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Expert Insights with Mom and Author Rachel Randolph on Living Vegan With Kids

June 6, 2013

by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief

Recently I had the chance to connect with friend and fellow author, Rachel Randolph. I’ve had the opportunity to follow her journey into vegan parenthood and have learned a few things about food and family along the way. Here’s a little of what she dished about on living vegan with kids.

eNannySource:  What type of diet does your family follow?

Rachel: We follow a vegan, mostly plant-based diet. No eggs, dairy, meat or fish; lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds and minimal processed foods.

eNannySource:  How did you start and why?

Rachel: My husband and I started eating this way three years ago after listening to an audio book together about the many health benefits of a plant-based diet and the health risks associated with the Standard American Diet (aptly named SAD). The China Study by T. Colin Campbell linked several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and several cancers to the consumption of dairy and animal products. Still newlyweds at the time we heard this research, the thought of losing one another to a completely preventable disease saddened us both, and we committed to eating a plant-based diet for a month to see if we could do it. Three years later, we’ve never looked back.

eNannySource: What were you raised eating?

Rachel: I was raised eating frozen pizzas, Ramen Noodles and fast food. In high school, I got a job at an Italian restaurant and started doing my own grocery shopping. As an athlete, I wanted to eat healthier, so I ate a lot of lean protein like tuna and chicken and low calorie dairy products like mozzarella sticks and Slim Fast shakes. I didn’t really learn to cook until I went vegan, so throughout high school and college I relied on a lot of pre-packaged “health” foods.

eNannySource: What about your little man? Will you serve him a burger if he asks?

Rachel:  For now, I try to avoid giving him any meat. At some point, when he can understand the reasons we don’t eat meat, I’ll let him make the choice for himself. Last week we grilled burgers with my husband’s family. I grilled veggie burgers for us; he didn’t even know the difference. He has asked for bites of food with dairy or eggs in it and if he insists after I’ve redirected him to something else, then I give him a little bite. I try to be proactive and bring snacks and food I know he loves when I know there may not be good options for him. For example, we went to a birthday party this weekend. I knew he would want a cupcake, so I made him a vegan cupcake and brought it with us. I froze the rest so I’ll have a stash for future parties. His Mother’s Day Out and church nursery teachers know that we are vegan, but I’ve told them that if he ever gets upset because he wants a goldfish like the other kids, then let the boy try a goldfish. A few tiny gold fish are not worth a giant toddler tantrum.

eNannySource: What were some of the first foods you introduced?

Rachel:  As soon as Jackson was past the typical purees and onto solids, he ate things like kidney beans with a little smoked paprika and finely diced sautéed kale, lentil soup, tofu scramble, baked sweet potato fries, green smoothies, nut butter banana smoothies, coconut yogurt with hemp and chia seeds, rice bowls with finely diced veggies, zucchini risotto. For the most part, he ate a finely diced, milder version of whatever we were eating. At 20 months, I rarely have to make a separate dish for him. I advise young moms having trouble getting their kids to eat veggies to up the flavor. Don’t be afraid of seasoning your child’s food. One of Jackson’s first words was “spice.”

eNannySource: What is his diet like now? Give us a rundown of what he eats in a day.

Rachel: Breakfast: He eats my recipe for Healthy Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal (on my blog) for breakfast almost every day with a cup of almond milk.

Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich, Field Roast sausages with steamed green peas and carrots, or leftovers.

Dinner: Whole wheat pasta topped with roasted veggies and chickpeas, light tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or a tortilla filled with sautéed veggies, beans and avocado. Lightly thawed frozen blueberries are a favorite easy dessert (and are soothing for teethers).

Snacks: Rice crackers with white bean guacamole, slice of Ezekiel bread, spoonful of peanut butter, cashews, whole wheat pretzels, bananas, green smoothies, peeled and sliced apples, diced avocado, a little dark chocolate and raisins

Typical packed lunch for Mother’s Day Out: Field Roast sausages and green peas, coconut yogurt with chia and hemp seeds, diced banana or apple slices, almond milk. Sometimes I send whipped coconut cream and Annie’s bunnies for a special treat.

On the go: I always have Green HappyPuffs, organic fruit and veggie squeeze pouches, raisins, and a few whole wheat pretzels in the diaper bag for the car or errands.

eNannySource: How do you keep it fresh AND easy?

Rachel: Plan ahead and do double duty in the kitchen whenever possible. Make one big green smoothie for three days, rather than making one small one every day, or freeze half into popsicles for a dessert next week. Make a double batch of brown rice and dice a bunch of veggies. Have tacos one night and oriental rice bowls the next. Wash your lettuce and herbs the day you bring them home from the store and seal them in zip-top bags with a paper towel. They’ll keep fresh longer and be ready any time you want to add a fresh salad to a meal. I always double soups and freeze half.

eNannySource: Best tips for young families wanting to make dietary changes.

Rachel: Do it together. Make the change together. Cook together. Eat together. When my husband and I went vegan, I wanted him to learn about what he was putting into his body, too, so he planned and cooked one balanced meal a week for us. Now that we have a child, Jackson helps me cook every day. And we sit down and eat together as often as possible. Yesterday, he begged for a bite of my kale salad, so I tore it up and gave him some. He ate it all and reached for more. If your family isn’t on board, then encourage healthy habits by demonstrating them yourself. Let your family see you eat and enjoy beautiful, healthy, flavorful food. Soon they will be begging for a bite of what you’re having.

eNannySource: Pros of a vegan lifestyle? Cons?

Rachel: Pros: I’ve learned to love cooking because being vegan made me get in the kitchen. The flipside, I can’t just easily call in take-out when I don’t feel like cooking. I used to suffer from headaches and bloating. Now the only time I get a headache is when it’s going to rain and I haven’t had a “food baby” in years. I love that I get to eat large volumes of food. Moderation is not a strong point of mine, but I pretty much can eat as many veggies as I want. A big pro, I don’t have to cook with raw meat anymore. I never did like this part of cooking and now I know my kitchen is always salmonella free.

eNannySource: Tell us about your blog and book.

Rachel: My mom, Becky Johnson, and I share a food blog at www.laughcrycook.com. We are opposites in many ways. I’m a vegan, she loves bacon. I crave order, her dishwasher looks like it was loaded by a drunken monkey, but we somehow balance each other out, or at least get a lot of funny material when we’re together. The female side of our family tree is dotted with funny storytellers, prolific authors, hospitable home cooks, and champion chatters. My mom and I just finished co-writing a humorous food memoir with recipes, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook: Mother and Daughter Dish about the Food that Delights Them and the Love that Binds Them. It will be released by Zondervan in August 2013. In it, I navigate our newly vegan diet, pregnancy, birth, and my first year of motherhood, with my mom by my side cheering me on, supporting me when I need it, and offering an understanding shoulder to cry on when my once orderly life seemed a long distance memory of the past.


To learn more about Rachel, her recipes and her book, visit www.laughcrycook.com.


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