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!
What a beautiful family. Thank you for sharing them with us. I have been plant based since I was 18 years of age. I started being macrobiotic, and I did not eat fish as some do, and then became completely plant based and it has served me well. My husband eats everything I do, except he also eats chicken, but that is his choice and he cooks the chicken himself. We have been married 44 years, so I guess it all works out for the best. I thank you for everything you do for the plant based society. It means a lot.
Thanks for sharing your story and tips. You have a beautiful family. I have been sharing some of your recipes with friends who are trying to lose weight but are not yet open to “plant based” eating. The 3-ingredient oatmeal cookies are a bit hit with my pool buddy. She is using them to replace her “weight loss sweets that are filled with sugar substitues and preservatives. She loves their staying power. When her niece recently visited they made cookies together and her niece likes the cookies and took a big portion of them home with her.
I appreciate all the work you have done – love the “no rule” when eating out. I know that attitude freed your children in knowing that they would not be scolded or penalized. It allowed them the opportunity to discover on their own that they felt better on the plant based diet.
You have a beautiful, healthy looking family! I’m sure it hasn’t been easy, but your efforts are obviously paying off!
Thank you so much!
What a wonderful, useful, and compassionate article, Shane. And Andrea’s responseto a commenter’s question was so well presented. Its so heartening to read of your journey to health and wellness (and therefore, joy, gratitude, and happiness) with the change in lifestyle. Thank you for your courage and willingness to share it.
The vegan Belgian waffles recipe you just sent via email sounds great. Can that be used for pancakes as well? I don’t have a waffle iron and don’t have the space nor would I use one enough to justify it.
I see no reason why it wouldn’t work for pancakes. But, if you look around on Shane & Simple I have several pancake recipes you might enjoy. Cheers.
Just wanted to let people know that this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. We eat vegan about 50 percent of the time and vegetarian 90 percent. It isn’t “falling off the wagon” to choose eating meat and dairy. It can just be a choice! 🙂
I don’t do all or nothing as I have struggled with eating disorders for years and find that approach doesn’t work for me and my family! We make choices everyday and try to eat wfpb a lot of the time.
We are in this process, my oldest daughter will try anything and My middle daughter is sugar addicted! My youngest daughter is 3 and she won’t touch a fruit or vegetable unless it is in a smoothie. I made chickpea blondies last night with chocolate chips and she refused to eat them! Its like she smells that they are secretly healthy! She has hypoglycemia so I can’t just tell her eat this or you don’t eat cause she will pass out. I keep trying but she won’t eat any of them! Eww berries, eww carrots, eww peppers, eww watermelon!
I loved this, I am at the beginning of this Journey. I have been plant based for 1 year and my husband is not interested in the change, he is in the medical field and thinks that I am harming my body, even though I have had medical tests done to prove that I am more healthy than I have ever been. I have a 3 and a 5 year old and the 3 year old loves all the plant based food I eat but my 5 year old wants nothing to do with it and eats like my husband. It’s hard because I get so frustrated, and when we talk about it it always ends in a fight. Is the best approach just to be an example and hope they come around eventually? Are there any long term studies that have been done, besides The China Study, that highlight the benefits of a WFPB diet?
Hi, Tara and thanks so much for sharing your story. I know how tough it can be and when you feel alone in the journey it can be even worse. As far as studies are concerned they are out there. But, I would say the best examples are cultures throughout history that sustained themselves on a predominantly plant-based diet. No culture EVER sustained itself on “meat-based” diet. Even the gladiators were plant-based eaters. Keep making the food – eventually the 5-year-old will eat it if that’s all there is:) Continue the journey, set the example, and pray the proof your husband needs is not a heart attack. I came close and that was all the evidence I needed. I’m 46 and healthier than I’ve ever been and have been plant-based almost 7 years. So, not sure about the harm I’m doing. Oh, well… Grace and peace to you. Keep your head up. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or comments. Peace.
