place I stress about what to make as I want them to love it and not think it’s just “weird”. I do entertain my book club a few times a year but they are 4 special ladies who LOVE veg food and would eat like I do if it wasn’t for their husbands!
Eating out is a struggle as we always do Thai / Chinese and it’s often too oily and I hate asking for no oil as well as the other dietary requirements. It really gets on my nerves that even pubs etc. won’t do: a) veg burgers (how hard would it be to keep in the freezer!?) b) baked potatoes as opposed to fries (in the UK or US you can always get a baked potato!) or c) a salad bar. I miss those!
How important is it to teach children healthy eating habits early in life? What effect do you think your influence will have on them later in life?
VERY IMPORTANT. I think we crave the food we had as children when we are adults so it has to be good! I hope they realise that the good health they enjoy is due to their diet and hopefully even if they stray when they’ve left home they will return to good habits. I think they will both remain vegetarian at least.
Finally, would your kids like to add any comments themselves?
Luca says: "All of that stuff is true. And I think it’s wrong to kill animals for food; it’s not a good idea. If you were to turn the walls of a slaughterhouse into glass then you would instantly not want to eat meat anymore. My friends are always picking on me about what I eat, but I don’t really care what they say, I’m fine with my food how it is."
We'd like to give a big thank you to Deb for her contribution to our interview series. Stay tuned, there's more to come!
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