The Daily Beet

01 Jun Family Friday: Allyson’s Family!

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Every Friday we feature a plant-strong family! Today we hear from Allyson and her two daughters.

“I am a mother of two girls ages 7 and “almost” 6. I began my adventure into plant based eating in the early 1990s when I heard Dr. John McDougall speak. There have been many challenges and many rewards along the way, but the biggest challenge to date is figuring out how to raise two plant strong daughters. My diet fell off the wagon when I became pregnant; I gave into the belief that I “needed” dairy.

After gaining 60 pounds with my first pregnancy, I decided that maybe I did not need dairy. But after my first daughter turned 1, I was again told that she “needed” dairy. And, again, against my intuition I relented. At EVERY check up I was reminded how important dairy was for her health.

My second child had reflux and eczema. I decided on my own to take her off of dairy. Her symptoms improved. In the past I had done a lot of research on a plant-based diet and I knew it was the healthiest option for me. I decided to start re-reading some of the books I had read and read newer books like Engine2. I also attended a Healthy Lifestyle Expo in California. This gave me the knowledge and resolve that a plant-based diet was the best choice for my family and me. I know very few people who eat like we do, so I have found it paramount to my success to stay in touch with the plant-based world through Facebook, the internet and books.

The science-based research has given me the knowledge and courage to stand up to our pediatrician and NOT serve my daughters dairy. I have taken this lesson to heart, and have evaluated how I want to approach this with my daughters. In addition to providing a plant-based diet for them in our home, my goals are to:

Be a good example – I had to believe in this diet first before I could be a good example for my daughters. I LOVE this diet and I let them see my passion. I feel great, and I enjoy my meals. Teach them about a plant-based diet – What that means, WHY we eat this way, and how do we do it!

Give them the tools to succeed– Give other parents a heads up before play dates, provide healthy snacks, show them how to order in a restaurant, let them help you cook, provide yummy healthy treats when they have friends over.Get them involved.

Be respectful- Ultimately my girls will choose how they want to eat. I hope through being a good example, teaching them, giving them the tools to succeed, and providing encouragement that they will ultimately choose a plant based diet for life. But I also want them to know that I respect their choices and that they can feel safe telling me that they ate “real” ice cream at school.

Great goals, but what is reality? There are many challenging days being a plant-strong mom trying to get two elementary school girls to also eat plant-strong. The most success I have had with dinners is when I include them.

Taco night – I put cut up veggies, black beans, and rice in bowls across our counter. The girls have their own plate with corn tortillas or hard shells and make their own tacos. Taco salad night – Same as above, but I give both of them a plate of spinach and they put on the toppings. Always fun to make a design with the veggies.

Pizza Night – I have small frozen pizza crust and give each of them one with sauce and veggies on the counter that they can help themselves to. Create a recipe for mommy’s blog – as a hobby I have a blog, they LOVE when I post their pictures and their ideas. Some examples they have created – salad pasta. Simply sautéed spinach and tomatoes and place on top of pasta. (Yep, sautéed in veggie broth) Cabbage slaw with apples. We made a big mayo- free slaw one night and one of my daughters suggested throwing in apples. Excellent!

Have them come up with a dinner that would include all the colors in the rainbow. Make sure you have stuff on hand, first! I know it is hard to include children in dinner, especially when you are just trying to get it on the table between sports and homework. But if you can involve them a couple times a week it does payoff.

On other nights, my biggest lesson learned is to keep it simple: beans, rice, and a green vegetable or pasta with red sauce and a salad. The more complicated I try to make it, the less they like it. I have found my husband prefers more simple food as well.

Snacks I think this is our household’s most challenging area. They want all the bright colored cartoon packaged food. They don’t even know what the food is inside; they are victims of marketing just like other kids! So, I try to make snacks fun. I have them make their own trail mix. I just bought popsicle makers and we have been dreaming up combinations for those.

Lunches: They love having a lot of different things in a lot of containers. They literally count how many containers they have each day. So, cut up carrots in one, apples in another, lettuce in another, beans, dried fruit, etc.

We make a lot of bean dip and they love bean dip and salad sandwiches. Outside of the House I let them choose what they want outside of the house. They are not always plant strong, but they do try.

