By Jodi Hunt

My journey to living a plant-based lifestyle all began with a baby’s poopy diaper. About two years ago, my infant son began having bowel movement problems. At the time, I was breastfeeding and my pediatrician recommended cutting dairy out of my own diet to help my son with his bowel movements because everything I ate was affecting my son. Cutting out dairy was recommended as a solution to so many afflictions that my husband was skeptical, but ultimately we agreed to give it a try on the off chance it would help our son. Given that we would be cutting out dairy, I suggested we make the full leap and begin a plant-based, vegan lifestyle.

Celebrities like Miley Cyrus were making plant-based diets trendy, there were plenty of books and online resources to help me get started, and I had even been a vegetarian when I was younger. My husband was unsure about living a plant-based lifestyle — he was raised in the Midwest and his grandfather had raised chickens and dairy cows. However, his tune changed when he watched a few “shockumentaries” on Netflix that showed cruel practices in the animal industry and touted the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. After that, he was willing to change how he ate.

The first misconception about being a vegan is that if you eliminate meat and dairy, your diet will lack protein and you will be hungry or malnourished. However, this is simply not true. Plants can be excellent sources of protein. Many people are surprised at the protein content of items such as beans, raw nuts, quinoa, chickpeas, oats, chia seeds and broccoli. One blog site framed it this way: how do cows get their protein? From plants! The animal that provides milk and meat did not eat meat. This logic sealed the deal for us!

As we began our foray into living a plant-based lifestyle, we searched Amazon for the most popular vegan cookbook and found “Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F***.” This cookbook changed our lives. Apart from the enjoyable (but often profanity-laden) humor, the meals were easy to make and didn’t require filling our pantry with unpronounceable spices or ingredients. The second misconception about veganism is that it is difficult to find items in normal grocery stores for vegans to eat. In my research as I to prepared to switch to a vegan lifestyle, I saw one comment that said “I’d love to eat vegan but I can’t find anything in my grocery store.” Another user replied and asked, “Your grocery store doesn’t carry fruit, vegetables, pasta, or rice?” What many people do not realize is that some of the staples of plant-based lifestyles are commonly used in a variety of lifestyles. Many of our plant-based meals were familiar entrees like burritos, soups, salads, stir fry and lasagna (deliciously made with cashew cheese). However, we did add in some new foods for more protein-packed meals.

We made many substitutions for meats and dairy. One of the most commonly known substitutes is tofu, which we used as a replacement for chicken. We also added tempeh as a meat replacement. Both tofu and tempeh are soy based, which adds a significant amount of protein to our diets. Tofu is made from soymilk while tempeh is made from soybeans. I tried adding seitan, which is made from wheat gluten, because of its high protein content, but it tasted like shoe leather and did not win me over. What became my favorite new item was what Thug Kitchen called “nooch” — nutritional yeast, which smells and tastes like cheese.

Practicing a plant-based lifestyle means a fridge full of ingredients that are perishable, so meal prep takes some planning and coordination to ensure we use foods while they are fresh. As a busy working family, we do not have the luxury of spending up to an hour cooking when we get home from work, particularly with two hangry boys waiting for food. To help our nights go smoothly, we often meal prep a night or two in advance and have a rotating cooking schedule to help spread the workload. Along with Thug Kitchen’s cookbooks, we have found a few other excellent cookbooks that have made our transition into a plant-based lifestyle easier and enjoyable. Our favorites are “Forks Over Knives Family” (and their blogs and newsletters), “The Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking” and “Thrive Energy Cookbook.” With such a diverse range of easy recipes, we are able to create a variety of meals that keep things interesting and delicious.

While my husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed eating vegan, we understand that our kids may not want to live the same plant-based lifestyle. We always prepare extra portions and offer them to our children, but we do not force them to eat strictly vegan. We certainly do not mind their choices to eat cheese, ice cream, yogurt, eggs, chicken and other non-vegan food, but we hope that we can teach our kids to be aware of their eating habits as they grow. We try to set the example by stocking the fridge full foods like fruits and veggies and eating clean ourselves. So far, we have seen some small victories when they choose healthier options without realizing it! But getting our kids to eat healthier has not been our only challenge switching to a plant-based lifestyle.

Eating out can be challenging, but many restaurants now offer several vegan options or can make menu items vegan on request. I have confused many pizza places by ordering a veggie pizza without cheese. We’ve also been able to eat vegan on vacation by using Google Maps to remove the guesswork. You can simply search “vegan restaurant” in any city and you will get a list of vegan restaurants and options near you!

According to an article published in The Permanente Journal, eating a plant-based diet can reduce your risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and lower your blood pressure. I have noticed many changes, for the better, after beginning veganism. I experienced far few skin breakouts after eliminating dairy. Grocery costs were about the same because eliminating the high costs of meat offset the increased costs of buying more produce. I was careful to ensure that I worked out several times a week to maintain my health and did not notice any drop in my endurance or fitness. And the baby’s diaper problem that began it all? Happy to report it is back to normal, healthy bowel movements.

Overall, I have seen a marked improvement in my health. I feel better by eating cleaner and healthier foods, and I feel good about my moral decision to improve animal welfare. While it may not be for everyone, our family has enjoyed all the benefits that come with living a plant-based life!

Jodi’s Favorite Recipe
Still not huge on cooking up her own unique dishes, Jodi loves just about everything from the “Minimalist Baker Cookbook” including their trashy vegan sandwich and vegan kale Caesar salad!

Jodi’s Favorite Snack
“Minimalist Baker Cookbook” has a great cashew soba noodle salad recipe with soba noodles, lots of fresh veggies, cilantro and cashews!

Jodi’s Favorite Grocery Store
A big fan of Publix where she can get almost everything she needs, with the exclusion of a few specialty items (which she gets at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s).