You may be thinking of or have already transitioned to a plant-based diet. But, if you are responsible for cooking for your family, it may seem daunting - especially if you're not sure how to provide delicious, nutritious meals that everyone will love. You are not alone! More and more families are choosing to ditch meat and dairy in favour of plant-based meals, but the practicalities of everyday life can get in the way. So, in this fourth part of our blog series, Going Plant-Based, we'll discuss suggestions for assembling vegan meals that everyone in your family will love. We'll also give you tips on raising children in a nonvegan world and share some of our favourite plant-based sources.
1. Why adopt a plant-based lifestyle as a family
Families are the cornerstone of society. As a collective, families have the power to set trends and create change. That's why it is great to see more and more families adopting plant-based lifestyles. According to new findings, one in twelve parents raises their children on a vegan diet, mainly for health reasons. A further 13% of families prefer a vegetarian/ plant-predominant diet.
Plant-based eating is not only healthier for both people and the planet, but it also sends a powerful message about the importance of taking care of our world. When families come together to make this shift, it sends a strong message that we are ready to move forward in creating a sustainable future. Plus, it's simply delicious! By adopting a plant-based lifestyle, families can enjoy all the benefits of good health while helping to make the world a better place.
- Vegan for Sustainability: 7 Ways Veganism Helps The Planet
- Can Plant-Based Diets Help Improve Productivity?
2. A typical day in the life of a vegan family
A typical day in the life of a vegan family might look something like this:
Wake up and enjoy a healthy breakfast together. Eat pancakes with fresh fruits and a glass of OJ for your Vitamin C, folate, and potassium fix. You could also prep some overnight oats with nuts and seeds to have a quick but healthy and delicious meal. Walk any pets you may have and feed them (more on that later!)
Head off to school or work, packed lunch in hand. Afterwards, it's time for a snack. Enjoy some carrot sticks and hummus, an apple with nut butter, or a piece of dark chocolate.
Dinner is the perfect time to sit down and enjoy a delicious plant-based meal together. Try lentil soup, roasted vegetables, quinoa stir-fry, or spaghetti with a homemade marinara sauce.
End the day with a fun family activity. Play a game together, take a walk in nature (with your pet), or watch a movie. As you can see, enjoying all your favourite foods and doing everyday things while following a vegan diet is possible. With a bit of creativity, you can make delicious plant-based meals that the whole family will love.
3. How do I account for individual family members' tastes?
Finding one meal that suits everyone's taste can be challenging if your family is anything like ours. We like to cook one meal and adjust to suit everyone's needs. For example, if we have a stir-fry with rice, we might add some extra veggies for the kids or leave out the spice for our more sensitive eaters.
Effective planning can cut down on the stress of having to cook multiple meals, and it can also save you money and time. For example, we had my brother's partner and niece over for our weekend family dinner last Sunday.
So, we batch-cooked some chickpeas from scratch. Our teen son helped prepare some hummus with a portion while my partner chopped a big batch of mushrooms, green and red peppers and shallots. I marinated some tofu in soya sauce and chilli paste. I then used most of the chopped veggies and chickpea to make a veggie korma with coconut milk.
The adults in the house had the korma with some steamed jasmine rice. But, since my niece is fussy about eating curry-like dishes, I topped up a store-bought pizza base with tomato sauce and the rest of the chopped vegetables. Instead of cheese, we used hummus and olive oil. The kids loved it!
Another great tip is to get the kids involved in the cooking process. Not only will this teach them valuable life skills, but it may also make them more likely to eat what they've helped prepare.
You could also have each family member choose one night a week where they get to pick the meal. This gives them a sense of control and allows them to experiment with plant-based foods they might not normally eat. It also takes some of the pressure off of you as the cook!
Okay, but is a plant-based diet safe for a kid?
It is very natural to be concerned if a plant-based diet is conducive to the growth and well-being of your child. The key is to introduce any changes gradually and intentionally. Abrupt changes are more likely to cause friction.
A great start is having one or two meat-free days a week. This will allow you to explore different plant-based foods and find recipes everyone enjoys. As your child becomes more accustomed to the new way of eating, you can increase the number of meat-free days. If you want your family to predominantly be on a plant-based diet without fully transitioning to veganism, that's okay, too!
