I never thought our family would go vegan. I actually went vegan for a little over a year in college as a way to combat health issues I was having at the time. It was really tough back then. There weren’t nearly the amount of online resources and vegan-friendly options at the grocery store as there are now. Our journey has in no way been easy, but it has been a lot smoother than I originally thought it would be. Below are affiliate links for your convenience.
Let me begin by explaining what led us on this journey in the first place. I began looking into the plant-based diet purely for the health aspects. As I have become more educated, the ethical side concerning inhumane treatment of animals now also contributes to our commitment to a vegan diet, but I wanted to be clear that it wasn’t the reason we initially changed our diet. My youngest daughter is what led to me to begin making changes. We found out when she was 8 months old that she had a milk protein allergy.
If you are a breastfeeding mama and your child seems to have extreme “colic”, screams all the time, has constant diarrhea, eczema, or any other symptoms that seem “off”, please google what a milk protein allergy looks like. I had never heard of it before, but one day a follower on my instagram suggested that it sounded like Rowan might have it, and it changed our lives. It is so heartbreaking to me that no one shared this with us sooner, as I can’t imagine the pain and agony Rowan experienced those first 8 months. I also believe that I may never have developed postpartum depression had we known about the allergy when she was a newborn. I cut out all dairy from my diet, and within 2 days, Rowan was a completely different baby. After about a month, I felt something was still bothering her, so we switched her to Nutramigen and she was finally eased of any pain or discomfort. I do think that going dairy-free while I was breastfeeding made the transition to a plant-based diet easier. At the time, I felt like my world was ending. I loved cheese, ice cream and creamer more than anything else, and I could not fathom liking a diet without them. Once Rowan was on the formula, I added the dairy back into my diet and went about life for the next year.
Last Fall, our family started making the move towards minimalism. I began watching a lot of documentaries, and I stumbled across one called Food Choices. So many of the things presented in the film aligned with my goals for our family. Since Rowan had a known dairy allergy, and because cancer and diabetes runs rampant in our family, exploring a plant-based diet seemed like a no brainer. I had never been educated on all of the negative impacts excessive dairy and meat consumption can have on our bodies and I was completely intrigued.
I would say that we have always been a generally healthy family. We rarely ate out and I would make 95% of our meals from scratch. But after analyzing my recipes and our go-to staples, about 70-80% of our diets were meat and dairy. A typical dinner plate would have 75% meat and dairy, with only 25% carbs and veggies. We loved meat. My girls would be picky, but they would always be more than willing to eat meat or dairy (Rilynn). Our breakfasts included eggs and breakfast meats and cheese grits and toast. One of the biggest things I realized was that we were not eating enough fruits or vegetables.
I wasn’t one of those people that gradually cut out meat and dairy – I went cold turkey. I stopped buying any animal products at the grocery store, and within a few weeks, our pantry and fridge were completely plant-based. Now I do have a husband and two toddlers, so I went into this realizing that I could go cold turkey, but it wasn’t necessarily realistic to expect them to do the same. I slowly weaned the girls off of meat by using up the rest of our chicken nuggets or chicken sausages that I had previously purchased. The one exception was the dairy. I immediately moved them to various nut milks and vegan cheese and they never even noticed.
Ryan was a whole other person to deal with. We lost his mom to a very long battle with cancer about two years ago. It was the most devastating thing we have ever been through. That, coupled with the fact that women on my side of the family never live past their early 60s, was enough to convince me we needed to change something. Ryan completely agreed and asked to watch Food Choices with me one night. But even though he was on board, his move to a plant-based diet has been the most gradual out of all of us. I often get asked what you can do if your spouse or partner isn’t on board or is hesitant about cutting meat and dairy out of their diet. My advice: let them make their own dietary choices.
