Plant powered kids in practice!

Okay, last post I promised I’d cover how we do food with our littles.  As I wrote in that post, we are trying to create a palate that is satisfied by whole foods without a lot of added salt, fat or sugar.  The current American diet is slowly and painfully killing those who eat it and we want to spare our girls that heartache if we can.   I’m having trouble writing about this without it being a laundry list of food we eat.  Ain’t nobody gonna get those 5 minutes back if I do that so I’m trying to figure out how to capture what we do and how we do it.

I think the first thing to say is that, it’s not easy.  At least from the outside what we do looks like a lot of work.  We make almost everything they eat and we do it 3 meals a day, most days. We don’t eat out a lot and there is a very small percentage of food that comes from a box already prepared.   There is a lot of cooking, preparing, plating going on in our kitchen and the dishes seem to be never ending; there are times when 2 dishwashers wouldn’t seem amiss.  My mother-in-law once commented that she wouldn’t like to eat vegan because it was too much work.  My response to that is that it’s not so much about our being vegan as it is us being more whole foods based.  We have made a conscious choice to control what goes in our bodies, and not abdicate that responsibility to someone who does not have our best interests at heart.  That’s not saying that there aren’t healthy choices that come in packages but percentage-wise it’s not the majority.  While it’s time consuming, it’s become our lives so maybe saying it isn’t easy isn’t entirely accurate.  We’ve gotten it down to several systems that make meal times flow pretty easily.  A few times a week we make big pots of beans and grains.  We always have greens and vegetables in the refrigerator and fruit lives on our countertop.  Meals tend to vary on a theme that incorporates all of those things in one form or another.  They could be as simple as cut bell peppers, jadra (lentils and brown rice, it’s fantastic!) mangos and cauliflower or as complex as a cashew cheese grilled quesadilla with steamed broccoli mixed in.

The second thing to say is that, for the most part, I think that our strategy is working.  They have had what we call “junk” food before, several times even, and they like it as they were meant to.   But what I find interesting is that more often than not, after eating out at a restaurant (which means way more fat and salt than they are used to), or when eating at a vegan potluck which tend to focus more on vegan comfort foods, they’ll complain about headaches and stomach aches.  They’ve even noticed it and the last time we ate out at a restaurant, Diva told Sassy that they better have more vegetables to mix in with the other stuff so they wouldn’t feel so bad.  They are in tune with their bodies way more than I was even 10 years ago.  My hope is that they will internalize these message they are getting from their bodies and will choose to eat healthier more times than they don’t.  I remember loving McDonald’s diet cokes over all other drinks but I finally realized that the worst headaches of my life would happen after I had one of those diet drinks and I kicked it.  I was in my 30s.  Hopefully with a headstart, the girls won’t take as long!

It needs to be said that we struggle with some of the same things parents struggle with (first)world wide.  They get into ruts and then all of a sudden they won’t eat what they asked for seconds of yesterday.  And just when I think I’ve got a groove going, “Mom, I forgot to tell you, I don’t like that anymore.” is heard at the table.  They also take turns being picky-ish.  One day Sassy devours her plate, asks for more, the next, it’s Diva.  There’s no rhyme or reason…as the saying goes, the struggle is real.

You may wonder how this works out in the “real” world.   Kids will be kids, right?  Candy, cookies, cakes, nuggets, chips…they’re out there almost everywhere you turn.  A number of factors go into how we deal with all the temptations.  For one, we do give the girls treats; there’s a fabulous vegan bakery that makes delicious cupcakes, I make yummy desserts; they have chocolate pudding for breakfast sometimes (chocolate cherry chia pudding…so healthy but you’d never guess) and a local restaurant makes a killer vegan mac and cheese.  For another, like I mentioned before, they are starting to see the connection between how they eat and  how they feel and they are already making changes based on it.  Another way we deal is by not expecting perfection.  We tend to operate on a 90-95% rule of thumb: if 90-95% of what they eat is from us and healthy, we aren’t going to sweat the remainder.  We have no desire to be hovering and monitoring everything that goes in their mouth.  We did that for a bit and it was exhausting and no one enjoyed it.  We’re well aware that sooner than later, they are going to be out on their own, responsible for their own choices and we are going to have to live with them.