How can I best replace the protein from meat?
Most people worry about whether children will get enough proteins from plants. This is, of course, a common concern with adults as well. However, as we mentioned in our last post, plant-based protein sources are perfect for kids. Some great options include:
- Beans and legumes: black beans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas
- Seeds and nuts: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews
- Tofu and tempeh: these are both made from soybeans and are excellent sources of protein
- Grains: quinoa, buckwheat, farro
- Veggies: broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus
What about other nutrients?
Even though people worry about enough protein intake on a plant-predominant diet, this is usually not a real problem. Instead, you should ensure that your child gets enough micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. These are crucial for growing children, and a varied diet will easily provide for them.
For example, fortified cereals, nutritional years, and tempeh are enriched with B12. Fortified plant milk and mushrooms are rich in Vitamin D. However, your child may need additional supplements, so we suggest you consult a nutritionist to ensure they are getting enough B12 and VitD. Other nutrients of concern include Calcium, Zinc and Iron. We discussed how to get enough of these in Part 2 of our series.
What are the advantages of eating plant-based for kids?
When a family goes plant-based, kids don't consume animal-derived fast-food and snacks as much. This, in turn, leads to better eating habits and a healthier lifestyle. For example, a European study found that plant-based diets in childhood lead to better heart health later in life. It also reduces the risk of developing obesity and chronic diseases such as type II diabetes and cancer.
5. Let's not forget our companion animals
We promised to discuss how to help your family transition to veganism. For many of us, our pets or companion animals are family! So, we didn't want to leave them out.
Whether or not you should give pets (especially cats and dogs) a plant-based diet has been widely debated. We have a duty of care towards them, so we need to ensure they get all the nutrients they need to live a long and healthy life. So, the first step will be to conduct your research and check if you are comfortable with the idea of a plant-based diet for your pet. This is a big decision and not one to be taken lightly.
Plant-food for dogs
Like humans, dogs are omnivores. This means they can digest and extract nutrients from animal and plant-based sources. However, some important differences exist between the canine and the human digestive system. So, the nutrient intake from plant sources will not be the same. The best thing you can do for your dog is to purchase a commercially prepared vegan dog food, as they have researched to ensure your pup is getting all the nutrients they need. You can also consult with a veterinarian to ensure that the food you choose meets all of your pet's nutritional needs.
Plant-food for cats
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they require animal-based proteins to survive. Their digestive system is designed to extract nutrients from animal flesh, and they cannot digest plant-based proteins properly. For this reason, it's best not to switch your cat to a vegan diet without consulting with a veterinarian first.
There are some commercially prepared vegan cat foods on the market. Still, they are not recommended as your cat's sole source of nutrition. Suppose you do decide to switch your cat to a vegan diet. In that case, working with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist is vital to ensure they get all the nutrients they need. If you have an outdoor cat, they may end up hunting small prey themselves, which has critical environmental consequences.
No matter what you decide, here are a few tips:
As with any diet change, it is best to transition slowly. Start mixing the new food with their current food, and decrease the amount of old food gradually. This will prevent GI upset.
Monitor your pet's health
As with any diet, you should monitor your pet's health closely. Watch for any changes in energy levels, stool quality, or appetite. If you notice any changes, please consult your veterinarian.
Getting a pet
If you currently don't have a pet but are planning to get one, perhaps animals like rabbits, gerbils, or even pigs could be a better fit for a vegan family! These animals can thrive on a plant-based diet.
Of course, there's more to consider than diet when deciding whether or not to get a pet. But it's something to keep in mind!
So, you see, there are many things to consider when transitioning your family to a vegan diet. It's essential to do your research and make sure that everyone (including your pets!) is getting the nutrients they need. Make slow, intentional changes to a plant-based diet and monitor everyone's health closely. With some planning, you can make the switch seamlessly!
Next week on the blog...
For our next post in the series, we will share some tips about how to deal with social situations as a vegan. We understand that not everyone will be as supportive of your decision to live a vegan lifestyle, and we'll give you some tips on navigating those situations. See you then!
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