On World Vegan Day, it seems a good time to share my personal tips and tricks for learning to go vegan at home. Especially with more of us becoming aware of the benefits of a vegan (or at least more vegan) diet, for both our bodies and our planet.
For background: A few years back, my family and I were in a rut of burgers, tacos, pizza, Chinese takeout, and pasta. Vegetables? Rarely if at all. So we switched to a Paleo diet to put more veggies and fewer carbs on the table. My husband promptly lost 40 pounds as a result (though that wasn’t exactly the goal) but we were a little concerned the amount of meat we were eating, and the high fat content in our meals.
Then, after watching What the Health and doing some research, my husband and I decided that a vegan diet was the better choice for our family.
Of course, our kids were like, “But pizza! And chicken nuggets!” as a lot of kids would be.
So, I’m sharing with you what happened when we made the switch. Because even if you aren’t ready to go fully vegan, you may find some of these ideas useful for your family.
Can you go vegan with kids? My family’s story
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Is eating vegan more expensive?
Since going vegan, my grocery bill has gone up, but my restaurant expenses have gone down. Another important data point: we’re generating less food waste, because we eat our leftovers more often than we did before. (I had a tendency to eat out for lunch, but with fewer vegan restaurant options I’ve cut back quite a bit.) So in the end, we’re saving more.
Pro tip: Focusing on recipes that call for veggies and beans more than meat substitutes like tofu or seitan helps save money.
Vegan Chili | photo by Kate Etue
Do kids get enough protein on a vegan diet?
This is the question that everyone, from my mom to my kids’ pediatrician, has asked us, and the answer is simple: We’re getting tons of protein! Instead of eating frozen waffles for breakfast (no judgments!), my kids eat Larabars in the morning, which are made primarily from almonds and dates. I learned that there’s more protein in a single cup of almonds and dates than there is in a 1/4-pound beef burger. There are also great protein-enriched plant-based milks you can buy or DIY to help make breakfast and snack time opportunities to get some of that necessary protein into your kids’ diets. And dinner, needless to say, can be packed with protein-rich beans, from bean burgers to vegan chili.
What about the gas?
Speaking of beans… yeah, going vegan with kids means eating more beans and that does lead to some, ahem, unfortunate side effects at home. And occasionally in public too. TMI? Sorry, but I told you I’d be honest. The vegans of the Internet have promised that our bodies will adjust; but we have a bulk order of GasX on our kitchen counter to help in the meantime.
Is vegan cooking for kids complicated?
The answer to this depends on how you approach vegan cooking. I’ve been sticking to simple meals made primarily with fresh produce, beans, and simple, easy-to-find meat substitutes like tofu. (These tofu recipes are all kid-approved!) So, for me, no, cooking vegan is not complicated for kids. (In fact, it’s easier because I’ve always been that person who forgets to thaw meat from the freezer before dinner.)
What are some good vegan cookbooks for kids and families?
Vegan for Everybody: Foolproof Plant-Based Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and In-Between, from America’s Test Kitchen, has gotten me through the switch to vegan family meals more painlessly than expected. (Because I did fight it, you guys.) It’s worth getting a copy even if you’re just considering adding one or two more more meatless meals into your diet.
Plant Forward: 100 Bold Recipes For a Mostly Healthy Lifestyle just launched this week, and it’s perfect for families! Maybe because it was written by a literal mom-and-pop team: Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars winner, restauranteur, and Next-Level Chef co-star Richard Blais plus Jazmin Blais, a public health and wellness expert in her own right, and (ahem) longtime CMP reader. The book is fun, it’s funny, it’s sorted by vegetable, and it’s got super kid-friendly vegan recipes like Creamy Cauliflower & Coconut Soup, Spaghetti Squash with Simple Tomato Sauce, Baked Falafel, and Gluten-Free Pumpkin Soup. And hey, even Gordon Ramsay likes it. That said, it’s not entirely vegan — you’ll find some recipes call for cheese, eggs, butter or fish — but this makes it a good cookbook for those who are just looking for new ways to bring more vegan meals to your meal plan. (And of course, plenty of the recipes offer vegan substitutions.)
What do I need to buy to cook more vegan meals for kids?