You can only control what goes into your own body. Forcing anyone else to comply with your desires rarely ends well. But what about when there are kids in the picture? I was blessed with a husband who trusts my judgement and who knows I research everything heavily. He trusts that I would only ever do what I believed was best for our family and children. We agreed that I would no longer purchase any animal products at the grocery store, but what he chose to eat outside of the house was completely up to him. I did not judge his food choices and I knew that having him plant-based for 80% of his meals was already so much better than our previous diet. For the sake of transparency and honesty, we also continued to go to Chick-Fil-A about once a month and would eat chicken there. For that reason, and also because we do still have animal products around our home (clothing, etc), I do not claim that we are a vegan family out of respect. I’ll expand more on the minimal meat consumption later in the post, but me and the girls no longer eat meat at all.
The initial transition was pretty daunting. It was frustrating, discouraging and even scary. I was fearful that our nutrition wouldn’t be balanced, especially since the girls basically hated all fruits and veggies. There are thousands of articles claiming that a plant-based diet is not beneficial, or even dangerous, for children. This is not true. As long as they are getting adequate protein, calcium, iron and vitamins, children can thrive on this diet. Once I truly educated myself, I discovered a ton of items that contain all of the nutrients the girls would need and I also made a list of any supplements to consider. The girls each get a multivitamin every day, specifically containing a high amount of B12. They also get K-2 and I’ll add Vitamin D3 to any smoothies or their juice. I am in no way a health professional and am only sharing what works for our family. Our pediatrician is also aware of our diet, and the girls stats are monitored in case there is ever an area of their nutrition that is lacking. Ryan and I take B12 a few times a week, the Vitamin D3, Vitamin K-2 and a multivitamin.
During the first few weeks of dinners, Ryan would make sarcastic or joking comments, but he would admit that the food was delicious. I think one of the worst things you can do is compare a plant-based item to it’s meat/dairy counterpart. If you can get into the mentality of evaluating a food or meal on how it actually tastes, things will be a lot easier. I know that is really tough, especially if it comes to things you don’t think you can live without. Coffee creamer was one of those things for me. Thankfully, I discovered that using a mixture of this almond creamer + Silk Coconut Milk tastes identical to dairy coffee creamer. I even think it’s better! As I got more comfortable with ingredients and recipes, our meals became phenomenal and our family began cleaning their plates.
When transitioning kids, just keep offering them what you are eating. I did make a lot of vegan mac + cheese and vegan chicken nuggets for lunches in the beginning, but at dinner, we all would eat the same thing. I was so freaked out during the first two weeks. I’d give them a Clif Zbar or a veggie pouch if I thought they hadn’t eaten enough, but I stuck to offering them the new foods. In my head I would remind myself that they were still really picky when we were eating meat and dairy. They’d just eat a lot of chicken nuggets and string cheese, so balking at new foods was happening whether we were plant-based or not. But do you know what happened? They suddenly became obsessed with fruits and veggies. Rilynn (3.5) more so than Rowan (2), but they began asking for things they would never touch in the past. Their palates began to change, and I am overjoyed to share that they now happily eat what is being served. They won’t always eat everything I offer them, but they eat enough variety that at least one thing on their plate will appeal to them.
My palate has completely changed as well. I used to be a chocoholic and dessert lover, but I rarely crave sugar anymore. When I do, it’s an Outshine bar that I usually want. My cravings are for veggies, which I would have never believed if you told me that a year ago. I know some of you are thinking “yeah right”, but on a recent vacation all I could think about was getting a salad or some kale. Ryan thought I was nuts.
