A mixed family diet

The seventh post in an nine post series.

I've been writing about my diet but I live in a home with a family. How does my family eat? How did their diet change when I said "enough" to plant-based eating for myself. What do we eat?

Firstly, I’m grateful our kids were raised mostly-vegan. I think it gave them a real good dietary start in life. They all have robust health. Is this causation or correlation? I can't say. But the mostly-vegan diet didn't hurt (we also took supplements) and was a good baseline.

However, part of the reason I stopped our mostly-vegan diet was because I was so fed up with cooking and I desperately wanted more easy options available to my hungry and growing teenagers.

back when my kids were hungry pre-teenagers

The need for more options that required less work was a very real motivating factor in adding more processed foods and animal products into our diet.

If my seventeen year old son has the choice between eating an already prepared, tasty, nutritionally dense and satisfying vegan snack or making his own plate of crackers and cheese he'll choose the prepared vegan snack most times. If you cook it for him, he'll eat it. Problem is, I don't want to cook it. So crackers and cheese it is because he finds the easy vegan equivalent of a handful of nuts less appealing.

Secondly, it served our family well to have a united diet when raising younger children. I was totally on board with vegan eating so it wasn't like Damien and I disagreed much about what to feed our kids.

We have differing opinions now on what to eat personally but everybody in our family is grown-up enough to make their own food choices. It's not my responsibility anymore.

The boundaries around what the kids, and adults for that matter, can and can't eat are mostly budgetary. And since I still do the bulk of the grocery shopping there are natural limits around what is available in the house to eat. But compared to when they were little there is way more in the house to choose from, because I want access to those foods.

Eating together

Our family is currently five people: 2 adults, 1 young adult and 2 teenagers living in one home, each capable of preparing our own food and deciding what foods we want to eat. We are roughly divided into 2 camps: vegan (or mostly-vegan) and omnivores/eat anything. Although even my omnivore/eat anything children, Laurent and Celine, don't like to eat a lot of meat and are particular about the types of meat they'll eat.

Brienne is completely vegan. More vegan than anyone in our family has ever been. She never eats animal products. She talked about why she has chosen vegan diet in a recent video.

Damien eats much like we used to as a family, can't eat corn (eliminates a lot of processed foods), and feels best when he stays gluten-free. Laurent, Celine and I have the broadest diet and least dietary restrictions.

When Brienne decided to re-adopt a vegan diet last summer (two years after our family dietary change) Damien and I fully supported that decision but my support did not include cooking for her, except shared family suppers. Her choice, her diet, her cooking.

Brienne is really into nutrition these days and prepares great food for herself and the family. If you follow her IG you'll see lots of adorable selfies, make-up, and food photos. And she just started a vegan food IG account.

After working with a nutritionist this winter around healthy body image, mindset, and nutritional goals, Brienne is on an excellent holistic health track. I'm proud of her for living by her convictions and for disagreeing with me. (And even proud of her for occasionally trying to convince me of the errors of my non-vegan ways!)

Sharing meals together as a family is important to me and is very doable since we're all still home together a lot. I used to do all the household cooking but as the kids grew they started making lunch and then suppers and family life evolved so that this task was shared. Damien's cooking contribution to shared family meals has been minimal through the years. Except for on the Appalachian Trail when Damien did all the cooking and grocery shopping.

For about a year after moving to Montreal we kept up a lunch meal prep rotation, one person and a helper was responsible to make lunch (mostly salads) for the whole crew on the weekdays we were home.

But as our schedules become more varied and our diets diverged we adopted a fend-for-yourself lunch routine.

At this point of family life, we eat supper together and the kids and I share the cooking responsibility. During the weekdays, the kids cook one supper a week and I cook one or two, depending on co-op schedule (we have communal meals at co-op). Weekends are less defined, I usually cook one meal, sometimes we fend for ourselves, we might eat a store-bought frozen meal, or Damien might cook.

We have one rule about shared suppers: it has to be something everyone can eat.

Which basically means vegan, corn-free and gluten-free. Preferably with whole plants as the base.

If the cook wants to add meat or dairy on the side that's fine, but the bulk of the meal has to be vegan and gluten-free.

The irony. We have mostly-vegan shared family meals. Which is not that different than before. Which means my diet is still significantly plant-based, but from a different attitude than before.

