So you’ve made the personal decision to eliminate animal products from your diet. Kuddos to you, kid. This lifestyle is gettin easier, more convenient, and accessible as more and more people become enlightened. And if you are a parent or partner who desires to get your fam on board with veganism you may have your work cut out for you. I know I did! But here’s a few tips and things to keep in mind while you guide your family into this lifestyle to help minimize the chaos and the push back. Good luck!!!
20 tips and insights to help get the fam going VEGAN:
1. Don’t go 100% balls-to-the-wall. Heed my warning on this, kid. The worst thing you could possibly do is one day declare to your family that whether they like it or not, “they’re all going vegan!” This approach DOES NOT WORK and will surely backfire. These people (especially your partner) have been consuming (and enjoying) animal for quite some time. It will take some gentle and consistent guidance into a vegan lifestyle and this will not happen overnight.
2. Introduce one new food at a time. Think…”baby’s first food” kinda introduction. Most people like familiarity and consistency. So don’t overwhelm them with an entire meal featuring foods they have never tried before. You don’t want them to feel like “going vegan” means they have to adopt a whole new way of enjoying foods.
3. Keep ol’ standbys on hand when trying new foods. Or better yet, pair the new food with an ol’ standby. For example, “creamed” kale alongside mac ‘n cheese. While the goal is to ultimately ditch the dairy-laden mac ‘n cheese (or trying this vegan version), pairing it with a vegan dish that will compliment the flavors and textures will make your job so much easier the next time you dish up your vegan “creamed” kale because they’ve already tried and like it.
4. Don’t attempt to recreate family favorites. If you’ve raised your family on “Grandma’s famous Reuben sandwiches” DO NOT, I repeat… DO NOT research a vegan recipe for reuben sandwiches and then substitute tempeh or tofu or seitan for the corned beef and then put this in front of your family. You are just asking for a revolt, woman! Here’s what will happen: your family will look upon this carefully constructed creation and they will be thrilled, ecstatic even. “Yay my favorite… Grandma’s Reuben! Awesome!” Then they’ll take one bite and all their hopes and dreams have just been crushed. You have literally destroyed the likelihood that they will ever trust you again. Because the unfortunate truth is that there is NO substitute for corned beef…or any kind of beef, for that matter. And all valiant attempts at recreating the taste and texture of corned beef are futile. So don’t try to pull one over on the spouse and kids. Leave Grandma’s Reuben alone.
5. Speaking of which, don’t confuse them with names like “Vegan Chicken Parmesan”, or “Vegan Spaghetti and Meatballs”. You know damn well that these meals do not contain chicken, Parmesan, or meatballs. Going back to the last point, this creates an expectation of what the dish will taste like. I assure you a lentil and quinoa ball tastes nothing like a sausage meatball. So I suggest you give it a new name, one that actually honors the foods you are actually feeding them. It’s totally OK to call it “Spaghetti and Vegballs”. Furthermore, kids love fun (or funny) names for food. Instead of calling it “spaghetti and meatballs” call it “spaghetti and neatballs”. Get it? Caution: this tactic is completely counterproductive with teenagers!
6. Variety is everything! Sometimes our most successful meals are the ones that include a little bit of everything. Serve it up on a large platter. This is especially useful on “leftovers night” when you need to clean out the fridge and get rid of a bunch of stuff. Call it a SMORGASBORD. For whatever reason, this style of family dining is my kids’ favorite.
7. Make it look appetizing. FACT: digestion actually starts in the mouth when we begin salivating over our food. So serve the kid’s food up on fun, colorful plates. Divided plates are also a great way to teach our kids about portion sizes and variety. Present the food in a playful manner; make faces, designs, etc. Taco night? Put your veggie tacos in this dinosaur taco holder and I promise your kids will eat it!
8. Don’t forget the flavor. You gotta make it taste good with plenty of fresh herbs, spices, lemon juice and zest.
9. Talk to your kids about how their bodies feel. Teach them how to eat mindfully and be aware of how the foods they’re eating are affecting their body. You will be surprised by how acutely aware kids are to every little discomfort particularly after a meal! They will quickly become aware of how much better they feel after eating plants than after eating meat or dairy.
