What happened in Amber Burosh’s bedroom is playing out across the country in one scenario or another.
Her 4-year-old daughter, Delaney, snuck in.
“She was scarred for life and told me the next day she was never eating meat again,” Burosh says.
Burosh was watching a documentary on food that triggered their move to plant-based eating.
“She convinced her sibling to do it too, and the rest is history for our family.”
This year, plant-based eating is all the rage and its popularity is predicted to continue growing for families. In fact, a new study from Nielsen reveals that 40 percent of Americans are now making an effort to eat plant-based foods, like the Burosh family.
What is plant-based eating?
While there is no set definition of a plant-based diet, this way of eating focuses on consuming plant-derived whole foods that are unrefined and minimally processed. This means no dairy, poultry or meat products, and no artificial sugars besides what’s naturally found in fruits. The aim is to eat foods in their healthiest and most natural state. Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains and nuts are the dietary staples.
While research suggests that plant-based eating may reduce the risk of certain cancers and diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, and lead to overall weight management, many families are turning to the plant-based concept to make a lighter environmental footprint. Shifting to more plant-based foods is essential to combating climate change, soil, air and water pollution, and other problems caused by industrial livestock production.
Another reason: more families are turning to plant-based diets as children become more conscious that animals must be killed in order to obtain meat.
Even fast food chains and celebrities have cashed in on the new eating trend. Earlier this year, Starbucks introduced a new line of plant-based drinks to its permanent menu, and Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC and Burger King recently added plant-based sandwiches to their offerings. And Kim Kardashian made headlines everywhere when she posted photos of her family’s pantry to Instagram, revealing that the Kardashian-West clan eats an entirely plant-based diet.
“A whole food plant diet can be ideal for families with children,” says Cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn, author of The Plant Based Solution. “Eating the colorful rainbow of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes can provide all the macronutrients of healthy plant fats, complex carbohydrates, and plant proteins while providing more than usual micronutrients.”
Kahn, who is based in Detroit, says plant diets can fuel school and athletic performance, while lowering exposure to antibiotics, hormones and pesticides from animal agriculture.
Turned on by these benefits, Penny Shack started to raise her son, Hamilton, on a fully plant-based diet when he started eating at 7 months old. However, she quickly found out he wasn’t satiated, as after 30 minutes of eating, he was fussy. Thinking he had an absorption problem, Shack and her husband took Hamilton to the pediatrician, who suggested adding animal proteins into his diet to help him feel full.
“I wanted my son to thrive no matter what kind of a diet it looked like,” said Shack, who still considers their family plant-based despite eating animal proteins a few times a week. “We do teach him about food, so I am confident he will make a decision about the future of his diet when he is older.”
According to Dr. David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, Americans have been misled about the need for protein derived from meat.
“How does an elephant grow to 10,000 pounds by eating nothing but plant food?” Friedman says. “Elephants couldn’t grow so big and strong if plants weren’t loaded with enough protein to supply their muscles.”
Is it for my family?
According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, well-planned plant-based diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that children can thrive on diets that contain little or no animal products.
Friedman cautions families that often people confuse the term “vegan” diet with “plant-based” diet, leading to the belief that both of these diets are synonymous with healthy eating. However, vegan foods can include highly processed products stripped of nutrients and loaded with unwanted additives. Examples of foods that fall into this category include Oreos, Sour Patch Kids, and certain flavors of Doritos.
“Be careful and do your research,” Friedman says. “I know many vegans that are overweight and unhealthy because they eat packaged ‘vegan approved’ food that is loaded with sugar, excessive salt, artificial dyes and chemical preservatives.”
Molly Laatsch, chef/owner of the Chicagoland based Latch Catering, says she is getting more requests from families who want a plant-based menu. As such, she finds herself featuring beans, mushrooms and sweet potatoes in a variety of ways to help them transition into this new way of eating.
“These ingredients fit well in a variety of flavor profiles and are hearty enough to be filling and satisfying,” Laatsch says.
When making the switch to plant-based, Laatsch encourages families to be creative.
“Most people do pasta or rice, and that can be really boring,” she says. “Consider mushroom enchiladas, sweet potato burritos or bok choy ramen. The options really are endless.”
Tips for starting a plant-based lifestyle for your family
- Consult with your child’s pediatrician before making any dietary changes. Ask them about supplementing with a vitamin, such as B12.
- Start slowly by instituting a “Meatless Monday” dinner and build from there.
- Create healthy swaps for dairy. “There are so many options that taste good, if not better, than dairy,” says Friedman, who suggests parents try making a plant-based mac and cheese sauce for kids, which made from a blend of cashews, carrots and potatoes.
- Add plant protein to all dishes to keep you fuller for longer. Examples include chickpeas, green peas and quinoa.
- Include children in meal planning, grocery shopping and meal time activities (helping out in the kitchen, setting the table, etc.).
- Challenge yourself by recreating your family’s favorite dishes in plant-based form.
- Make food fun for kids by cutting it into fun shapes, adding color with fruits and vegetables, or serving finger foods.
- Make healthy desserts, like avocado chocolate pudding and brownies made with black beans or chickpeas.
- Consider subscribing to plant-based meal prep boxes such as Splendid Spoon and Green Chef.
- Connect with other plant-based families by joining an active plant-based social media community with discussions, recipe inspirations, etc.
Avoids all meat, dairy and artificial sugars and instead focuses on plant-derived whole foods that are unrefined and minimally processed.
Avoids all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy. Doctors warn families to avoid junk and processed foods that are “vegan friendly” but not healthy.
Avoids eating meat, but some people consume products that come from animals such as eggs and dairy.
Avoids meat, but eats fish.
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This article originally published in Chicago Parent’s April 2020 issue. Read the rest of the issue here.