Since most of us live with others and share meals, it’s inevitable you’ll have to tell them about your lifestyle change. It’s good to say you’ve been doing research on healthy habits and reading about the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet.
Next, name your reasons and whatever they might be: weight loss, other health issues, digestive problems, bad skin or environmental and ethical considerations.
Have a list of books you’ve been studying available for people. You might also want to add the names of respected medical doctors who recommend the whole foods plant-based diet. These experts include: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John A. McDougall, Dr. Neal D. Barnard, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
Don’t try to push anyone into accepting your change right away. Let them adjust to your new way of eating and, at some point, we’re sure they’ll show interest in trying the foods you’re having.
You can start by baking or preparing delicious oil-free and sugar-free cakes and desserts to get your family involved.
It’s important to avoid any stress related to food and family meals. Don’t push anyone into something they’re reluctant to change.
Serve the change as a thrilling new challenge and not as a must-do. Don’t try to make the switch overnight. Start as simple as adding more greens, vegetables, legumes and fruits to your family’s menu.
Don’t be offended when your family doesn’t like what you’ve cooked. It might be that you need to practice your new way of cooking or that everyone’s taste buds (yours included) need to get adjusted to new flavours.
For me it took three to four times before I started appreciating artichoke and fennel, but now I absolutely love the taste of these veggies. Never give up and always try new things!
Are you the only one in your family starting healthy eating?
If you’re the one doing the cooking then it’s easy to make the change solo. Begin by trying to get your family to eat a plant-based diet at home.
Have one to two meatless days a week and then gradually increase the number of days you cook without meat. You’ll know what’s the best schedule for your family.
Don’t make the plant-based meal a big deal. Just prepare the food and serve it. No one will notice the absence of meat in a dish such as bean-lentil chillies with rice. It’s a hearty and filling dinner.
If you can’t persuade your family to eat plant-based at home, cook two dinners instead. It’s easier than you think.
For example, while preparing a stew steam some veggies for everyone and cook the meat/fish separately. For a curry, prepare your beans/lentils and again, cook the meat/fish on the side. You can also include the starches (potatoes, corn, parsnips or whole grains) in the stew/curry or cook them separately.
If you want to make pasta with sauce, again prepare the sauce and legumes and then do the meat separately. Serve both types of pasta: the sauce and legumes and the sauce and meat. Perhaps someone will surprise you and go for the veggie meal.
Use plant-based creams and coconut milk when cooking. No one will notice the difference, as these substitutes taste great.
Missing cheese? Nutritional yeast in veggie dishes brings out a cheesy flavour.
When cooking for a group of friends, I suggest making the desserts a bit sweeter than you’d usually have them. Saying that, try adapting your family’s palate. Start using dates as a sweetener as they’re not only extremely sweet but also have a nice caramel taste.
If your family has preconceptions about what you’re making, don’t tell them what ingredients you’re using until they’ve tasted the food. By saying the brownie they’re about to eat was made with two cans of beans; they’re going to turn their noses up at it. It’s simple psychology and affects the way they perceive the taste.
Introducing new foods is fun and educational. Eat dates and bake muffins with applesauce instead of oil. For those looking for a new nutty flavour, try spelt. Of course, you can prepare nut spreads and cashew mayonnaise (all my carnivore friends sigh with satisfaction when they taste it.)
Not the cook?
Persuade the cook to consider your new lifestyle and introduce him/her to the concept of cooking two dinners. If the cook is reluctant to do so, ask him/her to at least cook the meat separately and use plant-based creams or coconut milk. Always have a can of beans on hand so you can have something ready to serve with your meal if you don’t want to cook.
A big thing to consider is to actually start cooking! Plant-based stew/curry recipes are simple to prepare, even if you’re a beginner.
If preparing a curry sounds too scary, start by boiling rice and lentils and then steaming some veggies. Can’t do that? Anyone can chop vegetables and make a salad.
The trick is not to lecture but to be a good example. By continuing along your healthy path, people will learn it’s not some kind of fad. They’ll also see the positive effects the new lifestyle has on you (weight-loss, more energy, better skin, overall improvement in health) and they might be impressed and try it out themselves.
Nele Liivlaid: founder of Nutriplanet.org She has been into healthy eating for many years, but developed a more profound interest in nutrition and related diseases when she started reading The China Study and other special books on nutrition. After being in real estate and hospitality business for more than 10 years she decided to totally change her path to spread the word about healthy and sustainable nutrition and lifestyle.