10. Look for inspiration on Pinterest! Check out my food board for our favorite family-friendly recipes.
11. Meal Plan! I cannot stress enough the importance of planning out meals for the week. There are several reasons why I feel meal planning is sooooo crucial. Reason #1: you won’t get caught mid-week after an excruciatingly busy day and think “SH*T…. what am I going to feed these people!” Reason #2: you won’t scramble and fluster and make it look overwhelming to your husband and family who might be looking for any excuse to ditch the whole idea of veganism.
So instead, sit down on whatever day is best for you (it doesn’t have to be Sunday night or Monday morning) and make a list of meals that you’d like to cook during the week. Then make your shopping your list! Which brings me to my next point:
12. Plan to shop for groceries 2-x week (maybe even 3). Fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs can go bad before you’ve had a chance to use them if you do all your shopping for the week on a single day. So instead, after you’ve planned out what meals you’ll be cooking, separate the shopping list (ex. Mon-Wednesday meals, Thursday-Sunday meals).
Check out the site pepperplate.com and its corresponding mobile app. I use this for saving recipes, planning out meals, and making my shopping list. It’s a major time and sanity saver.
13. Explain to your family WHY plants are better for us to eat than animals. In age-appropriate terms, lay out the benefits to the environment, the animal’s welfare, and our health. Here’s a really short video for kids on why veganism rocks. Speaking of videos, I got MY husband on board by showing him the documentary Food, Inc. My other favorites are What The Health, Forks Over Knives, and Cowspiracy. These are NOT shock-and-awe videos. These are each very informative and well-referenced documentaries that focus on specific issues of consuming meat.
14. “But what about protein”? I get asked this question A LOT. So it’s important to familiarize yourself with plant-based protein sources. Here’s an awesome list from the folks at One Green Planet.
15. Learn the basic, no-fail cooking methods of your favorite foods. Some people are intimidated by cooking with new foods such as tofu and tempeh but it really is a breeze if you know the fundamentals. Here’s my favorite tofu and tempeh marinade recipe.
16. Start a garden and grow your own foods. Kids LOVE getting their hands dirty. It’s especially exciting for them to put something in the dirt and watch it grow until its time to eat it! Start with something small, like a basil plant or another of your favorite herbs. Tomatoes are also very easy to grow in a container on your patio! Kids are more likely to eat it and are more receptive to trying new things if they’ve had a part in growing and harvesting the food. But make it fun! Check out this mini aquaponics system perfect for kids.
17. Similarly, take them to an urban garden in your area. Most farmers are thrilled to show off their hard work and when kids see where their food actually comes from it creates a sense of connection.
18. Don’t give up! Keep offering new, delicious foods to your kids even when they keep rejecting it. I heard somewhere that it takes up to a dozen separate introductions to a new food before the picky-eater will accept it. But here’s a trick: put the food on YOUR plate first! I don’t know about your kids, but mine are way more interested in what I’m eating than what they are having. It never fails that when I make a treat for myself I inevitably hear “Can I try that?” and then they end up eating half of it.
19. Don’t listen to the naysayers. You will inevitably hear some snarky comment regarding your lifestyle choices, but who the hell cares? Don’t take it personally, but instead just chalk it up as ignorance.
20. Respect other’s feelings, always. It is so important that we don’t make this a negative experience for our family, especially our children. So while you’re busting your butt to put together delicious and nutritious meals only for it to be rejected… don’t get mad and frustrated. Be compassionate with your family. Not everyone comes to the same realizations as you at the same time and rate. Remember that your family (especially your husband) has been eating a different way for a long time and it will take some time to adjust and transition to an entirely plant-based diet. Some have a more difficult time than others, but it’s important that we respect the process. And NEVER EVER shame your kids for wanting to eat meat or dairy. Vegans get a bad rap as being overzealous and righteous. Educate and inform and then leave it at that.
I hope you found this valuable in helping transition your family to a plant-based diet! You are doing a wonderful thing for the health of your family and the environment with this move and your hard work will surely pay off in the long run.
If you have a tip to share on how you got your family on board with a vegan lifestyle and diet please share it in the comments and lets support each other!