Raising my kids on a plant based diet

When we started our journey towards a plant based lifestyle, my eldest kids were 2 and 5 years old. Of course they already had their food preferences and - more noticeable - a very strong personality! I started slow, also involving extended family (every summer we spend 4-6 weeks with grandparents in our home country), letting them know we were changing to a more whole foods, plant based diet. Luckily they had some hands-on experience seeing my eldest go ballistic after a chemical-sugar filled ice lolly once so they saw the benefits of making your own ice-popsicles!

My littles loves her carrot-orange juices

My littles loves her carrot-orange juices

We made the shift gradually, introducing (even more) fruits during the day & at least 3 different vegetables with dinner, vegetables with lunch and then vegetables at breakfast a few times a week in a smoothie. We phased out meat first, then meat products, then fish at home. We replaced things like store bought cookies for homemade ones and granola for home made muesli. (Mind you - once again I’m telling you we’re definitely not perfect because right now we do have store bought granola that we eat sometimes because you know, time is an issue when you’re raising 3 kids and they all have different school timings and you’re also trying to keep your house somewhat clean!) As I got more interested in the zero waste movement about the same time as turning plant based, it was easy to give up lot’s of things because of their excessive packaging. And to be honest, for kids the ‘snack’ principle is just about having something to eat, and apple slices with cinnamon or raisins are as satisfying for them as store-bought crackers.

When my little one was about 6 months, we were at the point of being vegetarian at home. Actually, the first 18 months of her life she didn’t have any animal products apart from some formula we tried (but was refused). I breastfed her as long as I could / wanted to and after she went on to drink water and get her nutrients from other sources. I clearly remember the day I had to change her at the playground next to school as she played in the water and 2 Japanese friends of mine saw her and noticed how ‘chubby’ she was (I use ‘ ‘ because I didn’t think she was chubby, just a cute baby with some baby fat) and wondering out loud how that was possible when she didn’t eat meat or drink milk. When talking about this further, they told me they were raised with the idea ‘that you should eat a lot of red meat and drink milk to be tall and strong like western people’ and they were now raising their own kids with this same idea.

I understand how 30 years ago this was the truth people knew, but I was surprised that they weren’t aware of the latest scientific research, that, in short, shows that ALL animal products cause inflammation / fat in your arteries etc. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t want to explain this in more detail, but if you want to know more I definitely refer you to Dr Michael Greger, who wrote the bible I always go back to (see here)

Eat the rainbow is one of our mantras!

Eat the rainbow is one of our mantras!

Anyway, long story short; I learned a lot more about raising plant based kids through the Plant based nutrition course I took and was reassured that if you give them an abundance and wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you can’t really go wrong. But also - and this stuck with me - that if they would just eat brown rice & broccoli every day, but eat enough calories from that, they will also thrive. Another positive; the absence of meat especially will free up so much energy for their little bodies to put to better use to grow, be active, etctera, basically because meat is very hard for our bodies to break down and usually takes several days. During that time it actually sits rotting in your intestines (sorry for the visual). Learning that kind of put me off meat for ever (not even mentioning how animal lives matter).

Right now the situation for my kids is, I would say, 80-90% plant based. My kids occasionally have yoghurt, cheese and eggs, and my oldest when he gets the chance outside of our home chooses fishy sushi or a bread roll with bacon bits. I allow this and have peace with it, not because I don’t believe 100% plant based is the ultimate goal (because I truly believe it is the best way), but because we still need to live our lives in the circumstances were in. The Japanese society is not build for plant based people and I also don’t want to take things away that they truly enjoy like cheese on pasta or treats from their friends. I’m really proud though of the 90%, it is fantastic for them. They are happy, healthy kids (with the occasional snotty noses) and grow according to the growth charts. They never have any tummy issues (knock on wood) and have very regular bowel movements (going plant based will do that to you, all that fiber!), no allergies or respiratory issues. I understand these things are not always related to nutrition, but I feel that in many cases, they can be or that at least plant based nutrition can make a difference in the symptoms or disease.

