Becoming a plant-based or vegan family is a big decision. And, successfully integrating your family into this lifestyle can very much dictate your own success. Here are some things we learned along the way that will hopefully help and encourage you in your own journey.
Starting The Journey
When I first made the decision to go plant-based back in 2013 for health reasons, it was not initially a family affair. It was very much, “this is daddy’s food and this is everyone else’s.” My wife and I quickly saw this method would not be financially viable nor was it in the best interest of our family’s health and well being.
We decided a plant-based diet needed to be a change in our life as a family. At the time, my children ranged in age from 9 months to 11 years and most of them had their own reaction concerning the dietary journey for which we were about to embark. The two oldest didn’t exactly share my “passion”; the next two in line were pretty indifferent, but didn’t like the idea of giving up certain snack foods; and our 9-month old had known nothing but a plant-based diet, which was AWESOME! Transitioning our family to plant-based eating was not an overnight change, but it did happen.
Making It Work
Prepare: Once you and your spouse have made the decision to go plant-based, prepare your children. Let them know the pantry is going to be looking much different than it has in the past; mealtime is going to require more preparation; they’re going to notice some things missing from the pantry and fridge, such as their normal, everyday pre-packaged snacks, soda, and juice.
There will be less frequent trips to fast-food establishments. It may come as a shock or even be upsetting to them, but it’s best to prepare them rather than just blind-siding them with it. By preparing your children, you can comfort them through the shock. You’ll probably be surprised at how well children respond when you actually take the time to talk with them instead of just springing it on them. It makes them feel as if you actually value their thoughts and allows you to answer their questions, providing an opportunity for great conversation.
Educate: Take time to sit down with your children and let them know the food you have been eating was actually hurting and not helping them. Try and explain it in a way they can understand. Take them to the store and teach them how to read labels, explaining where the ingredients in their old favorites come from. Let them know you want to get healthy so you can be there for them as long as possible and you want them to grow up strong and healthy as well. Security and care resonate very deeply with children.
Involve: Include your children in things like the grocery shopping and meal planning. Make food fun! Have a pizza night and let them build their own pie. Make pancakes and provide a ton of toppings: fruit, dark chocolate chips, nuts, etc. Do a taco night and let them fill their own tortilla. The possibilities are endless. Children love to be involved and will be more prone to eat something they “cooked” themselves. Once a month, we turn the kitchen over to our two oldest, currently teen-agers, and let them choose and cook the meal. It’s awesome watching them figure out how to make things plant-based if it’s not in our normal rotation.
Baby Steps: It’s OK if you’re children don’t go plant-based overnight, mine didn’t. Remember, you want to set them up for success over the long haul. Sometimes, they might respond best if you gradually ease them into it. My wife and I started by removing all the dairy from our house (milk, cheese, butter, yogurts, etc.). Three of our five children had dairy allergies and had been on soy milk once they stopped nursing, so this was an easy win and a great starting point for us. Look for the easy and quick victories. The “Fire Cadet” starting point in the Engine 2 Diet is also a great place to start. Week 1: no dairy or refined foods. Week 2: cut out all animal meats & products. Week 3: Get rid of all the oils. Week 4: You’re a plant-strong family. This helps to “usher” the family into a new way of life without a complete shock to their system.
Be Gracious: This is probably the most important. Remember, you are asking your family to completely change their way of eating and adopt a whole new lifestyle…that’s no small task. My wife and I took the approach of having a “no rules” mindset when it came to eating out of the house.
We want our kids to make choices and own them, not eat begrudgingly and pig out when they get out of the house. They’re going to be spending time with friends who don’t share the same values when it comes to food and more than likely they’ll “fall off the wagon.”
Love them-don’t shame them. Keep offering them tasty fruits and veggies at home, continue to encourage them, and fill your house with healthy plant-based snacks and food so that they see, and FEEL, a difference when they leave the house. Our oldest children eventually started noticing how bad, physically, they felt when they ventured outside of their plant-strong surroundings into junk food hell with their friends.
Now, they will eat before going out with friends, take a snack, or just wait until they get home. Again, keep the long term goal in mind. Being gracious will win them over and it doesn’t hurt when they see the positive changes in you. You are their greatest influence.
These suggestions are not etched in stone, they are just what we have learned from experience. I hope these ideas help you in your journey to create a plant-based family!