Finally, we also don’t dumb things down for them.  They know where their food comes from and have no desire to participate in the atrocities that happen on a daily basis.  We look at ingredient labels and try and pronounce them, much to their amusement/disgust.  One day, Diva looked at a snack cake and wanted to try it.  We looked at the label and she shuddered and said, “That looks more like a bad science experiment than food.”  At 6 she’s already more aware than many adults.  All we can do is model good eating ourselves and give them the knowledge they need to make the best choices they can.  Anyway, let me know if you want more specifics on what kinds of foods we make (my pita pizzas and tofu scrambles are out of this world, if I do say so myself) and I’ll get more detailed.    Till next time!



Plant powered kids!

I’ve got 2 littles, Diva and Sassy who are 6 and 4 respectively and they’ve been vegetarian/vegan since birth.  Diva ate eggs and cheese but never had meat and transitioned to vegan when she was 2 and her sister was born.  Sassy has never intentionally consumed an animal product; I’m fairly sure well meaning grandparents have accidentally given them things that have had eggs  (cookies) or animals (McDonald’s french fries, eww!  Why, oh why does a potato need beef juice on it to make it taste good?  Oh right, it doesn’t.  But I digress…) but other than that, she’s been vegan her whole life.  For them, it’s normal and they think the rest of the world is a bit weird because they eat animals.  They know they are different but it doesn’t seem to bother them.

To be clear, just because something is vegan by no means guarantees it is healthy.  We are trying to teach the girls that the question to ask when presented with food that’s not from us, isn’t necessarily, “Is it vegan?” but, “Is it healthy?” and they do pretty well for the most part.   They like lots of different vegetables and grains, eat peanut or almond butter and a wide variety of fruit.   What’s interesting is that when I try to feed them with food that carries lingering prejudices about what children like to eat, they won’t touch it. For example, conventional wisdom holds that kids don’t like veggies unless they are slathered with ranch or hummus.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put veggies on their plates with hummus or a vegan cashew ranch or other sauce and they refuse to eat them, only want them plain.  It’s the same with pasta.  Diva wants it plain, Sassy wants cheesy sprinkle (a cashew, nutritional yeast blend) but no sauce.

We have the reputation in our families of being too strict with the girls and what they eat.  One family member once threatened to call CPS because she thought we were too harsh in what we feed the girls.  Despite what our families think, we aren’t doing it to be mean, and we aren’t even as uncompromising as they think we are and there’s a very good reason for why we do it.  We have what we loosely call “control” over them for such a short time and these years are absolutely key in forming their palates.  If we bombard them with high fat, highly salted, highly palatable but low nutrient food, that’s what they are going to want. They will form preferences for them and may struggle with addictive type eating that may in time, and I’m not exaggerating here, kill them.  Kids aren’t born loving chicken nuggets or french fries, but if they are offered them, it is almost guaranteed they will like them and prefer them over say, cauliflower because of how our brains are wired to seek pleasure which these low nutrient “foods” provide.  If we can spare them the pain of that addictive struggle by flooding their senses with delicious, highly nutritive dishes that are fantastic to eat and also happen to provide all the components their little bodies need to grow healthy and strong, help prevent cancer and so many other maladies, why wouldn’t we do that?

I was overweight as a young adult and constantly struggled with food issues.  I remember going to Wendy’s drive through and ordering not only their 1/4 pound burger but also the baked potato with broccoli and cheese.  I knew I was being unhealthy but wasn’t able to resist the siren call of that type of food.  You bet I want to do anything I can to save the girls from that.   How’s it all working?  How do we do what we do with the girls?  I’ll cover that in my next post!