So, what are some good reasons for being vegan? Why should I care?
- Smaller environmental impact- The meat and dairy industries contribute more toward global warming than transportation. Farm animals release both carbon dioxide and methane. Methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In addition to this, meat and dairy farms create a lot of sewage that sometimes pollutes surrounding waterways. Land is often cleared for farms. It takes more resources to raise a pound of meat than a pound of veggies. To raise meat, you have to grow the plants which will feed the animal, then the animal eats a disproportionate amount of plants compared to the amount of meat produced. Resources are going into raising the plants and then again to raise the animal.
- Better health- Meat and dairy products contain things like saturated fats and bad cholesterol. Plant based diets can help to lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and body weight. Often people notice they feel more energetic too. Meat and dairy products have more potential to pass illness. You need to be careful when handling raw meat, but not raw veggies!
- Treatment of animals- Most meat and dairy products come from factory farms. I'm sure you've seen images of animals in these situations. If not, you can find them easily on the internet (like PETA's website for instance). Animals are not treated well in these places. The only way to tell if what you are getting is treated well is to visit the farm. Packaging makes all kinds of claims that are a far stretch from reality. Even organic meat and dairy farms are not a good solution. Organic farms cannot use antibiotics. Sounds good right? Routine use of antibiotics in the absence of an infection is certainly not good. If an animal does get an infection though, they still cannot use antibiotics to retain their organic certification, so they just "destroy" the animal.
First, remember that this is going to take some trial and error like anything new. Also, this can be lots of fun!
Plan to include a high protein part of every meal. Our favorites are beans, peanuts/peanut butter, hummus, and lentils. Other good ones are tofu, seeds, and edamame beans.
Plan to include fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.
Make starches a minor part of the meal. It is easy to fall into cooking carb-heavy meals when you start cooking vegan. This is not good for you either. Generally, these carb-heavy meals are high in calories and low in nutrients.
Make a meal plan. I have been making meal plans for years. The initial reason was to minimize spending at the grocery store. It has had the additional benefit of helping decide the age old question, "What's for dinner?" and ensuring that we get adequate nutritional meals.
Isn't eating vegan expensive?
A trap people fall into is that they end up eating a lot of processed meals from the frozen food aisle in the "natural" section. These foods can be good as an occasional quick meal in a pinch. However, these are still processed foods. They are also very expensive compared to buying ingredients. If you buy ingredients for meals, it can be even cheaper than eating a conventional American diet. Think about it, what are your big ticket items at the grocery store? Usually meat and dairy.
Do I have to cook everything? Won't that take a lot of time?
First of all, taking time to cook doesn't need to be a bad thing. However, I know this feeling well. I don't want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen either. I have bad arthritis and cooking can be difficult. Use precut veggies when you can, but note that these will be more expensive than whole veggies. Also, you can buy whole veggies and chop them ahead of time. Along these lines, you can prepare other things ahead of time, like bread, muffins, sauces, etc. I also use canned beans instead of dried beans. I loathe cooking beans, so this is critical to out family meals.
Won't everything be tasteless?
No! There are so many good recipes to try. You should get a good stock of spices. This will take some trial and error to find what your family likes. Make sure you include variety in your meal plan. If you only find 2 recipes you like, you will get burnt out quick.
Do I have to stop making the recipes my family loves?
Most recipes you can use substitutes for meat and dairy products. Meat can be substituted often times with beans. Milk can be substituted with almond, coconut, or soy milk. I usually just omit butter from my recipes, but if it feels necessary, you can use a little olive oil. There are vegan cheeses available at most grocery stores. They are not quite the same as cheese if you just want to take a bite of some cheese, but if you want to use it in a recipe, like pizza, it works quite well. Egg substitutes can be a little tricky. The substitute you use depends on what the eggs are for in the first place. If they are for leavening (making it fluffy, like in cake or muffins) you can use one banana in place of one egg or 1/4 cup applesauce. If it is for binding (keeping the mixture together, like pancakes) you can use 2 tbsp. cornstarch + 2 tbsp. water. This takes a little experimenting.
An Example Meal Plan
This meal plan is an example of what our family would eat on a given day.
Glass of almond milk
Slice of banana bread
Fruit (apple, banana, melon, berries, peaches...)
Handful of nuts or seeds
Green smoothie (leafy greens + fruits + almond milk)
Veggie sandwich (hummus, tomato, spinach, sprouts, bell peppers, avocado, vegan cheese)
OR peanut butter jelly sandwich (this is usually the toddler preference)
Steamed veggies (green beans, broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas...)
Salad (homemade dressing, leafy greens, seeds, carrots)
High protein entrée (black bean burgers, homemade chili, vatapa, lentil stew, bean tacos, homemade pizza)
Tricks to get small children to eat vegan
Children tend to like finger foods. So chop things into bite sized chunks. Mix things they avoid with things they like.
My son would not eat bean burgers for a while. He would take one bite, then give it to the dog. So, I cut them into strips and gave him a cup of ketchup to dip them in. Voila! Now he will eat a few bean burger patties in a sitting. It's all about experimenting and finding what makes them excited.
Bean taco night