The most common thing people ask when they hear that our family – 3-year-old daughter included – eats a plant-based diet is, “But where does she get her protein?” I often bite my tongue and instead of saying:
“The same place gorillas/cows/elephants/oxen/rhinoceroses/bulls/all the largest land mammals get theirs!” I say, “Plants! Plants have protein!” One, because the first response is rude and unnecessary and no one likes a mean vegan (myself included!). And two, because education goes much further than sarcasm. Although it’s true, the largest land mammals are all herbivores.
My husband and I didn’t start out eating plant-based, much like any major life change, it was a process that happened gradually over a period of time. The more we learned, the healthier we ate. Finding out that children who eat diets high in meat and eggs have fatty streaks in their arteries (a precursor to heart disease) as young as 10 years old was really quite a shock! Fortunately, our daughter has really only known plant-based eating at home – so she’s an easy sell on all things v-word (vegan).
In my professional life, I run nationwide, high-pressure, public awareness campaigns to encourage hospitals, schools, and universities, and other major institutions to serve healthier fare, but in my personal life I’m 100% not the evangelizing type. I rarely tell people my family eats vegan, and I won’t pretend to know the best diet for every family. But, it’s safe to say that lots of us (my family included) don’t always get the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended by nutrition and medical experts.
Reducetarian diets are all the rage right now and google searches for “vegan food” are up like, a gazillion percent. Even so, I completely and intimately understand how tough it can feel to move away from the traditional meat and potatoes many of us were raised on. Especially in KC. From grocery shopping to eating on-the-go, it takes some effort to learn new ways of eating.
The good news for you is that if you’re looking for ways to shift some of the meat, egg, and dairy products your family is currently eating to more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other plant-proteins, as someone who has done it, I have a few tried-and-true KC specific pieces of advice to get you going (get ready for a link-filled post, because I’m coming at ya with some real-time resources!)
Making Changes at Home
Crowd out: The healthier way!
For most people, a complete abolition of meat and eggs won’t work. It’s not convenient, practical, or enjoyable, and when something feels like a major sacrifice, it’s not sustainable. Despite all their flaws, the Federal Dietary Guidelines get a few things right – one of them being that 2/3 of our plates should be fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. So, instead of trying to swap everything out immediately, try crowding out some of the unhealthier foods with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains until your plate is mostly plants. Increasing foods high in fiber while decreasing lesser nutrient-dense foods will ensure you don’t feel deprived or hungry, and will majorly impact your health. Even small changes can have huge benefits.
Got picky eaters (Eeew! Green vegetables!)? check out ChooseVeg and ask one of the vegetarian support specialists for kid-friendly recipes! My family (and my wallet) LOVES the meal guides and advice we get from Plant Based on a Budget. Into meal delivery kits? Lighter and Purple Carrot are my two favorites.
Buy analogs: The easier way!
Listen, my kid loves pizza, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese as much as the next, and although it’s not an everyday occurrence, we’re have been known to pop some plant-based meat alternatives in the oven for dinner. In terms of flavor, you can’t go wrong with Gardein brand foods, and the Beyond Burger is good enough to satisfy the most staunch of meat eaters – it’s even sold in the meat case at many major grocery stores! Like all pizza, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and other junk food – vegan or otherwise – these foods can be a bit high in sodium and even saturated fat. On the whole, though, they’re still better for our health (no cholesterol and usually fewer calories) animals, and the environment.
Need some help making a grocery list? I got you. Try this one, this one, this one, or this one. Many Hy-Vee’s even have a “health market” and a health market manager who can assist 1-1 when it comes time to find the right food for your family.
Making Changes Around Town
Try veg* restaurants
With delicious menu items like cheesy nachos, “pulled pork” (jackfruit) sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, and decadent German-chocolate cupcakes, plant-based restaurants like Fud, Café Gratitude, and Mud Pie Bakery are some of my family’s favorites. Not in the KCMO area? Apps like Happy Cow make finding vegetarian restaurants and restaurants with veg* items easy no matter where you live.
Try international restaurants
Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, and Ethiopian restaurants often have extensive veg options. Because plant-based eating is still the norm in many countries, the dishes are flavorful, inviting, and completely satisfying! You won’t be limited to a dry garden salad and french fries (or what I sarcastically refer to as “The Vegan Special”) unlike in many traditionally American-style restaurants
Try ordering a bit differently at your favorite restaurants
No one wants to feel deprived or resentful when they go out to eat – it’s a treat for most of us to make it out of the house for dinner in the first place! You certainly shouldn’t go home hungry, either, and there are some easy swaps that make eating healthier simple. For example, if you’re going to order an entrée with meat in it, try an app that’s plant-based. Look for menu items that are plant-heavy. Fill up on the healthiest foods first, and save half your burger/chicken/salmon for lunch the next day instead of cooking up another meaty meal. Try a Portobello burger, hearty risotto, veggie flatbread, or ask the kitchen to make you a healthy veg* meal (most will!)
Find a veg-friendly family event nearby
Kansas City is a real up-and-coming veg city. This weekend you can attend Vegan Oktoberfest. We had our first VegFest last July! And The Peaceful Pig even serves vegan bbq at First Fridays. Use this site to find an upcoming veg event, and hopefully I’ll see you there!
Still not convinced it’s easy to eat veg around KC? I get it. I really, really do. Pinky promise. I’ve been there! So, start small. Join a local FB group for support and advice. Email me. Befriend google and/or watch a documentary on Netflix. If you decide to try eating veg around KC, let me know how it goes. Just be sure to save a Mud Pie cupcake for me!