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The Daily Beet: Tips, Advice and Stories

Family Time


It was a long week to say the least. Driving 30 hours, getting acclimated. You’ve probably been in the same position many times. Oddly enough it had been over a week since I had an actual home cooked meal. Lots of salads, and very quickly put together things. Which is not my normal thing, while I like making things simple, I do like cooking something up in the kitchen.

So last night when Rip invited me over to the house for dinner, I gladly accepted the invitation.

I wish that I could freeze time when I get to hang out with his family. The whole Esselstyn crew or his family unit in Austin. Two amazing kids and his beautiful wife, Jill. It’s not because it’s this perfect kind of thing, it’s just family. I pulled up to the house, and walked up the wood porch, painted in various colors, a few toys out. And inside Rip, Sophie, Kole and Jill were all doing just what every family probably does before dinner. Cleaning up the table, getting things together. Rip and Kole decided to go play outside and kick a ball around, while I chatted with Jill who was finishing up some dinner and Sophie who was cutting up a red pepper. We headed outside, where some neighborhood kids joined in kicking a big ball around with Rip. And then after some crying ensued after someone got hit in the head with a ball, we all went back in for dinner.

I kind of understood what family style dining meant while I was at their house. It wasn’t really a set menu or anything. Jill had made some delicious tomato sauce, some pasta, there were different veggies cut up, leftovers from other meals, some brown rice, a couple of sweet potatoes, a beet. And everyone just picked what they wanted. Sophie wanted some pasta and some red peppers and she told me that she used to love sweet potato when she was little but now she’s not really a fan (she’s 4 now). And Kole wanted some brown rice, pasta, some green beans. I had brought some left over cucumbers and tomatoes I had for lunch, so that was passed around.

There was no pressure on the kids to eat one certain thing. Just a little bit of everything, and the choice was theirs to make. Rip was sharing with Jill about his day, she was sharing with him about her day. The kids were talking pretty much the entire time, and probably like a lot of your families, it all kind of works out. Interruptions, various questions in between bits and pieces of days being shared.

And then after making sure everyone was well fed and satisfied the clean up began and the decision of what game to play before heading to bed. The game “Memory” was chosen, to be exact, the Mickey Mouse version. I found out at this point of the night that Kole and Sophie are pretty brilliant. I’m not just saying that, they were very clearly going to beat the adults at the game. We played the game for a while, and then it was bed time. Of course, the protesting of bed time, and all of the regular stuff that I’m sure most families go through every single night.

I was playing Mickey Mouse Memory and it dawned on me that 1000′s of families had nights just like this. Families do this every night, it’s just a normal thing. The plant-strong part, is just one of the aspects to Rip’s family, but it is just one part of many. There are still protests around bedtime, discussions about the next days schedule, cleaning up toys. The food part though is just something that happens in their house.

Often I get e-mails from parents who are struggling with eating and kids who might not like every single thing they put out. But watching Jill and Rip and the more casual approach to it all made me realize that perhaps just making food a part of the normal family life was a simple, yet practical way of doing things. Have a bunch of random things on the table, let the kids pick and choose, but mostly enjoy that time around the dinner table.

I kept thinking of Kole and Sophie as they grow up. As their conversations change. What happens when they are teenagers, talking about the school day or upset over something that inevitably shakes their teenage world. The meals will still be plant-strong, but the more important part is that family time. It’s the time spent kicking a ball around before dinner, it’s the very animated dinner discussions, it’s the games before bed, it’s the reading of a bedtime story. It’s Rip getting woken up in the middle of the night to find Sophie’s special blanket, it’s Jill wiping tears away after a scraped up knee, it’s laughing so hard that almond milk comes out of your nose. Food is definitely a central part of our lives, however, I don’t know if they will all remember the brown rice or the pasta sauce they had on that particular night, but rather all of those special and amazing memories that are built up day after day.

