Our friend Portia recently told us about her family’s transition toward a plant-based diet. We were intrigued, and thought it would make an excellent post. Because Portia is a fabulous writer, as well as significantly more informed on the topic than we are (our meaty post from last week serves as a reminder), we asked her to guest blog for us on Ever in Green. We hope you will find her post as insightful and helpful as we did.
Our family of four eats a plant-based diet. Mention this to a room full of Seattleites and most will nod politely while their eyes dart to the nearest emergency exit. Many fear being trapped by proselytizing vegetarians or wild-eyed vegans. But vegetarians scoff at us and vegans disavow our flexible doctrine. We don’t and won’t adhere to a specific creed. In a society of fad diets, we are doing what works for us.
Eschewing labels, 90% of our diet includes plants, whole grains, seeds and nuts. My husband and I made this transition in February, in hopes of improving our energy. Two weeks in, we were happy to discover we not only had more energy, but we also had improved sleep quality, skin, and overall mood (refreshing especially during a dark and wet February in Seattle). Moreover, as we’ve morphed our children’s diets, we noticed our younger son’s snoring stopped when we eliminated dairy, and our boys fought less when consuming whole foods instead of our usual snacks of GoGurts and Annie’s bunnies.
Our boys are mostly unaware of our diet changes. They just know we now cook together, eat more family meals at home, and taste some unusual foods. Yes, making this transition is a time commitment for us, but planning and prep are key ingredients to eating better, whole foods.
Below are some ideas and resources that helped us to make the change.
- Watch the documentary Forks Over Knives (but not with the kids). It’s on Netflix and a great primer if you are considering a plant based diet.
- Incorporate smoothies as a way to introduce more vegetables into your children’s diets. Our go-to smoothie for the boys includes varying ratios of: plain unsweetened almond milk, frozen bananas, frozen blueberries, spinach, almond butter, vega chocolate protein powder, yellow/orange/red peppers
- Invest in a good blender. We love the Ninja Nutri Pro because it cleans easily and stores quickly.
- Make grocery shopping fun for the kids. Our guys like to have “assignments.” One week they will choose three different types of apples and a variety of nut/seed butters for a tasting/pairing. At home, they ponder the apples’ aromas and flavors like mini sommeliers. The next week they build a rainbow of fruits and veggies. We head home, lay out our rainbow and start sampling. We’ve discovered that they love cucumbers, our four-year-old adores tomatoes, but our six-year-old does not, green grapes are tastier than red grapes and kiwis are the best of all. Sadly, I’m the only one who likes kumquats.
- Find two or three good whole foods cookbooks or websites to help guide you. Our favorites include Plant Powered Families, Forks Over Knives, and The Oh She Glows Cookbook.
- If shopping is too much to think about, consider an organic fruit and veggie delivery service like New Roots. Whether you buy in store or have your produce delivered you will need to set aside about an hour for washing and prepping all the fruits and veggies when you get them home.
- Prepare healthy, ready-to-eat staples for when you’re too tired to think about cooking. Vegan Banana Chocolate Overnight Oats is a breakfast favorite. It takes 5 minutes to make in the evening and is ready to go in the morning. Another simple breakfast is avocado toast. Toast + avocado + salt. Easy, simple and delicious. My kids go through an avocado each morning.
Transitioning from a traditional western diet to a plant-based diet is time consuming, so take it slow. No meaningful change happens overnight. And you don’t have to “do it all.” For those days when cooking isn’t an option, our kids love Amy’s frozen dinners. We’ve had success with: Light in Sodium – Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl and Brown Rice, Black-Eyed Peas & Veggies Bowl.
Seattle has many plant-based restaurant options for families. Veggie Grill has a broad kids menu and features many meat substitutes. Blue C Sushi is conveyor-belt sushi that allows children to make their own food choices and parents to quickly leave should a melt-down occur.
Our go-to restaurant, Bounty Kitchen on Queen Anne, specializes in mostly organic, seasonal foods that are locally sourced. Bounty Kitchen welcomes children (owner Meg welcomes our boys with crayons, paper and a big, warm “hello!”) and can accommodate a variety of dietary needs. The kids menu is varied and extensive, and also features the hands-down, best grilled cheese in the city.
I’ll leave you with my kids’ favorite snack this week. It’s from Dreena Burton’s Plant Powered Families cookbook.
Protein Power Balls
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup coconut flour (see note)
1/3 cup hemp seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1½ cups pitted dates
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2–3 tablespoons Vega Choc-a-lot Protein Smoothie powder (see note)
1/4 scant teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
In a food processor, process the pumpkin seeds, coconut flour, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds until fine and crumbly.
Add the dates and process through until they are worked into the mixture and are crumbly.
Add the cocoa powder, Vega powder, sea salt, and vanilla extract and process again for a minute or two.
It will appear as if nothing is happening for a few minutes! The mixture will just be whirring around in crumbs, but soon it will start to become sticky and form a ball on the blade. Stop the machine and remove the dough.
Take 1–1½ -tablespoon scoops of the dough and roll in your hand. Repeat until you have rolled all of the dough.
Coconut Flour: If you don’t have coconut flour, you can substitute 3/4 cup rolled oats.
Protein Powder: This protein powder has some stevia, so adjust to taste for sweetness. Start with 2 tablespoons, and stop to taste the mixture before it is in a sticky ball. If you’d like to add more, try another 1/2–1 tablespoon. If you have another favorite chocolate protein powder you would like to add—go for it. If you don’t want to use any protein powder, omit it, and make these simple changes: increase the cocoa powder to 1/4 cup total, add another 2 tablespoons of hemp or sunflower seeds, and another 2–4 dates, to taste.
Idea: You can leave these balls uncoated, or roll in a dusting of coconut sugar, cocoa powder, ground pumpkin seeds, or a combo!