Our mostly plant based diet

Last year I was inspired to write a series of posts about my vegan kitchen for a few reasons:

  • I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and if this blog is about my life it seems only natural to write about that.
  • We occasionally do nutritional counselling and it would be nice to have our thoughts written out somewhere for reference.
  • People we know and those who read this blog have asked us about what we eat and why.

But it's so difficult to write about something when there isn't pretty photos to go with it (I am not a food photographer) and my writing interests changed through the seasons so I lost motivation. I figure with the New Year and people resolving to eat better now is a good time for the next post in this so-called series.

True Confessions

I'd like to kick things off with the following confessions:

  • I love butter on bread. I actually ate butter straight from the package as a child (when my mom wasn't looking of course).
  • I love cheese pizza. I love cheese period, and for good reason. Did you know cheese is addictive because it has morphine-like compounds? Yep, it's a drug. No wonder so many people who consider going veggie say "but I could never give up cheese". Yeah well, me neither!
  • I love BLT's. Though knowing what I do about the swine industry has curbed that little indulgence of mine.
  • I love ice cream. I've been know to drive to Cold Stone Creamery down the road from our house at 9pm, in the rain, just to get a "fix".
  • I love holiday feasts, all the fixings. Heaven is eating mashed potatoes and gravy. And I've had more than my fair share of indulgences over the past months between Thanksgiving, Christmas and traveling.

Why do I share all these deep, dark non-vegan secrets? Because we're not all or nothing when it comes to food. And despite initial appearances we're not even vegan. We are a family that makes the deliberate and intentional choice to eat mostly plant food, as whole and unprocessed as we can (according to time, season and taste). Because of Damien's very particular gut and allergies, which we continue to investigate and solve, our family meals don't include gluten or corn and sometimes other odd ingredients as he further figures out his body.

What's a vegan kitchen?

Just because I love certain animal products doesn't mean I endorse eating them. I eat them because I momentarily like the way they taste (usually in some sauce), not because I think my body needs them or they are good for me. Hence our number one diet rule is that we don't bring foods into our home that we think are unhealthy for us, except on rare occassions. And that is why I label the posts I write on health and diet "vegan kitchen"; because that's what I have. No butter, no cheese, no eggs, no chicken, no tuna you get the idea.

In addition, I also don't routinely cook or bake with sugars, sweeteners, refined flours or oils. Does this mean we never eat these? No. Meals away from home and birthdays being two occasions to eat other foods. And a few of our family members, with sensitive digestive systems, pay heavier for these dietary splurges.

Our diet, although it may seem otherwise, is not about avoiding certain foods as much as it choosing, more often than not, to eat foods we feel are best for overall nutrition. And for us the only way to not slide into old habits is to keep our home eating environment as "clean" as possible.

Of course I realize other people, many of you reading this, will disagree with our parameters. That's ok. You are responsible for your own health and I am responsible for my family's. We are doing what we think is best based on our personal experience and research. I will be sharing more of these references in my next post on this topic.

Our family's food guidelines:

I've mentioned one of our food guidelines above; except on rare occasions bring only healthy food into our home. Here are some others that guide our buying decisions and eating:

  1. 90/10 rule. I think Damien read this somewhere, probably from our favorite health source, Dr. Fuhrman. Basically this means eat really well 90% of the time and cut yourself slack the remaining 10%. This can be tricky though if you let the 90% slide to less-than-best. I'm guilty of this.
  2. Eat less. Man this is hard for me but really, most of us don't need to eat as much as we do. We try to achieve this by reducing snacking. One tip that's working for me these days is to brush my teeth right after supper to curb night time snacking, that and going to bed early. Of course I don't want my kids to go hungry but neither do I want us overeating or eating to meet non-nutritional needs; sadness, boredom and anxiety for example.
  3. Eat local when possible. Locally grown foods just taste better and build so much more than our body's health, they build community. Eating local is more important to us than organics but we do our best to eat organics also. Having said that we still buy certain foods that have been shipped from far places.
  4. Eat as close the ground as possible. You know, get your face right down there and shovel it it like a pig. Just kidding! Packaged foods, even "organic" ones are not close to the ground. They have been processed and are nutritionally deficient compared to a meal of farm fresh carrots, potatoes and cabbage. This is our rule to cook and eat with real food, not packages.
  5. Be open to change. Our bodies change, new scientific discoveries are made, children grow and have different dietary needs. We are pretty much set on eating mostly plants but there are variations to this theme that we have tried over the years. We are trying to evolve in the most healthful & socially responsible way possible as we journey down this path.
  6. Listen to your body. It was Damien's disease that got us started down this path to begin with. But even now, though we are more healthy in our diet than we were 5 years ago, things will pop up - food sensitivities for one, that require us to re-evalutate. Our bodies (our skin, bowels, energy levels, muscles, joints, brain function, respiratory system, circulation) will tell us if we aren't eating well, we need to listen and respond.
  7. Eat for life, not temporary change. Our diet style lends itself to lean bodies but we don't eat this way for weight loss. We eat this way for long term health and longevity. To feel good and keep our health for as long as we're able. Weight management is the just the tip of the health iceberg.
  8. Nutrition not calories. We don't evaluate foods by their calories but overall nutrient density. In other words we ask how much nutrition (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals etc.) are we getting from this food? not will it fill us up? (fats and calories). Obviously we want to be satisfied but we've found the more nutrient rich foods we eat, greens being one, the less hungry we are overall because our bodies are getting what they really need - nutrition.
  9. Research-based supplements. We are not food purists, ie: seeking all our nutrition from food only. In an ideal world, where we all lived in the Mediterranean - soaking up the sun all day, eating vegetables straight from our garden with dirt still in a few cracks and catching the occasional toxin-free fish to add to our supper - we wouldn't need supplements. But here we are living at a northern latitude, avoiding most fish and really scrubbing our farm veggies so instead we take Vit D, Vit B 12 and highly refined Omega-3 fish oil.

