Plant Strong: Our family’s why and how

I’m writing this one for Kristin, who was kind enough to tell me she wanted to know more about what our family eats and why.


For me, it started on Saturday, May 19, 2012. I may always remember that day. My husband and I took our sleeping son with us for breakfast at IHOP that morning. I ordered their fruit and nut pancakes — listed as a healthy option so I was feeling pretty good — with eggs and turkey sausage.

That afternoon, my husband suggested we watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. As soon as the movie was over I said: “Let’s do it. We have to do this.”

There were three big factors in that decision for me:

  • My Dad. My father, and his brother, both died far too young because of complications of diabetes. Dad was only 54. He had been insulin dependent for more than 15 years and received kidney dialysis three times a week for more than two years. I didn’t want that for anyone else in our family.
  • My husband. About three years ago he developed a very serious allergy to mammal meat. (Probably because of a tick bite.) We had already successfully changed the way we eat and the food we purchase. He also loves to experiment in the kitchen and had previously worked in produce at Whole Foods (and other groceries). While there, he completed the Engine 2 28-Day Challenge. At the time, he just wanted to see if he could do it. He did, with admittedly no support from me, but returned to a typical diet when the 28 days were over. He was calorie counting when we watched the movie and I knewthat if we did it together we could really do it.
  • My son. That day he was two days shy of four months old. He was nearing the age of infant cereal and the world of solid food. I couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t this be the best possible way to model healthy food choices for him?”

Let me be very clear about something because I have been asked this question. Watching this documentary was not in anyway similar to a religious conversion. What was going through my mind as we watched Forks Over Knives was strictly analytical processing about the best way to achieve the results I wanted for my family.

I want us all to live long, healthy, happy and fulfilling lives. The best way to do that is to take personal responsibility for our health. For me that means combating risk factors and family history I know we face — diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer among others. For me, it just made sense. Based on the science, switching to a whole food, plant based diet and eliminating all animal products and added oils seemed like the most efficient and effective way to get what I wanted for us.

So I told my husband “We have to do this.” He didn’t hesitate. His motivations were different, but we committed to doing it together.


20130112-113642.jpgThe next day we watched another video, called E2 Kitchen Rescue. (We watched both Forks Over Knives and Kitchen Rescue on Netflix.) We went through every cupboard and pulled out what we wouldn’t eat. Well, really, he did and I watched from a chair. We gave it to friends who thought we were a bit crazy. And my mom watched the Little Guy while we went on a date to the co-op grocery store in Lawrence. It’s the closest option to us (about 30 miles) that has everything we need. This picture is the result of that first plant strong shopping trip. We picked up the Engine 2 Diet book, too, and both read it quickly. We haven’t looked back.

You’re probably wondering

Yes, it was hard to give up some things. I’m the girl who preferred bread pudding over beer or wine when I went out with girlfriends. I’m the lactose intolerant who would buy a store out of Lactaid pills so I could have mozzarella sticks or ice cream whenever I wanted. I already drank soy milk, but I LOVE cheese and ice cream. For three weeks it was really hard. REALLY hard. But I kept thinking about Dad. About myself as an older, hopefully wiser woman. Who do I want to be?

Sometimes I still want a hot-and-ready pizza from Little Caesar’s because it feels good to gorge on a pizza. Sometimes I still really want a Dr. Pepper or wild cherry Pepsi. But we’re learning how to get around that. And I now understand why my brain says it wants those things. We go for pizza at Wheat State in Lawrence sometimes. They have whole wheat crust and vegan cheese. (No. Vegan cheese is not a perfect substitute, but if you want that gooey feeling it will do the job.) I occasionally buy a pint of Almond Dream or SO Delicious Coconut Milk ice cream. Both are completely dairy free.

Yes, we have to be mindful of what we feed our son. We have to be sure he’s getting enough fats, especially. But we keep a food diary for him, which has been reviewed by a registered dietitian, and we are confident he is getting what he needs. (Note: It would be best to breastfeed a vegan baby until he or she is at least two years old. That is not possible in our case because I had to stop breastfeeding when I had my surgery. He was 7-months-old. He gets a soy based formula and gets coconut milk or hemp milk in his sippy cup now.)

