Forks Over Knives Family Book Review

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

Donating to the Human Milk Bank

When Oran was a baby I was very happy to be able to donate breast milk to the Human Milk Bank here in Ireland, which was a really rewarding experience.  The milk bank issues breast milk to hospitals throughout Ireland to be used for premature or sick babies.  The milk can help to save the lives of some of the most vulnerable babies.

A lot of people haven’t heard of the milk bank, I hadn’t when I had my first baby, so I want to help spread the word about it, to encourage more people to donate if they can.

When I was pregnant with Oran, I knew I wanted to donate breast milk, so contacted the milk bank to apply to donate.  I had to answer a questionnaire and then they sent the bottles for donating.  I was worried at first that I wouldn’t find the time to express milk, because of having a toddler too.  I started pumping once a day, from when Oran was 6 weeks old, every day after breakfast, and found it pretty easy to fit it into my day.  At first I was only getting about 1 ounce of milk a day, but by pumping at the same time every day, I was soon getting about 5-7 ounces a day, in 10-15 minutes with a double electric pump.  I felt such a sense of achievement with every bottle I pumped, which really made me feel happy for the day.

I froze the milk in the bottles provided by the milk bank, and soon had a box full to donate.  The milk bank provide an insulated box to send the donation in, and it is sent by post or courier (which the milk bank pay for).  I sent off the donation as well as a blood sample for testing.   The milk is also tested and pasteurised by the milk bank.  After a while I received a card from the milk bank, letting me know that my donation helped four babies.  It’s a wonderful feeling to know that my milk could help babies, and hopefully help to take a little stress away from their parents.

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Oran with his milk all ready to send away

My advice for expressing milk to donate would be to find a time when your baby is happy, or pump while feeding from the other breast.  Try to pump at the same time every day and be consistent so your body will start to produce more milk at that time of day.  Even if you are only getting a little milk at the start, stick with it and hopefully you’ll soon start getting more.  And you’d be surprised how little time it takes every day and how quickly you can build up enough milk to donate.

If your baby is under 6 months and you have some excess milk or are able to express milk, then it’s a really wonderful thing to do for premature or sick babies.

If you are interested in donating milk you can contact the Western Trust Milk Bank on telephone 028 686 28333 or email tmb.irvinestown@westerntrust.hscni.net, or if you are outside of Ireland, there may also be a human milk bank in your country, or a network like Human Milk 4 Human Babies.

Please help to spread the word about the milk bank, so that more parents can donate.

Baby Síofra Growing Up

I wanted to write a really quick blog post just to say how Síofra is doing, mostly as an excuse to show off some photos of her, but also to show how healthy the babies of vegan parents can be!  She’s now 11 weeks old and it’s so hard to believe how quickly she’s growing up.  I’m really busy every day looking after the three kids, so I guess it’s not surprising that time seems to be passing quickly.  She doesn’t really seem like a newborn anymore.

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She’s such a lovely baby (all babies are though), super smiley, and she even laughs now.  She loves her big brothers, and when they talk to her or sing to her she smiles and laughs at them.  You can tell that she really loves them, and they love her.  They’re always giving her hugs and kisses, and sometimes just annoying her too!  She’s a very happy baby and even lets me sleep for a few hours at a time now, and lets me put her down a bit more so I can get stuff done.

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She’s really strong and healthy, getting so big now.  She can hold up her head really well, and loves looking around at everything.  Breastfeeding is going really great, and she’s gaining weight and growing well.  She went to the doctor for a check up recently and they said she was perfect, so it goes to show that vegan parents can grow and nourish healthy babies.

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So as you can see, she’s as healthy as can be.  I’ll post another update about her in a few months, and when she starts solids I want to do some more posts about baby led weaning for vegan babies, which I’m very excited about!  The boys are also doing great and we’re having Oran’s birthday party at the weekend (he’s going to be 2!) so I’m planning what food and cake to make, and will do a blog post about that too.

Pitta Pizzas

This is barely even a recipe, more just an idea for a quick meal, and a great way to make a kid-size pizza!  It’s also great fun for kids because they can choose their own toppings for their pizza, and if they choose their toppings, they’re more likely to eat them, I find.  You can set up a make-your-own-pizza bar, with different ingredients chopped up in bowls, for example onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, pineapple, even things like broccoli, kale, chickpeas, anything really.  It doesn’t have to be traditional pizza toppings.

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You could use homemade sauce or try to find a store-bought pizza sauce with no added sugar or salt.  I love Janet’s Just Delicious sauces, which are really healthy!  And some grated vegan cheese if you like.  We love Violife for pizza!

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As you can see, the kids liked them!  They’re a bit messy for toddlers but so worth it.

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Ingredients:

Serves 4

A pack of 4 pitta breads

1 jar of pizza sauce (or homemade sauce)

A selection of chopped veggies (e.g. onion, mushroom, tomatoes, peppers, olives, etc.)

Grated vegan cheese (optional)

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Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Top each pitta with a few tablespoons of pizza sauce and spread it out to the edges.

Add your toppings and vegan cheese.

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese has melted.

Shepherd’s Pie Stuffed Baked Potatoes (with a cheat ingredient)

You might have seen videos (vegan and non-vegan) of shepherd’s pie stuffed baked potatoes.  I love (vegan) shepherd’s pie so thought it was a great idea, but I’m also busy (and lazy) so don’t get around to making it much.  Recipes that have several different steps and use too many pots and dishes are a bit of a hassle, so I decided to make it with a cheat ingredient.

