I had no idea when my daughter decided she wanted to become vegan, just how much it would benefit all of us as a family.
Transitioning to a plant based diet, especially when its only one of you in your family that's making the move, does have it's ups and downs. We often don't eat the same meal which can be trying, though I try and keep the basis of it the same for all of us and just add or take away elements, it does inevitably require a bit more planning to make sure you're getting a balanced diet.
However, I've learnt that as long as I've got a few key staple ingredients in the house, then I should be able to make something for everyone. Where I used to always base our meals around meat or fish , I now look at these as a side element, an addition to the meal rather than the focal point. Taking their place are a wide variety of vegetables and legumes, which are not only cheaper but provide numerous additional nutrients and fibre.
Where I used to have the odd can of chickpeas, kidney beans and baked beans in the house, I now keep an array of legumes from adzuki beans, black beans, soybeans, fava beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils. Combined with a few simple basics of tinned tomatoes, some basic spices (cumin, turmeric, chilli), these are my go to ingredients when I have a moment of 'oh there's nothing to eat', to make a simple curry or stew with some rice. They are high in protein and carbohydrates and low in fat. So if you're worried that you won't be getting your protein if you stop eating meat, fear not these are all great sources.
Yet it's the vegetables that have become the really exciting change to our diet. We always ate a reasonable amount before, but variety is the key - eat the rainbow. Especially important when you're replacing elements of your diet with other foods and want to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.
Having an organic vegetable box delivered most weeks, is a great help. It cuts down on having to worry if we've got enough vegetables in the house, and by eating seasonally it's always fresh and I get delivered different vegetables I might not thought of eating before. We're not great fans of white cabbage, so this week I chopped it up with some beetroot, carrot and red onion to make a coleslaw with vegan yoghurt, so it wouldn't go to waste. Which was a great summery dish which everyone loved, so much healthier than a shop bought one and lasted for a few days so I could eat it for lunch too.
I always keep a stock of some basic frozen vegetables in the freezer, just in case I run short; peas, edamame beans, broad beans, spinach are all great when you're in a hurry. Add them into pasta sauces, stews, risottos, salads or as a dish in their own right.
I also keep a bag of chopped kale in the freezer, particularly if I have too much to eat in one go, it takes no time to wash and chop it and keep in a freezer bag. Then I can take it out when I need it, which is particularly useful for making smoothies, which are another great way of eating more vegetables. Combine them with a little fruit if you don't fancy a completely veg based one, especially kids who often prefer something sweeter (but beware of how much you or your children are drinking as fruit still contain sugars in the form of glucose). Add some avocado for some healthy fats, it also makes it deliciously creamier.
Being wheat intolerant I've swapped my pasta for courgetti, which is so easy and I love it. We had cauliflower rice with our bean casserole last week, again so quick to make and all ways to increase your vegetable intake.
If I'm making a tomato sauce for pasta, I always make the same base for all of us, which includes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, celery and carrot to add in more vegetables, but also tastes great. It can be blended if you prefer a smoother sauce and you can easily add mince to make a bolognese sauce for those who want it.
Making a salad, then how about swapping the traditional lettuce base one for a roasted squash, feta and pumpkin salad? Or green beans, cherry tomatoes and pine nuts? There are so many easy and delicous recipes online to inspire the most reluctant vegetable eater.
Making a soup or a casserole, again you can make the same base, and keep some aside to add meat to. Add in some chickpeas, beans and a handful of spinach or kale to increase your fibre, protein and iron intake.
Iron is most abundant in meat, so vegetarians and vegans need to make sure they source it from plant foods. Combining iron with vitamin C, (such as chickpeas and spinach), helps the body absorb the iron.
Fresh vegetables and fruit which contain the red-orange pigment beta carotene, such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots can convert beta carotene into vitamin A, which is normally only found in animal sources. So vegetarians and vegans need to eat plenty of these. Combining these foods with some healthy fats (olive oil, avocado), will help the vitamin A conversion. So get food combining!
Gone are the days of a side of boiled vegetables - your meat and two veg. Get grilling, roasting, chopping, stir frying and try something new. Last Christmas I discovered kalettes (half sprout half kale), milder than regular sprouts, full of vitamin C and K and much prettier! Look at what's in season now and you'll find a wide variety of colourful delicious vegetables to inspire you.