As an adult, I’m sure you can relate, and especially if you’ve lost a parent or loved one who is close to you. You remember all of those moments you wish you could get back, even if just for a few minutes, all of the other things that life brings your way never seems important, after the fact. Today happens to be the day my Granny was born, she is no longer here to celebrate her birthday. She passed away from complications of T2 diabetes many years ago now. I can tell you so many memories I have with her, and to this day, even as an adult, I can’t even begin to describe how much I would love just 1 more hour, a few more memories, nothing to me was worth that being taken away. My Granny loved to do lots of crafts, and one of my most favorite memories was a late night, it was after 11pm (big deal for a 9 year old) and we were sitting in the kitchen together making pinecone ornaments for the Christmas tree. Nothing extraordinary perhaps, but as a woman in my 30′s now, remembering that exact moment still fills me with a tremendous amount of joy.


I recently read that there are only 940 Saturdays between when a child is born and when they go off to college. It struck me that it isn’t all that much time. All of those Saturday’s add up, and all of those Saturdays mean something. I see that when I see Rip and Jill and the kids, the love they all have shows, in what the do as a family down to their health and well being.

Something happens in the plant-strong life that few people ever consider. At some point it just becomes normal. It’s a part of your life, but it’s not every single part. The more important parts are around the dinner table, not even whats on it at some point. The fragmented conversations, the excited kids, the games played before and after dinner, the tears sometimes before bed. It’s all a part of the normal fabric of family.

I left as Rip and Jill were getting ready to read bedtime stories to the kids. It all made me smile. The many facets that make up a family are really amazing.  While it may not always be perfect, and maybe there are times of struggle and hardships, there is so much that can happen around the dinner table. And in the end, isn’t that what we’ll all remember?

Personally, I don’t have children, but I consider myself lucky to have a family, some related, many not. The Esselstyns have become family and for that I’m forever grateful.

I would love to hear about your family, how dinner time works for you. Are you plant-strong? Has anything changed since changing to a plant-strong life? Is it just a normal thing in your life now?

About the author

Natala is the director of communications for Engine 2 Diet, she is also one of our coaches on our support site, Engine 2 Extra. A few years ago, Natala was at the end of her rope. She was on almost 15 medications daily, had out of control Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, issues with nerve damage, and was morbidly obese. She was just over 30 years old. She decided to take her life back by becoming plant-strong. She has lost over 200 pounds, got off of all of her medications and now has great health numbers. Natala plays the violin and studied music therapy. She became passionate about plant-strong nutrition, received her Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University, a certificate in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and is currently pursuing a degree in nutritional sciences. Natala is also a featured speaker at our Engine 2 Retreats she talks about the reality of our nations obesity epidemic as well as providing practical steps to becoming a healthier person.

19 Responses to “Family Time”

  1. Joe says:

    I dont know why but this made me cry. Thanks for sharing this part of Rip’s life, it’s a side we don’t get to see, would love to see something from his wife!

  2. Beth says:

    This is awesome Natala! You could pretty much use this to describe my house as well, crazy in the evenings, we also just put a lot of stuff on the table, let the kids pick! I always thought that I needed to be more ‘”organized” but that’s just the way our family does things too! And what cute kiddos!

  3. Janice says:

    WOW. This was so beautifully written, the story about your grandma, Rip’s family, it’s a lot to think about. I am a busy working mom and I am thinking about how I can spend more time with my kids, I know that it’s important I work, but the time I do get with them I want to count. Love this, love E2!

  4. Brenda says:

    This could not come at a more perfect time for me. I’m expecting my first baby and it’s just nice to know that there is a family that makes it work, I don’t expect things to be perfect, but it’s just nice to know that it can work. Would love to see more from Rip about his family and being a dad!

  5. VeganMomma says:

    Man oh man did this make me cry! Big picture. Our family dinners are the same, kind of chaotic, I’ve been doing the muffin tin dinners like you have in the kid books online, and it’s been working really great!

  6. JentheMom says:

    What a beautifully written post! Thank you! I have 3 vegan kids and I love your point that it becomes “normal”, it totally does, I don’t think about anything anymore, it’s just a part of our lives.

  7. Ramona Kennon says:

    I will never complain about having my grandkids for the weekend again.

