By Reshma Shah
Plant-based diets have long been known to promote health. They are associated with decreased overall mortality, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Indeed, many of the longest-lived populations in the world consume plant-centered diets. The evidence is strong and consistent that there are many benefits to eating more plant foods, from improved health outcomes to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced pain and suffering for animals. Many experts also contend that diets that favor plants over animal-based foods could help address global issues such as world hunger and future pandemics.
However, for some families, the thought of moving towards a more plant-centered might feel overwhelming if not impossible. Whether it’s picky eaters, busy schedules, or limited resources, many factors can get in the way. Additionally, parents may wonder if forgoing the side of bacon at breakfast or chicken at dinner could really have any meaningful impact. The truth is that every little bit counts, and gradual change practiced with consistency can lead to lasting transformation. Focusing on progress instead of aiming for perfection can be a less daunting way to begin — one meal at a time.
Here are 5 simple steps to help you begin making the shift in your homes:
- Eat more plants. This sounds simple but merely increasing the amount of plant foods your family eats will necessarily crowd out animal foods. Add a salad, side of beans, or a handful of nuts to your regular meals and snacks. Don’t forget, many of the foods you likely already enjoy (peanut butter and jelly, pasta with marinara, beans and rice) are plant-based!
- Make easy swaps. Swap out plant-based milks such as soy, almond, and oat (so many wonderful varieties to choose from!) for cow’s milk and use egg replacements (such as flax or chia seed “eggs” – one tablespoon of seed mixed with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes) in baking. These types of changes are often barely noticed and can be the lowest hanging fruit.
- Consider shifting animal products from the main dish to the side dish and use them in recipes as a flavoring or accompaniment rather than the centerpiece of the meal. If the idea of eating an entirely plant-based diet seems impossible, aim for 80 or 90%. Whether it’s meatless Monday, tofu Tuesday, or vegan before six, reducing animal foods in the diet is a step in the right direction.
- Recreate family favorites with plant-based alternatives: tofu instead of chicken in your stir-fry, beans in place of beef in your burritos, and even plant-based veggie sausages to go on the grill. Today’s market has so many delicious plant-based alternatives that are becoming more widely available (even “eggs” made of mung beans!) that eating more plant foods doesn’t mean you have to give up family favorites.
- Have a sense of adventure. Try new recipes (there are a plethora of vegan/plant-based blogs, Instagram accounts, and cookbooks) and explore new cuisines. Many ethnic foods (Ethiopian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai — the list is endless!) are heavily plant-centered and vegan-friendly.
This year, more than most, we are all in need of nourishment. Distancing has shown us the value of connection, and perhaps one of the most meaningful ways we have to maintain connection is around our dinner tables. Instead of focusing on fad diet trends that overtake beginning-of-the-year headlines, we can look for ways to nourish our families that support our health and our values, forgoing quick fixes for meaningful progress. The scientific consensus overwhelmingly supports a diet centered around plants as the foundation for health; the added benefits of caring for our planet and animals certainly makes it a win-win-win proposition. Focus on making simple changes that your whole family can enjoy.
Reshma Shah, MD, MPH, a board-certified pediatrician a pediatrician and adjunct instructor at Stanford University School of Medicine, is co-author of ‘Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families’
In their new book, ‘NOURISH: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families’, co-authors Reshma Shah, MD, MPH, and Brenda Davis, RD, a pioneer in plant-based nutrition, empower parents to become the experts of nourishing their families. Parents learn:
- Nutrition specifics for all the stages of childhood—from pregnancy through adolescence.
- Tips, strategies, and over 50 mouthwatering recipes to bring all the useful information to their dinner tables.
Instagram @reshmashah @brendadavisrd