After 25 years of working in “Corporate America,” I decided on my 45th birthday to become a “Stay at Home” wife and mother. Realizing that I am extremely fortunate to have this choice, I decided to take on several domestic projects that I’ve wanted to tackle for years. One of these projects was to expand my very limited cooking repertoire. I am a licensed and registered dietitian, so I am always interested in various eating programs and wondered what the result would be if I incorporated them into our family dinners, which have become rather boring of late.
Would my family start a mutiny? Would they enjoy it? Would they even notice? Would certain eating plans take larger chunks out of my grocery budget? Would it save me money? Would we feel better? These are all questions that I hope to answer as I explore different meal plans in my new series “Diet Diaries – Family Edition”
The first “diet” I tried was a vegan diet. I figured a vegan lifestyle would be the most difficult meal plan to adapt for my family. My husband is French and prefers his meat not only “rare” but “very, very, very rare.” We are talking blue-tinted, freshly oxygenated, five minutes ago it was living, meat. My youngest likes her meat with “the red juice” as well and chooses milk as her drink of choice for most meals. Instead of a birthday cake, she wanted a brick of brie with candles in it. She got her wish.
Being a vegan is definitely more of a lifestyle choice and a philosophy than a diet. Vegans do not eat anything that is of animal origin. Some very strict vegans will not use animal based products for clothing, or any other purpose.
There are three main reasons that people choose to participate in a vegan lifestyle: animal rights, for environmental factors, or for better health. Eating animal fats and proteins has been shown in studies to raise a person’s risk of developing cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, and a number of other illnesses and conditions. Some experts suggest that we are not designed for consuming cow’s milk. However, the point of this blog post is not to debate these issues, but to simply see how my family would react to dietary changes that are meant to shake up our routine family dinners.
We are a family of four, and a typical week of groceries includes two gallons of cow’s milk, two jumbo packs of string cheese, butter, shredded cheese, muenster cheese, a brick of brie, cartons of yogurt, and instant macaroni and cheese. We more than meet our recommended daily amount of calcium. Dinners typically contain a meat item, a veggie, and or some sort of cheesy side (broccoli and cheese, noodles and cheese, cheesy casseroles, etc.) Eliminating meat and cheese from our family dinner would be a challenge.
However, more and more people are stepping up to the challenge of incorporating a strictly vegan lifestyle. According to Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of The Vegan Society, ”The number of people taking The 30 Day Vegan Pledge continues to increase with around 500 people a month trying vegan for a month. Of those completing the survey, 93 percent say they will remain vegan.”
I announced our first vegan family dinner with medium fanfare. I didn’t want to make too much of a big deal about it. I decided to make “One Pot Pizza Pasta.” Who doesn’t like pizza and pasta? For dessert I decided on dairy-free chocolate pudding.
I purchased the ingredients and was pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive they were. The cost breakdown was as follows:
- 1 package (16 oz) noodles (recipe calls for gluten free but I bought regulars) – $1.00 (Hy-Vee had a 10/$10 sale on noodles)
- 1 diced bell pepper – $0.77
- 2 diced roma tomatoes – $0.99
- 1/2 c diced onion – $1.50
- 4 diced baby Portobello mushrooms (about 1 cup) – $2.49
- 1 jar pasta sauce – $1.59
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast – $6.69 (However, this can be used again for other vegan recipes)
- Asparagus – $3.99
- Homemade Artisinal whole grain bread (Free…My father in law makes it! Yes, I know how lucky I am!)
Total Dollar Amount without nutritional yeast: $10.83 or $2.70 per person.
I did not have to buy the chocolate pudding ingredients because it used things most folks already have in their pantry (outside of the soymilk which runs about $3.00 per half gallon. We regularly have soymilk on hand because my husband likes it in his coffee for no other reason than the taste)
Me: This tasted NOTHING like pizza. It tasted like spaghetti with pasta sauce from a jar. Not that there is anything wrong with pasta and sauce in a jar. It is a perfectly acceptable and simple vegan dinner option. It’s just that I was expecting a mini explosion of pizza in my mouth and if I wanted pasta with marinara, I would have made my own.
The Husband: He thought it was really good. Also, the recipe made a lot of pasta, so he ate leftovers in his lunch all week. This saved on money and reduced his animal product intake for the week. He normally may have eaten a Jimmy John’s Italian Combo all week.
The Teenager: She liked the idea that it was meat free, but she still loves her cheese. She would have preferred a healthy dose of mozzarella on the top. I think she is more inclined toward vegetarianism rather than veganism.
The 8 Year Old: Bless her heart. She knew mommy was trying something new and didn’t want to hurt my feelings. She said she loved the pasta and the pudding. (The truth is, I saw her only take one bite of the pudding and later serve herself some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream for dessert). The good news is that she consumed the cleverly hidden mushrooms that were in the recipe. This is something she normally would have balked at. We also discovered that the whole family enjoys putting olive oil on their bread as an alternative to butter.
Another dinner I made was a vegan pizza. I like to make homemade pizza sometimes on Friday nights so I wanted to see if we could get away with a meatless, cheeseless pie. This was simple because I bought one of those pizza crusts that already come with the sauce, some Quorn crumbles (to replace sausage), and Daiya mozzarella “cheese substitute.” This meal was a bit more expensive because it involved “fake foods” like the crumbles and Daiya.
- Daiya “Cheese” = $5.49
- Quorn Crumbles = $3.69
- Pizza Crust with sauce: $3.99
- Fresh Spinach = $3.49
- Total Cost for 2 Pizza Pies = $16.69 or $4.17 per person
Me: This was actually quite tasty. But the main part for me was making the pizza with my daughter. She loves to cook. The Daiya has a different sort of taste, but it isn’t bad. In the future, I would just rather load up the pie with sauce and veggies and skip the cheese alternative.
The Husband: My husband thought it was very good! He even had it “cold” for a snack. He didn’t miss the real sausage or the cheese. But keep in mind, that he is the world’s least picky eater. When he lived in Mexico he ate goat eyeballs, so really the bar is set pretty low for him. But I was pleased he ate it.
The Teenager: Said it smelled like “dirty shoe” and proceeded to eat her leftover macaroni and cheese from her Panera lunch days earlier.
The 8 Year Old: Had fun making it with mommy. Ate the first piece, and then I saw her sneak the second piece to the dog. Later that night she got herself a yogurt for a snack.
Our normal diets have resumed, but the tiny experiment did result in some positive “takeaways.” Unlike my kids, I could go without meat or cheese if I wanted to or had to due to health or allergy reasons. I enjoyed experimenting with some new recipes. Cooking vegan meals provided me with the opportunity to talk to my kids about this particular eating style and why some people choose to make it their permanent lifestyle. It allowed me to incorporate more vegetables into my main dishes. It didn’t exactly provide a cost savings for us. However, if a family consistently ate a vegan diet, a lot of the food items that I purchased could be used again, making it more economical in the long run. As a family we decided that we would like to partake in “Meatless Mondays.” This made me happy because I do love a good food theme. I look forward to trying more vegan recipes in the future.
Does your family live a vegan lifestyle? What are the benefits? Do you have any great recipes or resources to share?