I’m very open towards the kids and I keep reminding them why we are doing this. They know all about how nuts have fats that are good for brain development, especially walnuts. That we don’t want to drink cow’s milk because we’re not baby calves and it is sad that they take calves away from mother cows so we can drink the milk (just need to get that amazing plant based yoghurt alternative here in Japan for those 2 times a week they eat yoghurt!!) That fish belong in the ocean because otherwise the ocean will be empty, and anyway, that we shouldn’t eat fish as they accumulate heavy metals like mercury and probably have stomachs filled with plastic. That it is wrong to love a dog but eat a pig, who is said to be more intelligent than a dog. And so on. I think kids are never too young to understand this, I actually think the opposite: they think it is logical. They also know about the world’s problems and how the Amazon is taken down to make space for cows and how the Earth is in a dire state because we keep taking away nature and creating more CO2. I strongly feel that knowledge is power and this way they will do everything in their power to make a positive change, now and when they grow up. To be a steward of the Earth.


For us moms it helps to find a tribe with the same ideas and values as you have. Both my online and real life communities are very much geared towards families on the same journey as us. Although of course I still have meat-eating friends too :-) But finding people on the same path definitely helps to grow together and share information, tips & tricks.

A few practicals to end this rambling piece of text! I got a lot of good ideas from the book Veggie mama (this one) and this PDF document about Early Years Nutrition. My favorite Vegan inspirations for kids on Instagram are EarthyAndy and Chloeandbeans. If you’re looking for more serious advice, I recommend Dr Jackie Busse and Dr Vivian Chen.

My little one has an amazing pre-school teacher who gives the kids fresh vegetables and fruits for morning snack!

My little one has an amazing pre-school teacher who gives the kids fresh vegetables and fruits for morning snack!

Lastly - yes I do give my kids vitamins; in the winter months they get a multivitamin and throughout the year (whenever it crosses my mind) B12, which I take too. B12 is the only vitamin that doesn’t come from food, but from microbes in the earth. Nowadays we are living very clean lives, and therefore not eat that much dirt! Even if you’re a meat eater, you could be B12 deficient.

PS; Maybe someone will ask if I’m worried about my kids getting enough protein? I’m not. The only thing I do think about with regards to elements of their nutrition is to ensure they get enough fats for their brain development (avocado, nuts and seeds every day). Protein comes from plants originally, if you think you get it from meat it’s only because the cow ate it! So depending on the type of feed the cow had during her life, this might not even be very good protein. Food for thought!

How to start a plant based lifestyle - Challenge yourself for a month (preparation)

In my opinion; fruity & colorful breakfasts set the mood for the day.

In my opinion; fruity & colorful breakfasts set the mood for the day.

This morning I was talking to my work out partner who was refusing my post-work out treats (a banana & a piece of date/walnut roll) because she feels like she needs to lose some weight. This resulted in a friendly rant from my side because - what can possibly be bad in a banana? There is only GOOD in a banana! (She is a good friend, don’t worry, I’m not going around ranting to strangers or offering them my precious bananas for that matter!) In the end I challenged her to try a month of plant based food only and she accepted on the condition that I guide her which I am happy to do. That’s when I decided to share what I will share with her, here on the worldwide web and maybe it can help someone else wanting to try this, too. Please note; we are talking about a whole food, plant based diet. This differs from a ‘vegan’ diet, as you can be vegan on beer & chips but this will most probably not make you healthy or lose weight. Of course it would be easiest if you could convince your family to join you in this so you can support each other and not be tempted to cave in! 


Preparation is the key here. If you are not prepared or motivated, this is not going to work. I suggest doing the following in the week / weeks before you start this;

Read or Listen / Watch / Observe / Prepare / Stock the pantry / Look ahead & switch your mindset

Here we go;

Read / Listen

For reading, I definitely recommend ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger MD. This book really opened my eyes and made me aware that most of the first world diseases we have, are caused by the consumption of animal products. It is also a great guide as to how you can eat plant based in the best way. There is a fabulous free app that he designed, called ‘Daily dozen’ where you can tick off the foods that he recommends that you’ve had already that day. 

Recently I also got into podcasts and I love the ones from Plant_Proof, Rich Roll and Nutrition Rounds from Dr Danielle Belardo. 

If you want to skip the read / listen part, know this: you will learn the following (summarized obviously)

1) animal based products will cause inflammation which is the kindle that fires up almost all diseases. 2) You don’t have to worry about being nutrient deficient if you eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. 3) The only thing you will have to supplement is B12 (which actually everyone should do, plant based or not). 4) You will poop way more and feel lighter because the amount of fiber will clean you from the inside. 5) You will feel kinder to the world. 