That's our take on diet and the guidelines we use. So far this has worked for us very well at keeping us healthy, reducing our environmental impact and still allowing us to eat a wide range of foods, in their proper place.

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  • Earth Mama

    Earth Mama on Jan. 20, 2010, 8:26 p.m.

    I became vegetarian at 17, then vegan at 19. Now we are similar to you. My husband eats gluten, but he is only allowed one box of cereal and a loaf of bread in the house...for cross contamination reasons, and we are mostly vegan, but on occassion eat eggs in something, goat yogurt, and fish maybe once a month. It's funny...because now I don't really have a label for what to call the way we eat when people ask. I just say we are mostly vegan or gluten and dairy free. That answer seems to suffice most.



  • Jamie

    Jamie on Jan. 20, 2010, 8:40 p.m.

    So good to hear about the cheese addiction! We're mostly vegan at our house too and for many of the same reasons. This post is such a great straight forward breakdown. Thanks for sharing!


  • nicola@which name?

    nicola@which name? on Jan. 20, 2010, 8:43 p.m.

    this is such an awesome post, renee. i love that you started with your confessions, because to me, your food choices, given they are for a family that includes children (i am choosing to blame my children for food pitfalls. wink wink. teasing...), have always had you in food idol status in my eyes.

    i agree with so much of what you say. we have some similar food rules, but we don't limit as much. my belief is everything in moderation.

    i am with you guys on eating less and the 90/10 rule. (we try and eat/exercise to a plan that suggests 6 days/week 6 small, balanced meals per day. day 7 is a free-for-all, but after eating this way for 6 days, we never feel like free-for-alling!)

    i am so lucky to live in a mediterranean-like area, so we do try and get as much of our nutrients from our food as we can, however, i am not vegan (i am vegetarian) and mike eats some meat (although very rarely now).

    nicola http://whichname.blogspot.com


  • Rebecca

    Rebecca on Jan. 20, 2010, 9 p.m.

    Thank you so much for this post. Three weeks ago, this journey of eating real, whole, plant-based foods began for our family. I won't lie. It's been TOUGH! That's why I'm so grateful for your confessions and even your approach to at least keeping the home as healthy as possible. The 90/10 rule is a good one - thank you for giving me permission to not be perfect! I was ready to give up today until I read this post and got your email...now I'm willing to keep working at this - and with a more balanced approach. THANK YOU!


  • Eve

    Eve on Jan. 20, 2010, 9:25 p.m.

    I've been struggling for weeks to put into words exactly what I just read! This post is an articulate version of the stray sentences floating around in my head. Thank you!


  • Jenn

    Jenn on Jan. 20, 2010, 11:31 p.m.

    we try to get foods that are filling but also good for you, like rice, beans, greens, warm cereals, etc. we are more "whole foods" than anything else. i wouldn't say we are vegetarian even. sometimes we still eat meat. for instance, over christmas holiday we had some summer sausages (and i never eat red meat!) but they were tasty!!


  • Kika

    Kika on Jan. 21, 2010, 12:19 a.m.

    I aim more for a balance of about 80/20 for our eating. Sometimes, when I am not handling life as easily, this falls a bit lower, I think. We are not vegan, though (anymore), but I still like the knowledge and inspiration I glean from posts like yours related to healthy eating/living.


  • Annie

    Annie on Jan. 21, 2010, 12:59 a.m.

