Forks Over Knives Family is a guide for parents about raising kids on a whole-food plant-based diet. The authors, Alona Pulde and Matthew Lederman, are both doctors specialising in nutritional and lifestyle medicine, as well as being a married couple with two children being raised on a plant-based diet. The book has advice from them as doctors and parents, as well as more than 125 family-friendly recipes by Darshana Thacker.
I’ve wanted this book ever since I heard of it. Every now and again I panic a bit and wonder if my kids are eating well enough, and wanted some reassurance and tips on making sure they get everything they need. Since I have a newborn and am busy and tired, we weren’t eating quite as healthily as I’d like and I wanted to improve our diet.
First I watched Forks Over Knives on Netflix, which talks about the reasons why we should eat a whole-food plant-based diet. A whole-food plant-based diet is basically just eating whole fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, and a small amount of nuts and seeds, and avoiding animal products, processed foods and oils. I already am vegan of course, and think I eat a pretty healthy diet, mostly homemade food, though I do cook with oil and eat some processed foods. I’m vegan for the animals, but I’d like to eat as healthily as I can, and maybe get more energy if I can. Forks Over Knives is very convincing that a whole-food plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat! I really recommend watching it for any vegans who want to eat healthier, and especially for non-vegans.
The Forks Over Knives Family book has an introduction to the whole-food plant-based diet, without going into too much detail (it is written for busy parents after all). For more information about the diet you can read their previous book The Forks Over Knives Plan or watch the film. Forks Over Knives Family has two parts, the Family Guide and Family Recipes.
The Forks Over Knives Family Guide gives advice about pregnancy, baby’s first year, beyond the first year, helping your family transition to a whole-food plant-based diet, and tips for eating when out of the house. It’s actually a pretty short but informative guide which is really fast to read through, without getting bogged down with information.
Alona and Matthew give advice as doctors specialising in nutrition as well as from their own personal experience as parents, making it clear which parts are professional advice and which are their experience.
They cover topics such as finding a supportive doctor, dealing with food cravings and aversions during pregnancy, breastfeeding, starting solids, whether supplements are necessary, encouraging healthy eating habits, holidays and kids parties.
I think at first I was hoping for them to tell me exactly what I should be feeding my kids, so that I can make sure they’re getting everything they need. Their advice is actually much more straight forward than this, focusing on simply eating whole plant foods. And when I think about it, it would actually be much more stressful if I concentrated too much on making sure my kids get every single nutrient in the exact right proportions. I’m not one for counting how many of each food group they eat, or anything like that, preferring to just feed them a variety of healthy foods.
I thought their nutritional advice was excellent and really reassured me that a plant-based diet is healthy for kids. I wouldn’t necessarily follow all of their personal advice as parents, such as advice about how to introduce solids, but I think that all parents do things differently, so you can take or leave that advice depending on what works for your family.
The Family Guide really inspired me and motivated me to make sure my family eat more healthily. The diet seems very healthy and easy for people to transition to and stick with, compared to many other “healthy eating” plans. It really made me want to improve our diets. I loved the idea of being able to eat as much as you like until you’re full and not think about it. Whenever I’m breastfeeding a newborn, I’m constantly hungry and can’t stop eating! One thing I thought I would struggle with is not eating oil, because I really love extra virgin olive oil and knew I would miss it. I also wasn’t completely willing to give up “treats” like vegan cheese, chocolate, and trying new vegan processed products that I want to try. I love cooking and while the recipes in the book all looked amazing, I wasn’t sure if they’d be quite as nice without oil. I was convinced that a whole-food plant-based diet was the healthiest way to eat, but I guess I didn’t know if I’d be able to stick with it 100% of the time.
So I decided to try eating a mostly whole-food plant-based diet for a little while and see how it goes.
The Forks Over Knives Family Recipes includes chapters such as, Soups and Stews, Baked and Stuffed, Pasta and Noodles and Amazing Grains. The photos of the recipes look amazing so I was really excited to try a few.
This chickpea and spinach pizza was really tasty and filling. I love lots of spinach on a pizza, and the chickpea and mushrooms were really nice on it. The base was wholegrain so really healthy too. And the sauce was completely oil-free, really easy to make and delicious!
But the kids insisted on having some vegan cheese on their portions, and I have to say their pizza looked so tempting! Even so, the pizza was really nice, and next time I will try an oil-free homemade cheese sauce on it to make the kids happy!
One recipe I was really interested to try was this layer cake with vanilla frosting. The cake is oil-free, whole grain, and uses maple syrup instead of sugar. And the frosting is made with beans! It turned out to be delicious, even though my frosting didn’t come out as smooth as in the photo in the book, so looked a bit like houmous on cake! The kids’ favourite part was the frosting, and it felt good that they were getting something nutritious instead of regular frosting.
Another recipe I tried was the sweet potato tacos, which has steamed sweet potato wedges, mashed avocado, beans, and fresh chopped tomato, spring onion and coriander. They were so delicious and I’ll definitely be making them again!
I also ate things like porridge, low-fat breads with no added sugar, wholegrain pasta with oil-free sauces or pesto, potatoes with salad and oil-free houmous, simple bowls of whole grains, steamed or baked veg, and legumes, with oil-free dressings, and things like curries and stews made without any oil. I made sure to eat until I was full, get plenty of fats from whole foods such as avocado, nuts and seeds, and to have healthy snacks ready for if I got hungry. I didn’t add any sugar, and tried to eat less salt.
Some of this I found very easy. The meals were tasty and filling, and kept me full for quite a long time. I felt like they tasted fresher and lighter without oil. I definitely felt like we ate healthier and got more nutrients as we were eating such big portions of nutritious food, without filling up on processed food or added sugar and oil. I was surprised that I didn’t need anything to sweeten my porridge and didn’t miss sugary foods at all. I didn’t really miss snacks like chocolate because I made healthy whole-food snacks to have instead.
I did start to miss olive oil quite a bit though. Even though I was eating plenty of fat, I missed the taste of olive oil in Mediterranean dishes, and things like salad dressings and on roasted veg. Even though the meals all tasted good, I really love cooking and think that oil can make some foods taste even better. I’d say that you’d get used to cooking and eating meals without oil over time though, as your tastes changed, and I have cut down a lot on the oil I’m using now, which I found easy to do.
I think it would be fairly easy for vegans to transition to this way of eating over time, maybe taking it one meal at a time. The book has definitely influenced my way of thinking about what way we should be eating to be healthier. I don’t know if I will change my diet to be completely whole-foods, but since reading the book a few weeks ago, I’ve made some changes to our diet that have been easy to stick to, and our diets have improved in general, and hopefully will continue to improve. And as it says in the book, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, if we are eating 80 or 90% whole-food plant-based then that’s still good. I feel reassured that by eating a mostly whole-food plant-based diet (and supplementing vitamin B12) then my family are getting everything we need to be healthy. Not only are we getting enough, I really believe it is actually the healthiest way to eat.
I really recommend this book as a guide to anyone raising a vegan family or thinking about it.