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I'm always getting emails and questions on Facebook from parents asking how they can transition their kids to eating a plant-based diet.
Even though I cover this (and much more!) in The Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-Based Living, I thought it would be great for parents to hear from a Herbie mama out in the trenches.
That's why I asked Nicolien to guest post on the blog today! Not only is she from Belgium, but she's also a mother of 6 (SIX!) and recently transitioned her family to eating a plant-based diet -- which they were VERY excited about!
I'll let Nicolien take it away...
Hello dear Herbies,
My family (husband, 46, six children aged 16 to 8 and I, 42) had been living a relatively healthy lifestyle in Belgium for many years (we certainly thought so!), consisting of a vegetarian diet, home cooked fresh meals every day, taking regular exercise for fun as well as for health benefits, doing yoga and meditation intensively, as well as giving each other massages, which all provided us with a happy and balanced outlook on life.
In 2011 we had eliminated all refined sugars from our diets, which had been a healthy step forward. We also always drank lots of water. On a regular basis, we go out into the streets in our neighborhood and clean up the trash to help the planet stay healthy as well (especially on the little hilly roads through the fields).
After my sister died at age 23 in 1993, it felt like a privilege for all of us to be alive and healthy, and it still does. That definitely serves as an incentive to take good care of ourselves and be grateful for this wonderful life! However, dealing with asthma-related breathing issues and hayfever since the age of 17, as well as anxiety attacks (which had gotten quite severe in August 2013), the harmony in my life felt fragile. It felt like there could be more, so from 2007 onwards I was searching and reading many spiritual books, which all helped me in numerous different ways.
On April 24th, 2014, my husband came home from getting bread at our local bakery, close to the house we used to live in up until a few months ago. Whilst checking if there had still been any mail delivered for us at the old house, he came across a magazine called Wellness. My mom had brought an issue of that magazine along for me for the first time around September 2013, when I was dealing with severe anxiety. She had mentioned this to a woman at a Wellness Center where she had planned to spend a few days, but cancelled so she could come over to our house (a 3.5 hour drive from Holland) to help me and my family. This woman had then given me a subscription to the magazine as a comforting gift (isn't that sweet and heartwarming!).
We were at the breakfast table, waiting for the fresh bread, and I couldn't help but take a peek into the magazine (normally we don't read whilst eating, we eat!). In it was an article about a woman who went to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida for a 3 week experience of eating raw, plant-based foods and what good it had done for her many health issues. After reading it, my attention was aroused enormously and I went on to visit her website where I found a link to The China Study and Forks Over Knives. I watched the trailer and ordered the DVD from Amazon, feeling strongly that I had found a gem! I couldn't stop reading everything I could find on the topic and felt a strong urge to go plant-based immediately. By lunchtime, I had made the decision and I told my children, all of whom eat at home for lunch as we live 2 minutes away from school. It felt like coming home so strongly, it was wonderful :-)
The 4 girls (13, 11, 11 and 8) were thrilled just as much as I was. I also encouraged them to actively help me out in this joint journey of ours by reading as much information on the internet as possible, which they gladly did. The boys (16 and 15) were a bit more skeptical, not immediately convinced, but at least open to it as well. The 'letting them read everything on the topic that they wanted whenever they had questions' was a very helpful tool for them to transition to a plant proud lifestyle. They became less apprehensive with each meal, and the array of foods that I offered them grew every day. I simply tried lots and lots of different vegetables (the variety of fruits they ate had been a lot larger to begin with, but even there they made remarkable improvements, at least they try everything I give them now, which is great; the more often they taste new foods, the faster they will like them).
We've added lots of different types of lettuce, escarole, kale and eggplant, rhubarb (we ate those already but not as often as we do now), swiss chard, bok choy, yams, and for some of the children mushrooms, tomatoes and onions and sometimes avocado (not all of them ate that before, and meanwhile they are pros). It has become 2nd nature to eat vegetables as a snack, whereas before we mostly limited ourselves to fruits, nuts, bread and rice crackers. Legumes had already been part of our meals almost daily, we've only increased the amounts.
Many things just fell into place; my desire to raise our family as healthily as possible, my longing to decrease our environmental footprint and take better care of Mother Earth, my aspiration to be able to mean something to those less fortunate than we are, albeit it in an indirect manner, and seeing animals as loving beings who deserve to live. Before, I was not aware consciously about the atrocities taking place in the dairy and egg industry (meat had been obvious, and in hindsight these are also so obvious that I'm wondering how I could not have seen it before). This information was also what made our sons stop consuming those products.