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I had a few of these Amy’s Kitchen tins of soup, that I had bought to have easy food in the house while I have a newborn, and thought they’d make a perfect shepherd’s pie filling.  I’ve tried it with the lentil vegetable soup and lentil soup and they both work great.  They’re pretty healthy and nice and thick so were delicious.  You could use other lentil and vegetable soups too if you like.

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So it makes the recipe really easy, simply a baked potato, with a lentil soup filling, and mashed potato on top.  The perfect comfort food and a good portion size for one person.

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Ingredients:

Serves 4

4 large potatoes (I used roosters)

Extra virgin olive oil (or any oil you like)

Sea salt (optional)

1 tin of vegan lentil soup

Black pepper

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Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

Use a fork to poke about 10 holes in each potato.  Rub a little olive oil and salt on the potatoes (optional).

Bake the potatoes in the oven for about 50 minutes.

When the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the oven and keep the oven turned on.  Let the potatoes cool slightly so you can handle them.

With the potatoes lying on their side, slice the top off and use a spoon to scoop out some of the potato.  Put this in a bowl and mash it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

Fill the potatoes with the lentil soup, there should be enough for four potatoes.

Top the potatoes with the mashed potato.  You can drizzle on some olive oil, salt and pepper if you like.

Put the potatoes back into the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until nicely browned on top.

Healthy Rice Crispy Buns

I made this recipe for my food demo at Cork Vegfest recently so here’s the recipe.  They’re our favourite treat at the moment, though the kids keep giving out to me because I keep eating too many.  But they’re so quick to make that I can just whip up another batch when I eat them all!  They’re really yummy but I can’t eat just one.

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Rice crispy buns were always my favourite thing to make for parties, because they’re so quick and easy to make.  These are a healthier version but taste just as good (or better) in my opinion.  I like to store them in the freezer so me and the kids have a quick snack any time we feel like it.  They’d be really handy to have in the freezer for if your kids have friends over or something.

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They’re made with wholegrain puffed rice, peanut butter (I use Meridian brand which is 100% peanuts), cacao powder and are naturally sweetened, so are really healthy.  They also have some extra healthy stuff added, so I know the kids are getting a lot of goodness from them.

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You could make different variations of them, use a different kind of nut butter if you don’t like peanut butter (hazelnut butter makes a nutella flavour rice crispy bun!), or sunflower seed butter if you’re allergic to nuts, you could leave out the cacao to just have a peanut buttery version, or add in different extra ingredients like chia seeds, chopped nuts, etc.  I think vegan mini marshmallows are delicious in this recipe!

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Ingredients:

Makes about 15 buns

1 cup of peanut butter (preferably no added sugar or salt)

1/4 cup of cacao powder

1/4 cup of agave syrup (or other vegan liquid sweetener)

3 cups of wholegrain puffed rice cereal

Optional extras: I used 2 tbsp ground flax seeds, a small handful of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and raisins

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How they’re made:

Add the peanut butter, cacao powder and agave syrup to a food processor or large bowl and mix thoroughly.  (If the peanut butter you use is a little dry then you might need to add some extra agave syrup to make the mixture easy enough to mix.  A food processor helps for this recipe but isn’t necessary.)

Stir in the wholegrain puffed rice cereal by hand, and the optional extras, until well combined with the chocolatey sauce.

Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases and put in the freezer for 30 minutes or more.  I like to eat these straight from the freezer, though you can store them in the fridge too (they’ll be more sticky if stored in the fridge).

Warning, these are quite messy for toddlers to eat!

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Do Vegans Spend All Day Cooking?

Something a lot of people ask me is if I have to spend all day cooking food from scratch because of being vegan.  I really enjoy cooking, and because I’m home with the kids I have the opportunity to cook homemade food when I can find time, but I really don’t think it’s necessary to spend any more time cooking than non-vegans, even when you have kids.  We don’t eat all homemade food for every meal in our house.  I don’t have the time or energy for that.

There are vegan convenience foods available, some of them are things than many non-vegans eat too.  Some are expensive but many of them aren’t.  And they’re not necessarily unhealthy either.  Sometimes people think that vegans need to eat all homemade food to get all their nutrients, but I don’t think that we do more than anyone else.  And vegan convenience foods usually aren’t any less healthy than non-vegan convenience foods (and may even be healthier in some cases).  It’s not like vegans need to plan out every meal carefully, or that non-vegans can just eat whatever they like and stay healthy without thinking about it.

A lot of vegan meals are very similar to what non-vegans might eat too.  We eat “normal” food, really!  Vegan “chicken” nuggets and chips or a lentil spaghetti bolognese wouldn’t take any longer to cook than the non-vegan version.

Some examples of easy meals that my family eat are, wholegrain toast with peanut butter or houmous, wholegrain breakfast cereals with plant milks, fruit, smoothies, sandwiches, wraps, baked beans on toast, wholegrain pasta with a jar of tomato sauce and tinned lentils, quick chickpea curries made with a jar of sauce and tinned chickpeas, potato waffles, veggie sausages, veggie burgers, chips.  Many of these are healthy enough meals, and sure things like potato waffles are not that nutritious, but they’re no different to what many non-vegan families eat.

And the meals that I do cook from scratch generally take no longer than 20-30 minutes to cook.  I love cooking but don’t have the time or patience to spend hours cooking a meal.  Vegetables cook quickly and I use tinned beans most of the time, so it can be easy to cook something very quickly.  For most of our meals, I just make something up, using whatever ingredients we have, as quickly as possible.

For people who are new to being vegan, it might seem like a lot of hard work, but I think you soon get used to it and realise that it’s just as easy to make vegan meals.