  8. Jo says:

    How beautiful and eloquently put! Makes me so excited for things to come with our one year old..especially the part about eating a little but of everything (healthy!) at dinner time, since that’s how we do it now. :) although we just had to convince our pediatrician that we aren’t going to give him cows milk now that he’s a year old (and tried to explain to her that Forks over Knives and China Study are books in the hospital gift shop) and we are kind of stuck on finding a plant based alternative (besides breast milk). There aren’t very many sources for toddlers online for this kind of thing..closest I’ve found has been almond milk, adding in flax oil for added fat and brain development, which isn’t plant strong. Anyhow, off topic–beautiful post! :)

  9. James says:

    I wish Rip would talk more about being a dad, I’m a new dad and I feel clueless and honestly really lost when it comes to food and my family.

  10. Shelly R. says:

    You don’t know how much I needed this today. Sometimes I feel like my kitchen is so chaotic and I can’t pull it together. It’s nice to know we’re not the only family who has tears at bed time and kids who don’t eat everything we put in front of them. Sometimes my kids just want pb&j and I feel really guilty! I will echo what others have said, I want to hear more from Jill, what an awesome mom!

  11. Diane says:

    This is certainly a different side of the Rip-Man , I like it! Natala thanks for capturing it, I wish you had video of it as well. I have 2 kids and it’s a struggle. Just the schedule and knowing when and how to cook, they like pasta, so sometimes they just have a bowl of it for dinner maybe some peas. We also love playing Memory!

  12. Dan in Jacksonville says:

    940 Saturdays, that got me hard. My wife sent me this post, I’m a big E2 fan I am a paramedic and that work/life balance is really hard for me, I just want to chill sometimes but I want to be there for my kids and family. Rip’s kids are going to remember kicking the ball around that’s really what its all about. I have a lot to think about tonight. Thanks.

  13. Betsy says:

    Natala I love when you write, it’s always fills me with joy. I’m a grandma, and I wish my grandkids were plant-strong. I would love some tips on how to talk to your adult kids about being plant-strong!

  14. Melissa says:

    Sobbed like a baby. I know it’s been said, but I personally would love to see more about families, the kids materials are incredible, what Rip put together with the summer kids series was amazing, maybe something ongoing?
    As for our family, I have 3 children all under 10. They are all plant-strong/vegan. Not always perfect, there are some birthday parties that I have no idea what they are eating .And last week my daughter told me she tried cheese at school, because her friend had it in her lunch box. We talked about it, she didn’t understand why we don’t eat cheese. I tried to explain that cow’s milk is for baby cow’s, but she didn’t really understand why.
    It was the first time I tried to explain it, and I feel like I failed as a mom and a vegan.
    Do you know how Jill handles it?

  15. Barb says:

    I feel like I was looking in on a scene from a show! Natala, your Granny would be so proud of you! Happy birthday to her!
    Rip’s family sounds lovely and all the things family should be. I honestly didn’t know he was a family guy, nice to know.

  16. Linda says:

    Natala you have such a beautiful way with words. It’s so nice to read this story, I know you might not think it’s a spectacular plant-strong story, but for us reading it is. The implied lesson being, take care of yourself so that each of those Saturdays count!

  17. Sharon says:


  18. Janet Raycraft says:

    Thank you Natala for your eloquent post. The description of Rip and Jill and family brought back such wonderful memories of Plantstock 2012. Besides the life- changing presentations, bountiful meals, and amazing conversations, I loved watching the interactions of the entire Esselstyn clan! Ann’s kale demonstration (still bringing a smile to my face with each kale preparation), Sophie (then three) hanging out at our table while her dad presented, Dr. Esselstyn in jeans meeting us on a tractor as we exited our car, Jane directing traffic as we departed. I could continue with many more great memories of that weekend! Those amazing two days have kept me 100% plant perfect for twenty months now. I have been cured of severe sleep apnea, been taken off all blood pressure medications, cut in half my statin dose, and been told by two cardiologists that my cardiovascular disease is in reversal. This past September I was able to hear Dr. E’s presentation at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. I would attend every immersion if I were able! It is wonderful to hear all the success stories from other around the world. Thank you Esselstyn family and all the Engine 2 staff!

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