One example – my daughter went to a restaurant with another family, she told the waitress she was vegan and would like to order her pizza without cheese but add in more veggies. Success! Later they all went to get ice cream. The other mother told her there was vegan sorbet. My daughter politely told her it was ok for her to have chocolate ice cream! I am ok with this; I want them to know they do have a choice. Other tips – I try to always have fresh fruit and cut up veggies at their disposal. I usually have a container of bean dip and low fat tortilla chips available. It is certainly not always easy. In fact, we have many dinner disasters. And, lots of questions as to why I won’t buy “junk” food for them. Last night, one of my daughters threw her self on the floor after seeing dinner and screamed, “I just want to eat MEAT.” (She actually cleaned her plate about 30 minutes later)

But there is no question that this diet has greatly improved my health and energy, and why would I not give that gift to my children?

Thank you Allyson!

Please leave a comment on how you are transitioning your family to a plant-strong life.

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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • Kristi
    Posted at 07:09h, 01 June

    Allyson, great post. I don’t have kids but I still enjoyed your post. I imagine with all the media hype and colorful junk food being pushed to children it must be quite a challenge. I’d love to check out your blog, didn’t see a link or any reference to the name.

    • allyson
      Posted at 15:41h, 01 June

      Hi! Thanks so much. I appreciate the compliments. my blog is vegginaround.com

  • Bethany
    Posted at 08:00h, 01 June

    Anyone know of any great books for Plant based child nutrition? Or is there one in the making Rip?

    • Lynn M
      Posted at 16:23h, 01 June

      Check out Joel Fuhrman’s book, Disease-Proof Your Child. It’s a great read!

  • Robin
    Posted at 09:19h, 01 June

    Allyson – I also have 2 plant strong kids (one with Type 1 Diabetes) and it is not always easy but I LOVED your “we do our best” approach. I think being a good role model and allowing your kids to make choices is what will serve them best in life. Way to go! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • heidi
    Posted at 10:37h, 01 June

    Thank you so much for an honest picture of raising kids this way! Everyone’s story is so interesting. We’ve made transitions in stages (for about two years, we were “plant-based at home, relax on the weekends”) — but then this past year, that really felt like it wasn’t working for us and so we’ve really made even more efforts to be plant-based all of the time. We have worked out strategies for when we eat at others’ homes — one of the biggest challenges for us! — and for desserts, and snack food, as you note. It’s a journey, for sure. Striving for *better* instead of *perfection* is good!

  • Lani Muelrath, Plant-strong healthy living
    Posted at 11:18h, 01 June


    You have such a great attitude and it rings through. Just the right amount of compassion with push to your parenting. Taking a stand is so important , no matter how your kids rebel on occasion and it sounds like you’ve got that down.

    I too have been deeply influence by hearing Dr. McDougall speak live. Great to see your notes on that, too!


    • allyson
      Posted at 15:42h, 01 June

      Thanks so much Lani. I am a follower of your blog, I love it!

      • Lani Muelrath, Plant-strong healthy living
        Posted at 15:52h, 01 June

        Thanks Allyson ‘-) – and I just popped over to see your blog, adorable!

        I didn’t see a way to reach you by email though – can you drop me a note? I have a question for you.



        • allyson
          Posted at 23:05h, 01 June

          HI! Please contact me at allychad@me.com
          There are kinks in my blog – hard to contact me and make comments. I am novice to the blogging world.

  • Lisa Sandberg
    Posted at 11:19h, 01 June

    I loved your post! So inspiring to me because I am a mother of three young boys. First, I absolutely agree with you. It is a struggle when parents and friends around you are not Plant Strong. I will check out FB cuz I have not used that as a resource. We also struggle with snack foods and cartoon colored packages. I have tried to teach them that it is a ploy to purchase such items and we will review the ingredients together- (but of course my four year old doesn’t care) I try to get them involved as much as possible making dinner but usually cave due to schedules. (homework, after school activities, getting home late from work, etc.) Because of your post I will make more effort to at least do this 2-3 times a week!! Thank you for the wonderful reminder! I also love how you still allow your girls to make choices. I believe this will help them as they get older, go off to college and become in charge of their own diet. It was great to hear that your daughter thought about her meal choice out with friends on her own. Where she chose to eat well for the dinner, her treat was to eat “real” ice cream. Very much reality to any of us Plant Strong eaters. The temptation is around us and it is ok to give once and a while… you must be so proud! One of our favorite “ice creams” at home is frozen bananas, with vanilla extract, and some cocoa-cocoa powder in it. We mix it in a vita-mix blender and it is delish! My favorite is with blue-berrys. (We might add honey to it or agave if we want it a little sweeter for guests. Kids usually don’t know the difference. 🙂 Thank you for the inspiring and up beat post! It helps to know I am not the only mother struggling to stay Plant Strong. Not only for me but for my family!