It turned out to be very easy for them, they feel great, fit and happy and the atmosphere in our home is peaceful which is no coincidence I think! It took a relatively short time this transition, just a few weeks at the most. What helped was being very open, informative, learning together and letting them follow their own pace, yet stimulating their progress and acknowledging it. Telling them I'm so proud of them and giving lots of hugs!!
We watched Forks Over Knives on May 1st, which we love and embrace wholeheartedly. It felt like a total endorsement of our choice. Since then, we've shown it to my parents who are also very open to the plant-based lifestyle, my mom at least applying it at home and my dad trying more and more vegan options (they weren't great meat eaters anyhow) :-)
Our 16 year old son has watched the film several times already, learning more details each time he watches it, and creating a great basis for discussion of the manifold benefits. The compassion in our household has greatly increased and we're deeply thankful for that, as well as for the wonderful tasting variety of food which we've (re-)discovered since then. Another great bonus is feeling that we positively contribute to animal welfare, protection of the earth and world hunger at the same time. We feel HAPPY and HEALTHY! We'll certainly offer other people in our surroundings to watch this film as well.
My husband was open and supportive from the beginning, but he was the one who willingly finished our non-vegan products, so he is also following his own pace. At work, he might still choose a fish option, but certainly not at home and he has swapped cow's milk in his coffee for nut and rice drinks. He is very helpful with all the shopping adjustments we have made and loves what I cook and bake! I ordered the Happy Herbivore cookbooks and we are looking forward to enjoying many more delicious dishes from them! The banana ice cream, which I'd already gotten from internet, is a recurring favorite already, and we loved the lentil loaf from Happy Herbivore Abroad :-)
I wish I could experience how my sister Marieke would feel about WFPB eating, as she was an enthusiastic cook who often tried new recipes. It feels as though she would embrace this lifestyle as well. I now try so many more new recipes than before that I'm even beginning to feel like a kitchen princess. Before, I judged myself, thinking I wasn't capable of that, and now I experience that I am and it feels empowering and gives me confidence. That in turn makes me appreciate and love myself more which is a great gift. Very often, I find myself smiling, and feeling so lucky and grateful for this path. I also feel lighter in many ways.
Learning about the plant-based lifestyle, I found so many inspiring websites, like Happy Herbivore of course, which had just started the 28 Day Live Better Challenge. That was a great way to improve the quality of our lives on many different levels all at the same time. So the timing was perfect.
Like I said before; so many things fell into place and by going plant-based, I have so much more energy than before, which is just what I need with providing a healthy, fun, responsible life for our large family. Living in Belgium, some typical American foods (which I love having studied at UC Berkeley for a year; that's actually where I met my husband!) are hard to come by. It took me a while to find pumpkin puree for example, as a substitute for fat in baking (thanks for those alternatives Lindsay, they're great!!), but luckily I found it at an English store nearby. Also vanilla extract was hard to find but meanwhile we've found it. And the measurements are different in Europe, but as I have a special cup/milliliter measuring cup that is also easy.
Our twin girls went to a birthday party this summer and took the initiative to ask the birthday girl if they could have a vegan option!! That made me so happy and proud and whilst the others were eating hamburgers and hotdogs, they ate rolls with vegan burgers on them, as well as a good load of tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce. It is great that the parents of the girl supported us in this way and I specifically showed them our appreciation for it. That feels like a great way to make people interested in a plant-based way of eating.
My 13 year old daughter started a vegetable garden with the help of my father shortly after we moved to our new house in February, so that is a great addition as well. We've already eaten our own grown radishes, lettuce and herbs, and are looking forward to carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, zucchini and more! She also started her own blog.
After nearly 5 months we feel like it has been much longer since going plant-based as it all feels so natural! We thoroughly enjoy many HH recipes, particularly black bean brownies, carrot cake cupcakes and peanut butter cup smoothie :-) It's fun to experiment in the kitchen. We've really become accustomed to eating lots and lots of veggies in all the colours of the rainbow every day.
My husband and I have both lost 8 pounds, so we feel energetic and happy. He's probably going to lose more at his own pace. My challenge remains not over-eating whenever I love particular food or feel sad. What helps is chewing, chewing, chewing, every time again. It makes me more aware, enjoy my food more and generally more satisfied.
We've also really embraced eating low fat; we've cut down on nuts and seeds enormously, and we no longer cook or bake in oil. This has proven to be a good move, especially for our energy levels. Eating bread made from different kinds of grains instead of wheat has also contributed to that. The children are passionate about this way of living and share it with their friends in a gentle manner. Some of them also talk about it in class and have great conversations about it with teachers who are interested.
If anyone has any questions I'd be glad to answer them, and tips and advice are equally welcome :-)
Nicolien & Thilo, Lucas, Julian, Charlotte, Melissa, Sarah and Rosalie xxxxxxxx