    I love #4 and #8. Sometimes I think about the pretzel going into my little one's mouth and think "there is nothing good in that." Then I run to the fridge and grab the hummus so at least there is some protein and good fat going in that little mouth. But seriously there is so much bad bad bad stuff that is cheap cheap cheap and quick. I am embarking on a temporary yeast free diet which is kind of tricky, but I think will really stretch my brain to think even more about healthy food choices. OnceUponAParent.blogspot.com


  • Laura

    Laura on Jan. 21, 2010, 5:06 a.m.

    I absolutely love how you focus on what you are trying TO eat, rather than what you must avoid. Yes! I find it so liberating in the kitchen to think about what food we want to incorporate into our diet, rather than some list of forbidden foods. We have been transitioning for the past year or so from a pretty traditional American diet to... whatever it is we're doing now. :) I say we're flexitarians, because the flexibility is still very important to me. Our teenage daughter is a vegetarian, but she will eat wild-caught fish under certain circumstances. We have some kind of meat maybe once a week -- which is a huge change from where we were before. It is definitely evolving. I have moved towards buying all animals products (milk, cheese, etc.) organic or as close to it as I can get. This means we automatically eat less of these things because the organic is more expensive -- as it should be! And I totally agree with you on "eating close to the ground" -- processed food is always going to be inferior to something made from fresh, whole ingredients. This is why I now bake my own bread. My goal is to eliminate all processed foods from our home, but I do find it easier to transition gradually rather than immediately place whole wheat crackers on the naughty list. :)

    Healthwise, I have noticed such a huge change in my own health since eliminating aspartame and high-fructose corn syrup. Two things that are automatically avoided when you stop eating processed food!


  • Shannon

    Shannon on Jan. 22, 2010, 1:35 p.m.

    I think your photos are great. I really need to learn some more tips and maybe even upgrade from a point and shoot.

    Thank you for sharing your goals - great stuff! My husband is having a problem with corn too, and while we don't really eat the stuff much I am having to be more vigilant. I wonder if he were to eat any sort of corn-fed meat if he would have a reaction since we only eat grass-fed.


  • Debbie

    Debbie on May 11, 2010, 2:11 p.m.

    I don't know how I missed this post back in January. Anyway...it's fantastic. I too love how you started with your confessions and that you focus on what you do eat...and not on what you can't. I can honestly say we do not eat processed food. Not really, anyway. I mean, we buy nothing that comes in a box and is made for you. (except some pasta - although I've been known to make my own.) We do eat a little cheese, and I always have a small amount of organic milk in the fridge for when I have a tea. But we don't drink milk as a beverage. Other than that...it's ALL whole. That's something I'm proud of. It's also why I spend so much time in the kitchen. We do a lot of gardening and build up our freezer for the winter months.
    As for meat, I could easily leave it all together. HA! My husband though...he's not ready. Having said that, he is eating much less meat than he ever used to. (at least at home.)We might eat meat twice a week at the most, and it is almost always organic chicken. (never pork...but maybe grass-fed beef.) The whole idea of not bringing things into the home that you don't want eaten regularly is so important. It's the key, isn't it? If it's there, it gets eaten. Anyway, I'm rambling a little. Thanks for this poost though, and laying it all out for us. I really appreciate it.


  • Jennifer S.

    Jennifer S. on Jan. 31, 2011, 4:29 p.m.

    Hi Renee, this is a great post (as are the rest of your posts).

    I missed it originally, so I'm glad you linked back from your most recent post. I really respect that you have put a lot of thought into your family's nutrition. I think it's so important. (Nice to hear you are also a Dr. Fuhrman fan!)

    We are continuously improving our diets. We are mostly plant based, whole foods with occasional sustainable fish (no refined sugar and very little white flour reserved for homemade pizza dough or bread which is usually made with a mix of whole wheat and white). There are times when my children and husband eat very high quality organic (or non GMO fed) local farm raised poultry and meat (I do not eat meat aside from fish as it does not agree with my body). It's great to see other families, such as yours, who have diets we can identify with. I also wholeheartedly agree that having this type of diet has made us healthier (especially due to cutting out refined sugars). Although we may still get a virus here and there, we are much healthier than before making these changes.

    Thank you for your inspiration on the homeschooling front, too. We have decided to start homeschooling this Fall. I hope you will continue writing through your upcoming move. Best to you and your family!



    • renee

      renee on Jan. 31, 2011, 5:34 p.m.

      Awesome. So happy to hear from you Jennifer. Sugar is a beast isn't it? When we first went mostly veg. years ago we still ate lots of sugar (& other sweets). Since cutting that mostly out we enjoy a greater measure of health and well being. 


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