  • Heidi
    Posted at 16:07h, 01 June

    There are two fantastic children’s books by Ruby Roth that really helped my family – “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animsls” and “Vegan Is Love”. Check them out! Beautifully illustrated and tells kids the truth about where “food” cones from in an age appropriate way.

  • Shannon Stanton
    Posted at 16:14h, 01 June

    I am married with 4 boys (13, 10, 7, and 3). I have been creating plant strong meals for the last couple weeks while we are at home (and even while we were camping) but if we eat out or they are at a friends house I tell my kids to try and make healthier choices but in the end it’s their decision. They eat more veggies and fruit on their own now but they still choose to put meat on their Subway sandwich. I’m okay with that because we don’t eat out much. I tell them to see if they can notice a difference in how their bodies feel when eating my meals and eating other stuff. They can. Great post!

  • Cynthia
    Posted at 17:34h, 01 June

    Great story! It’s tough standing up for yourself with the medical community.

  • wyn
    Posted at 22:26h, 01 June

    Wonderful article! I am so proud of you!

  • Kellie
    Posted at 23:20h, 01 June

    Thank you for the post. I have flirted with going vegan for the past yr. I’m good until frozen yogurt or ice cream with my kids. I try to get sorbet but sometimes the other favors are just too tempting.. It’s nice to see other people embracing some flexibility in the diet. I have 2 kids under 10 and it is so hard to keep them eating healthy. My husband is on board with plant strong including fish 2x a week since his 48 year old brother had a heart attack. High cholesterol, tri’s and high bp runs in the family. We are doin our best and my 7 year old liked my veggie burgers from E2 diet. I live for those moments when they enjoy my healthy cooking! I make zucchini brownies from Dean Ornish book, carrot cake muffins from Dr Weill and chocolate beet cake. Trying to sneak in those veggies every way possible. They still get so much dunkin donuts and other junk at school. I cring when I see those munching boxes at every sporting even. I hate to make a stink about it at school or make my kids feel different. I just try to control their diets at home. When they shop with me and ask for the junk they see others bring for snacks to school, I just explain those are ” some time” foods and they get enough a parties. The daily diet should be healthy sprinkled with a few ” some time ” sweets but not every day. They don’t like to hear that but I want them to have a healthy relationship with food. If its always forbidden, they will just want it more. Thanks for he post. Maybe one day, we will all be plant strong.

  • Stephen
    Posted at 08:26h, 03 June

    I am struggling to put plant-based, whole foods on the table for my 6 year old son every night. It’s more of a struggle on principle with my wife, she believes he needs dairy and meat for his “development” as he grows up. I disagree and from what I have learned and researched from McDougall, Esselstyn and Campbell, I could remove those items completely from his diet and he would grow up strong and healthy.

    It’s a challenge walking this fine line. I do have a set of meals that I can cook that he enjoys. It is getting to the point now he will eat many of the plant-based meals I cook. However the dairy and meat have not been removed completely from his diet. Like your girls, I am attempting to teach him why some foods are good and others are not. I want him to have choice, but I don’t want him to suffer the ill effects as he grows up.

    Thanks for the blog post!


  • Bob Anderson
    Posted at 09:42h, 04 June

    I am the only one in my family ,for over a year, that has been on plant based food.

    My wife has had crying sessions over it. I can’t get her to read Dr. Esselstyn’s book, etc. She agrees it is good for me. I stopped taking medication for hypertension afte 30+ years, lost 40 lbs, no more heart burn, etc. Karen fixes plant based , most of the time, for me.

    Since the holidays I went back a little and gained 20 lbs. I’ve reversed that.

    It’s is very difficult.


  • Amy
    Posted at 05:56h, 06 June

    took me a while to get to this article, but i’m glad i did! thanks for the post. raising a plant strong toddler can be very difficult and i’m so grateful for support and information from other parents. thank you for sharing your experience with us! my daughter’s still too young to get really involved with the cooking of meals, but i’m TOTALLY getting into the make your own pizza idea….. THANKS!!

  • Rebekah
    Posted at 00:46h, 29 September

    Thank you! I have a first grader and a two year old, it can be tricky when she visits friends. She’s been honest when she has non-plant food. I’m very thankful and told her I wasn’t mad. She’s doing great. The little one is pretty picky now so it’s hard to get fresh produce into her. This is a giant reason for continuing to nurse toddlers! I eat green and fill her gaps. I’m so thankful for e2 and HH.

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