When I first said "enough" to our mostly-vegan diet when we moved to Montreal, before Brienne choose vegan for herself, I was cooking most of our suppers and I cooked more meat and dairy in our meals. Even though it wasn't Damien's favorite, I put myself first for a while in the food prep department. We ate what I cooked. And I cooked what I felt inspired to eat. (And we'd eat whatever the kids wanted to cook on the nights they we responsible for supper, which was mostly vegan, since that's all they knew how to cook!)

I was freeing myself from some damaging mindsets around marriage, health, and motherhood and I worked through some of that in the kitchen.

It wasn't just animals products I introduced to our diet, it was more processed foods also, simple things like oil (I hadn't cooked with oil for many years) and sugar and more obviously processed foods like store-bought bread (white flour baguettes!), rotisserie chickens, and complete frozen meals. I stopped cooking quinoa for a while, we started eating white rice. (I know, we went off the deep end!)

We had eaten all these things before but except for our time on the Appalachian Trail, these foods weren't a regular part of our diet.

We didn't switch to a meat & potatoes diet, or paleo (obviously with the white rice), but I wanted more options in my cooking and for my palette. And I especially wanted to free myself from the belief that being a good mom or good wife meant being a good vegan cook. And so we went through a transition as a family.

But the funny thing is I had raised my kids on lots of vegetables, lots of soups and salads, almost exclusively one-pot meals, and that was the easiest and most familiar default, for all of us. In my new exploratory phase the kids continued to cook vegan meals because that's the kind of food they've learned to cook and it's what they like to eat. And we all cook one-pot meals because it's simpler.

So to answer the question what do we eat? Well, that depends on the person and the context.

For our shared family supper we eat gluten-free vegan, much like we always have, with the addition of non-vegan food on the side if the cook wants it.

During the rest of the day everyone is responsible for their own food and we each prepare and eat according to personal conviction, necessary dietary restrictions, budgetary constraints, and desire.

We stock the fridge with lots of fresh produce, eggs, cheese, tofu, nut butters, milk, and yogurt as well as non-dairy milk and yogurt. The pantry is full of whole grains, seeds and nuts, dried fruits, canned beans, canned tomatoes, pasta (including mac n' cheese), pasta sauce, as well as more processed foods - granola and energy bars, crackers, chips, fruit cups, etc. (I don't bake.)

The freezer is full of bread, buns, tortillas, berries and other fruit, some veggies, pizza, pasta, perogies (and other calorically dense, easy, one-person lunches and meals for my teens who like that), a little bit of meat, and all the extra nuts and seeds.

We prepare this food and we eat it, on our own or together. We each follow our own food rules and preferences and nearly every day we eat supper together and talk about our day, talk about life. And thankfully, only a few of these meals are prepared by me. And as it turns out I enjoy cooking a whole lot more, even vegan cooking, when I do it less!

Next post: It's complicated but it comes down to something simple: love

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  • jen liminalluminous

    jen liminalluminous on Aug. 28, 2018, 9:58 a.m.

    Hmm, what I hear above all else is that you are taking control of you and your time.


    I'm so proud (that sounds patronising, I'm sorry, I don't mean it to be) that you are able to listen to you and do what you need to do. It is something I deeply struggle with, even though I don't have kids.


    • Renee

      Renee on Sept. 4, 2018, 1:05 p.m.

      Jen, This is a tricky thing "taking control of time" in the context of mothering. As a mother so much of my work is about serving other people in very intimate ways (I think most people's work is about serving others in some way), taking care of very primal and necessary needs, like food and unconditional love.

      And there is a real tension between serving/giving/loving others and serving/giving/loving yourself. It's not simple at all. When I was a mother of young children I was limited in how much I could take control of my time and my own needs. Now with older kids I do have more control over my time and even my body (my body was shared with my children for years, as a breastfeeding mom and then all the physical love and attention).

      I appreciate your affirmation, which didn't feel patronizing, but part of my ability to act with independence saying "this is what I need right now" was related to my kids age and stages of development, as much as my own. Taking care of my needs is always something I do (or don't do) in the context of my familial relationships. And the extent of my "freedom" in this regard is circumscribed by (or perhaps held in balance with) my responsibility to my husband and children.

      I always thought women without children had it easier, but maybe not, according to your coment.


  • jen liminalluminous

    jen liminalluminous on Sept. 4, 2018, 1:27 p.m.

    Hmm, I think my struggle is to do with a ahem complicated upbringing, and depression as much as anything else. Until very recently I had such low self esteem that everyone else came first. My clients for the most part, and then saying yes to everyone for anything as a desperate need to be liked.

    I literally worked myself into a wheelchair.

    It's taken a lot of time (and therapy) to get past that. But I'm doing good now!


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