My sister is a devoted plant based eater. I would truly love to do this. Do you have a book or something that describes how to do your 4 week plan into eating plant based foods. I am not a milk drinker, but I love ice cream and sour cream. If I had a guide to help me along the way, I believe I could do this. Thanks for any help you can give me.
Thanks so much for this post! We have three little kids (3, 8, and 11), and I’ve been slowly trying to transition us as a family to whole foods, plant-based. But, I tell ya, there’s not much out there in the whole foods community for families–it’s mostly older folks (no offense meant, but it is). So, it is so great to see this post. We are really struggling with snack foods right now, especially yogurt and cheese sticks. Man, can our littlest eat some cheese sticks! And, they all love crackers. A post about that would be much appreciated, if the have the interest and time.
I’ll try out some of these tips! Thanks!
I’m super curious about your 9 month old. How did that journey go? All the health professionals I’ve visited talk about NOT including young kids in these things. Specially because of their B12 storages being so low and other concerns. What did you guys do? Also, what about the oils? You don´t use olive oil or coconut oil?
Nini, thanks so much for your questions. I’m going to have my wife answer the ones about B12, food, etc. just because she was nursing for the first 9 or 10 months. But, I will say, our 9 month old was always super healthy and was NEVER low on anything. (DISCLAIMER: I am not giving medical advice:) On the issue of oil, that is correct. We use NO oil whatsoever when cooking. We don’t believe it’s necessary and we don’t see there is any nutrient value, just empty calories and fat. That being said, everyone must choose what works for them, but this is where we are on our journey. I will have my wife respond soon. Again, thanks so much for your question.
Hi Nini, I am Shane’s wife, Andrea, and would love to address your questions. Early on, we discovered that our baby was allergic to dairy, soy, beef, and eggs and I had to cut that out of my diet while I was nursing – that was before any of us adopted a plant based diet. I am not a doctor and cannot give medical advice, but I whole heartedly believe a plant based diet provides what we need to thrive, even babies. Sadly, most doctors spend very little time in medical school studying nutrition.
I do not know the science behind B12 stores, but it is my understanding that it passes through breast milk to the nursing baby and the body does a good job of keeping B12 reserves. Once I weaned, we gave her unsweetened almond milk fortified with B12 vitamins. We also use a lot of fortified nutritional yeast in our everyday cooking. When our youngest started eating table food we gave her avocado nearly every day since babies need good fats for their brain development. She also had a wide variety of veggies and fruits which supply more nutrients and things that I don’t think scientists have even begun to discover. I truly believe our bodies know what to do with whole, plant based foods.
Our youngest has always been around the 50th percentile for weight (never under or overweight) and rarely gets sick, and when she gets a virus, it is usually very short lived. She is a healthy, bright, witty 5 and a half year old today.
As for oils, I recommend listening to youtube videos or reading articles by Dr. Esselstyn who has studied the effects of oil (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_o4YBQPKtQ) and can go into much more detail of why we don’t need it. That being said, while we don’t cook with oil, occasionally we do have a vegan mayo or will use vegan butter for a birthday cake recipe, but we usually suffer with upset stomach afterwards. Our pediatrician tested our 11 year old’s triglycerides last week and they were super high…..because, unsupervised, she had loaded her breakfast up with vegan mayo. The next day, her fasting level was normal. That was enough to convince me! With that I saw without a doubt that oils effect our blood immediately. There are plenty of good fats in nuts, seeds, avocados and in the trace amounts in our grains, fruits, and veggies; I don’t believe we need it from other sources.
Thanks for spreading the wfpb message! We are also a plant based, no oil household. In response to your birthday cake comment, we use the Adonis Cake recipe from the engine2diet website for a treat. I have made it exactly as written, but have also made it without the cocoa powder to make a yellow cake, or added lemon extract for a lemon cake. It always turns out great!
Thanks, Nancy! Love the idea on the cake. Can’t wait to try it like that.