Yes, you can get enough protein if you eat this way. Whole grains have protein, as do beans and other foods.
Yes, you can do this if you don’t like certain foods. My husband will not eat mushrooms. It hasn’t slowed him down.
Yes, you can still go out to eat. We like salad bars and most servers are more than willing to answer questions about certain dishes. Sometimes, there are gems available that aren’t on the menu. For example, we go to Chili’s sometimes and get veggie fajitas. Instead of meat we get broccoli and mushrooms (I get to eat his). They keep the sour cream and cheese and give us extra guacamole.
No, this is not exactly the same as a vegan diet. We don’t have the restriction on sugar because of charcoal. Vegans don’t necessarily restrict oil. And we did not come to this for ethical, animal-rights based reasons. I did not give away my leather shoes, belts and bags when we cleared out our cabinets. Although I am a major fan of the fact we make more of a difference for the environment eating this way than by driving our Prius and carpooling to work. And I have decided personally not to buy any new leather items from now on. I will buy them second hand or find a non-animal alternative.

What we eat

I am the first to admit that my husband is the cook in our house. He loves to experiment and he’s great at it. Most of the time I just eat what he feeds me. That makes things relatively simple for me. But I understand what vitamins and minerals are in my food and I manage when I need to on my own.
His favorite cookbooks so far are:

He’s also blogging about the challenges of living Plant Strong while working as a sports information director for a university. He spends a lot of time in the press box, where pizza and soda are the norm. The blog is a relatively new effort for him but he is including some of his own recipes there and a lot of great tips about how to stick with this way of eating while traveling.

For most things, we go to our neighborhood grocery store. Yesterday we bought fruits (apples, oranges, Cuties, dried apples, dried apricots, dried figs, lime, pears), veggies (green, red and yellow pepper, cilantro, broccoli, kale) brown rice, lentils, steel cut oatmeal, sorghum (we don’t use granulated sugar unless its for a special occasion), no salt added canned chickpeas, black beans, corn and green beans and almond milk. Except for milk, that will feed us for more about two weeks.

This week for dinner we had stir fry (broccoli, Napa cabbage, bokchoy and carrots with seitan over brown rice) twice; veggies and macaroni and “cheeze”; curry with lentils and chickpeas (twice, and for lunch. It’s my favorite.) and soup (golden beats with greens, potato, chard -stalk and greens, carrot with almond milk and spices). Tonight my son and I will have chili. My husband is on the road with the basketball team today. The Little Guy eats what we eat. He usually gets a side of avocado, too. Tomorrow we’ll make our own pizza. When we eat leftovers we don’t usually have them the next night.

It takes more planning because you can’t stop at a drive-thru on the way home. But to us it is worth it.

I welcome your questions.

2 thoughts on “Plant Strong: Our family’s why and how

  1. A family history of disease is a great reason to change, and so are allergies. I admire you both for making such a big change, and I’m sure it has gotten easier over time. I expect that will be the case for me.
    After my own two-week battle with a stomach issue that seemed related to my own medical issue, it was a no-brainer. Cookies, low-intake of fruit and greens add up to trouble. I was not feeding my body correctly or even attempting to meet its needs half-way.
    I will, of course, re-visit my doctor and ask him for help or a reference for a specialist. In the meantime, I feel diet is one factor within my control that is my responsibility.
    I have not eliminated animal products, but I’ve done quite a bit of reading on my problem – hypothyroidism – and began this week following recommendations on avoiding some foods, waiting to eat others at certain times (4 to 6 hours after the medication is absorbed), and just taking a step back to consider why I was eating the way I was eating.
    For my medical needs, I have to avoid soy. Soy interferes with hypothyroid treatment. And I’m learning it’s in everything – including chocolate bars. (I never imagined it was critical for Hershey’s but apparently it is.) It’s proof that subsidies have changed the foods that appear in American households – and perhaps kitchens worldwide.
    Despite having covered the USDA for two years as a journalist, it is still astounding to learn how much of our food – products and habits – are determined by economics. It’s a sad statement on our society that we place a higher value on the dollar than we do on our own health.
    However, we should not escape responsibility. We should hold ourselves accountable. These are our bodies, our mouths, our choices. I think your own story shows that you feel responsible for your bodies, for how you feel physically and mentally. Taking it a step further – to accountability – is the challenge.
    For the rest of us, the beginning of 2013 is an opportunity to take a similar journey.
    May those of you who made the New Year’s Resolutions to change your eating and fitness habits be successful, and may you learn much more about yourselves, your bodies and how they respond to foods and exercise. Live well.

    • Thank you for that note, Em. I really appreciate the encouragement and I’m here if there’s anything you need. You are so right about our food and economics. It’s something we talk about a lot at home.

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