For Beginners: I find that if I have these things on hand, I can pretty much make anything for dinner.
- I’ve loaded my pantry with black beans for Mexican dishes and burgers, garbanzo beans for hummus and Indian curries, and kidney beans for chili. I keep rice, lentils, and quinoa on hand so that I can quickly build veggie and bean bowls from whatever I have on hand.
- I always have almond milk (or any other plant-based milk) in the fridge and canned coconut milk in the pantry.
- A refrigerator drawer full of peppers (to dip into hummus), apples (to dip into nut butter), and other fresh fruit make for easy snacks or lunches on the go.
- A bag of frozen fruit makes smoothies easy for breakfast (or you can prep these genius make-ahead smoothie packs to have at the ready).
- I buy dates and almonds in bulk so I can make any copycat Larabar recipe for breakfast.
- Cauliflower — yes, even if you don’t like cauliflower. The cruciferous veggie is a miracle worker that does so much more than you can imagine, from mimicking mashed potatoes to rice to pizza crust to helping make creamy pasta sauce, and takes on a million different flavors.
More Advanced: If you get deeper into vegan cooking, you may find yourself experimenting with vegan staples including:
- Raw cashews to make creamy sauces, dressings, and dips
- Nutritional yeast to impart a “cheesy” flavor without cheese — really! — and it’s available right at Trader Joe’s
- Miso paste
- Vegan mayo, a base for so many dressings and sauces that seriously tastes like old-school Hellman’s
Is eating vegan safer for kids?
This is kind of a loaded question, but one of the first things that I did notice after we stopped cooking meat at home was how I no longer had to worry about working with raw meat or poultry in my kitchen — no concerns about salmonella or scrubbing my kitchen counters like crazy. I also don’t have to keep checking my meat to make sure it isn’t too pink before serving. Of course, you still need to wash your veggies well even if you’re cooking them because you E. coli and other diseases still lurk on unwashed produce. But in my experience, I’ve found far fewer food safety concerns when working only with produce at home.
Vegan Bee Bim Bop | photo by Kate Etue
Will kids get enough calories on a vegan diet?
My 7-year-old borrowed my Fitbit for a few days and I discovered that he was walking about 20,000 steps a day. So, since going vegan, my biggest concern has been that my kids wouldn’t be consuming enough calories. That’s because when you cut out meat and dairy completely, and cut back significantly on sugar and carbs, it’s surprising how much you can actually eat before you hit your calorie target for the day.
All I can say is that we try to keep foods like bananas, oranges, nuts, popcorn, and other healthy snacks available for the kids so that they can eat their fill. And they do. I figure if they’re full every day, eating three meals, snacks, and maintaining the energy to do all of their activities and not lose weight that they don’t need to lose, we’re in good shape from a caloric standpoint.
Do you need to take vitamins while eating vegan?
As a rule, my kids’ pediatrician is opposed to kids’ vitamins, but when I told him that we’d switched to a vegan diet, he did have two concerns: Our iron and B12 intake. Given that, I plan to add a chewable multi-vitamin that has 100% of the daily values for each of those for our kids, which they’ll love, of course.
What would you do differently?
it’s probably easier and a lot more affordable (with less food waste) if you don’t go full vegan all at once. Ease into it with a few meals each week or a few days that you designate as vegan days — even just weekdays. That way you can kind of track how your kids are doing; how they feel after eating less meat, cheese, eggs and so on; and slowly start to evolve your kitchen to work for you.
How has eating vegan changed our kids?
My kids watched the documentary What the Health with my husband and I, and some of the issues raised in it, including the conditions in meat-processing plants and the humanitarian and ethical concerns around eating meat, really resonated with them. They in fact decided to switch to mostly-vegan diets all on their own. Even so, I’ve been surprised at how they’ve embraced so many foods they never would have considered before, like eggplant, mushroom, and sage “meatballs.”
In fact, my crazy picky daughter is begging me to make tofu bibimbap (my own cooking, shown above) again soon. I’m an adventurous cook, but making the switch to vegan has definitely opened the doors to us trying things we would have never tried before.
Honestly, it’s been a fun experiment to take on as a family. And I’m pretty proud of us too.