#AD This is a collaborative article offering tips for encouraging your family to eat a more plant based diet.
Are you considering a more plant-based diet?
Vegetarianism has become ever more popular in recent years.
If you don’t want to drastically change your diet and go full vegan, why not make smaller steps to cut back on consuming meat or dairy? There are easy ways to start eating more plant-based food. Even for busy families with fussy eaters for kids (us).
The Basics of a Plant-Based Diet.
A plant-based diet is actually a broad range of eating habits not simply about eating only vegetables as some people presume. Most forget it also includes foods such as whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), and healthy plant oils (olive) and LESS animal foods like dairy, eggs, fish, and meat.
For us as a family I want to cut down on eating processed meats, like chicken nuggets. And I say CUT as realistically, the children love beige freezer foods. But, being bought up on a farm, I would prefer to spend money on buying better quality organic meats from the local butcher to support sustainable food and local businesses with the foods we do purchase. Whilst I am happy to minimally eat meat and replace milk with alternatives the children aren’t yet. Almond milk did not go down well. For us, it is about the balance of making small positive changes, educating the children, introducing alternatives but taking away everything they like in one broccoli shaped swoop. And also honestly, as I don’t yet have the knowledge of how to replace essential nutrients for growth like calcium from plant based alternatives then there are some foods I will keep giving the children for now.
A plant-based diet can be whatever you want it to be.
Why choose to go green?
Aside from ethical opposition to eating/drinking animal products many people are turning to a more plant based diet because of the benefits to both our bodies and the environment. When done right, vegetarian diets are naturally low in saturated fats and cholesterol which brings a myriad of health benefits. You will also get more fibre to improve digestive health and more probiotics. They can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and decrease the likelihood of obesity. These benefits will not automatically happen when a person stops eating meat. It’s not like waving a magic wand. earning your healthy living badge isn’t as simple as ditching burgers. Alongside a vegetarian diet, people need to make sure they: get the right number of calories, limit their intake of processed foods and alcohol, avoid unhealthful fats and added sugar and salt, get plenty of exercise, don’t smoke etc. We all know the drill.
So in this post we’ll look at some suggestions and tips for becoming a vegetarian without too much difficulty.
Tips For Making the Switch Easier.
Like all lifestyle changes, it is important to try making one change at a time and build up to your goal. Here are some ideas our family has been trying for switching to a vegetarian diet.
Giving everything up overnight is a short-term attitude. Be realistic, it is all about sustainable small changes. If you typically eat meat with almost every meal, start with ‘meat free Mondays’ then increase it to 2 or 3. Start with cutting out red meat. That way, you avoid the stresses and frustrations of a total diet overhaul overnight. Try making vegetarian versions of your favourite meals for your family. There are many commercial vegetarian products available, we have started using Linda McCartney sausages in roasts which gets the children used to different textures.
Be mindful that processed substitute meat products can also be high in calories, fat, and sodium so try making your own bean burgers etc and get the kids involved.
#Swap your butter for oil.
Butter is sourced from animals, so switching it out for plant-derived options such as coconut oil or olive oil is an easy first step. We buy the olive oil spread which works out cheaper than regular butter. I used to hate the smell of coconut oil but now regularly use it, especially in my kid friendly lentil curry. Yes, they eat it. Buy a big tub as it’s a useful think to have round the house – think moisturiser, hair mask, to rub on grazes etc etc!
#Opt for non-dairy milks.
This might seem like an obvious swap, but don’t make my mistake and just go for cheapest in the supermarket (guilty) as they all have a different taste. I think hazelnut is sweeter so works well in coffee, unsweetened soy works in cereal as there is less taste difference for fussy little ones. Coconut is cream for making dairy free ice cream and almond milk works well in smoothies. When introducing the kids to alternative milks I try and ease them into different tastes by adding a smidge of honey and warm before bedtime.
#Bulk up your breakfast.
Load up your pancakes so you’re not hungry enough to miss the bacon. Giving up eggs (free range) is a step a bit to far for our family as they are a great source of protein for out family. I have started making a few small substitutes in baking using mashed banana or Aquafaba. It sounds awful but tastes good! The empty carb trap can be an easy one to fall into. Giving up meat can leave you hungrier and reaching for the refined crisps and bread. Or chocolate. Create a thoughtful meal plan for each week and have plenty of healthy snacks around so you won’t wind up reaching for the Snickers. If you want some sweetness, try adding dates to recipes. The ultimate goal should be to eat only whole grain products. But sometimes that is not practical, especially with kids. So, try to at least eat half whole grains.
Rethink foods you thought were boring. Get online and pick some of your favourite veg and search vegetarian recipes. Grab a few cookbooks. There’s nothing cauliflower can’t do. Make it into rice by grating, or mashed potatoes, grill it like a steak as a meat alternative! Eat something new each week!
#Eat at least 1 cup of beans each day.
Think meat free chilli and batch cooking. Beans add the necessary dose of fibre and protein you need to stay full. When you are preparing, or planning meals remember to attempt to eat the rainbow!
#Know your nutrients.
This last tip is an important one. Take a B-12 supplement when cutting meat from your diet (or it is in Marmite!). If you’re eating a well-rounded variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds you can get all the nutrients your body needs from a plant-based diet but understanding of foods doesn’t happen without research. Walnuts have omega-3’s, apricots and spinach iron, calcium from soy. If you want to look into testing to see if you have any nutritional deficiencies or find out if any foods are causing irritation this is really easily done through your doctor or online with sites like healthlabs.
Being a vegetarian or vegan is not for everyone, changes take willpower, and everything is harder when kids are involved. Start by making one or two positive changes and see where it takes you.