Watch

Netflix is a world of information. I would definitely recommend to watch ‘Forks over Knives’ and ‘What the health’ (although the latter is made to shock, it still has a lot of valuable and true information). If you’re in this to see if you can heal some ailments, then watch ‘Heal’ too. I was really touched by this documentary. If you’re in it for the Earth and the animals, and you’re ready to face what is usually hidden from sight, then have a look at Dominion. 

Observe

I think it is a good start to observe what & when you eat now, how you feel, how you sleep and what your problematic eating moments are (I’m an emotional eater, particular when the kids are driving me up the wall around 5 pm!). It would be great to make a few short notes or diary entries about how you feel, if you’re suffering from any pains or diseases and if you want you can jot down your measurements and how much you weigh.  

Prepare

It is good to think ahead about some of the meals you will be eating and find some recipes. Dr Greger recommends to start with 5 meals that you often eat at home and ‘veganize’ them, the easiest being a lentil bolognaise for example, or rice & beans in tomato sauce. If you like yoghurt for breakfast, try to replace it with a plant based yoghurt, chia pudding or a smoothie bowl. If you like to have a sandwich for lunch, see what kind of fillings you like that are easy to prepare, like mashed avocado, home made hummus or pesto. 

Borrow some books, find some inspiring websites or instagram accounts, browse google for ‘vegan …’. I personally like the Forks over knives app and always look forward to new recipes from Oh she glows and the Minimalist Baker. My favorite instagram accounts are @Avantgardevegan, @Plant_Proof, @Plantyou, @Fullyrawkristina and @Buddha_bowls.

Stock the pantry

This is an important one, as you don’t want to go hungry! Eating a plant based diet is definitely not about calorie counting or food restriction (even if that sounds contra-dictionary!); it is about filling you up with an abundance of nutrients, fiber and thousands of other goodies you’ll find in plants. 

2C6CCE10-E669-4533-AC9B-2DCD7A117E18 2.JPG

Make sure you fill your pantry with whole grain dry foods like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats, quinoa, whole wheat flour and rye (if you bake). Then stock up on dried beans and lentils, as these will be making up a big part of your diet (especially when you have some sporty people in your family who want to eat more protein). Next up is nuts and seeds, as well as some dried fruits like dates to make energy balls or use as a sweetener in banana breads. Cashews are a must to have for sauces and ‘fake’ cheese spreads. 

Make sure you have an abundance of spices; I go through lots of cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, Italian herbs, ginger.. Some fresh herbs can grow really well on your balcony, garden or  windowsill and are amazing to add to anything. Other staples I always have are white miso, tahini and a range of different vinegars, oils and soy. I also stock glass or cans of olives, jalapeño, chickpeas and kidney beans (I find that they taste better from the can than soaked & cooked at home..). 

If you have your pantry in order, the one month will be a breeze. During the week, you will only need to stock up on vegetables, fruits and perishables like bread and tofu. Your supermarket trips will become short & sweet and probably super colorful too because of the variety of veggies and fruits! Maybe the initial stock up will feel expensive, but once you have the base, the daily / weekly shopping trips are cheap as you are not buying meat, fish, expensive dairy products or processed foods. 

ps; if in Japan; Costco is great for big sized packages of nuts, seeds, oats, quinoa, chia etc. They also sell a fabulous 2 kg bag of vegan chocolate chips that go with everything here at home! I use Amazon to order 1, 2 or 5 kg bags of flour, lentils, brown rice (make sure they come from the same warehouse so you only get 1 box) and I’ve heard Alishan is good too for flours and organic things. My spices mostly come from iHerb.

Look ahead and change your mindset

If you are going to try this for 1 month, a whole month - no exceptions - then have a look ahead to see if there are any hurdles and how you can change these into opportunities. If there are dinner parties to go to, call ahead to the host or restaurant and explain what you’re doing. Chefs at restaurants are often more than happy to create something for you. If you have travel days coming up, think about what you can make and bring or buy from the combini that doesn’t contain animal products. Install the ‘Happy Cow’ app to see which restaurants in your neighborhood support a plant based lifestyle. If you are in Kyoto or Japan, and on Instagram, follow @veganinkyoto and @diethelper for local recommendations. 

With regards to your mindset; I hope that you can go into this with an open mind and a lot of love. Don’t over complicate your thoughts. Eating in a plant based way is easy, fun and it will give you many things in return. 



Let me know how you go!