So what made us stick to a plant-based diet and encouraged me to press on? Pooping. Yes, you read that right. I know a lot of people probably don’t talk about this, but I have struggled with being “regular” my entire life. When I was a baby, my parents had to move me to soy formula. As a child, I had to be given suppositories, and I would get really sick every time I ate pizza and ice cream. I kept ignoring my body, and by adulthood, my doctor had me on Miralax every day. Without it I wouldn’t go for 7-8 days. Colon cancer runs in my family, so just “not going” wasn’t an option. Around two years old, Rilynn began having issues as well. I refused to give her laxative, but we tried everything, including prune juice every morning, to help her go. It got so bad that she would scream every time and often bleed. Within a week of going plant-based, everyone in our family was pooping 2-5 times a day. After struggling with this for 30 years, my body was finally working the way it was created to, without the use of medicine. I realized that mine and my girls’ bodies weren’t made to process dairy. The soy formula as an infant, my issues throughout life, and the milk protein allergy with Rowan should have tipped me off. The girls no longer drink prune juice and I haven’t touched laxative in over 5 months – and we go every day.
Our only health issues since starting this diet arose a few weeks ago while on vacation. We went back to New Jersey to visit Ryan’s family and we have always loved the local food. I also struggled with not wanting to be a difficult house guest, and while I packed a bunch of plant-based snacks in our suitcase, we still ate meat at meals with family and even had a little dairy. I mentioned above that we were still eating Chick-Fil-A here and there and hadn’t noticed any health issues, so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal on the trip. I didn’t go to the bathroom once the entire time and I began to feel extremely sick halfway through our stay. On the third day, Rilynn started screaming from the bathroom and ended up spending an hour crying about her stomach and telling me she couldn’t go. I burst out crying. I felt so awful and so guilty. I am my children’s advocate and they only eat what I feed them. Watching her in so much pain and so scared, brought me back to those days where this was an every day occurrence for her. I swore in the moment that I would never put us in this situation again.
When we returned from vacation, I thought a lot about how bad the meat and dairy had made me feel and I also began thinking more about the ethical side of veganism. I had had a lot of guilt over our monthly trips to Chick-Fil-A after I found out where they sourced their chicken from. I often remembered the images I had seen in Food Choices and it finally pushed me to watch Earthlings. Watching that documentary broke my heart, and even though animal cruelty isn’t what initially turned me plant-based, it is now the reason I won’t ever eat meat or dairy again. The health benefits that we’ve seen are more than enough to keep us a plant-based family, but after realizing what it actually takes to supply our country with meat and dairy, I vowed never to support that industry again. I found out that 200 animals are spared per person per year when they give up animal products. It makes me feel really great that my food choices don’t just positively affect my health, but also impact our environment and the world around us.
I think a lot of people are turned off by veganism or the plant-based movement because of preconceived notions they have or negative past experiences. Ryan and I used to think that vegans were just “hipsters” and totally weird. I do think some vegans are very passionate about their beliefs and may overwhelm some people or make them feel judged. I don’t think that is their intention – I just think they want others to experience the positives of their lifestyle. I get that. Now that I’m on the “other side” I am so overwhelmed by everything positive we have experienced from this life change. But just like religion and politics, I think a person’s health is very private, and what they decide to do with their body is their own choice. The best way to share how wonderful being a vegan/plant-based is, in my opinion, to love on people, share our positive experiences when asked, and…cook for them! We’ve had multiple people in our home who I’ve cooked delicious meals for and they had no idea they were vegan. They were shocked to find out afterwards. I was one of those people that thought vegan food probably tasted different or gross, and since I am a pretty big foodie, that was really disheartening. I’ve come to find out that just isn’t true. There are a ton of “American staples” (i.e., french fries) that are already vegan, and almost all non-vegan recipe can be made vegan.
Here are my top 4 plant-based cookbooks. Every single recipe has been delicious. The first two are especially good for converting husbands and kids, but I do want to mention that I in no way condone the language in them. I’ve hesitated sharing these books in the past because we refrain from using that language in our home, but I take the recipe lists and create the meals without reading through all of the content in the book. I haven’t found better cookbooks that reliably give you amazing meals every time.
I truly hope this post has helped you understand why and how we moved to a plant-based diet. I want you to feel encouraged and like it is attainable, even with kids or a partner who may not be on board. I am planning to do more posts on this topic in the future, so if you have any questions you’d like to be answered, I would love for you to leave them below!