My brother Mike and his wife, Beth, have four kids and their life is as busy as you’d expect. He’s also a heart attack survivor and a runner like me, and shares his thoughts on heart disease, exercise, and a healthy life on his Facebook page Run for Your Life (and here on My Life in Red from time to time).

10860852_350536988482160_3614964613553039462_o(photo by our talented sister, Anna, of Anna Mayer Studios)

During the month of January, Mike’s family decided to try eating vegan and I asked if I could share some about their experiment and their favorite recipes. I’m really excited to report on their month from the perspective of the kids — Oliver, 10, Natalie, 8, Jenna, 7, and Lauren, 4 — but first, we’ll let their dad provide the context (adapted from posts to Run for Your Life):

My family has adopted a tradition from one my sisters (that’s me – Jen) of trying a different type of diet every January. The idea is to:

  • Detox ourselves from the holiday gluttony
  • Try and make something interesting out of the one month of the year most of us could do without
  • Stretch ourselves (and our kids) in what foods we eat that wouldn’t normally make it to our table

We have done vegetarian and gluten-free so far, and this year we are going vegan. Over the past year I have seen, read, and visited with friends about the potential heart health effects of a vegan diet and thought that this would be a good time to test it out.

10298279_348086728727186_1282060713008282273_oAsian Quinoa Salad

Update #1

So far the experiment is going surprisingly well. It has been a pretty easy transition and the food has been great. The entire family has been taking part and seemingly been just fine.

Since this would be one of the most restrictive diets we have tried, I knew the key to success would be to be prepared. So the last week of December we started making a meal plan for the entire month of January. A key to making any change in your diet (or any part of life) stick is to remove as many friction points as possible. So we culled through the Forks Over Knives cookbook that has exclusively vegan recipes, Pinterest, and even our regular recipes and made a meal plan for the whole month.

This may seem daunting, but turns out that it was much easier than you would think. We just worked our way through the day, modifying what we could and filling in the rest with new.

Breakfast: Our regular breakfast is usually fruit smoothies, bagels, or cold cereal. All we had to do there was swap out cow milk for almond or coconut milk and switched to a veggie-based spread. (We found that unsweetened coconut milk is best for cereal, unsweetened almond milk was good for smoothies, and Earth Balance worked for the bagels)

Lunch: Normally we eat mostly leftovers from the previous dinner. Otherwise we have veggies and dip, peanut butter sandwiches, hummus, etc. So that was not a tough transition.

Dinner: This was the biggest change for us and where the planning and vegan cookbooks really came in handy. We culled through hundreds of recipes and picked out just over 20 new ones we wanted to try.

Our requirements were:

  • They had to sound tasty
  • They couldn’t be overly complicated to make
  • Their ingredient list couldn’t be too long or weird sounding (this is big in small town rural Minnesota)

All this prep has made it easy to buy groceries for a week and stick to the plan. Nothing makes a diet fall apart faster than not knowing what’s for dinner.

10934150_350451075157418_2899321209845439572_oVegan Chili with Cornbread

Update #2

We are over half way done with our experiment and things are still going well.

We have had great support and buy-in from the kids so farThey have had a few instances of cheating around the edges, like some milk chocolate at youth group or a non-vegan cookie offered by a friend. I have screwed up a couple of times because I just forgot to think it through; the other day I made a pesto and white bean noodle dish and used store-bought pesto and completely forgot that the store-bought kind has Parmesan cheese in it.

But on the whole we have been pretty vigilant. Oliver even turned down a sloppy joe that was offered to him, even after I said it was okay. He politely declined saying that were trying a new diet for the month and continued to share the veggies with hummus and quinoa spinach salad.

That brings me to today’s observation: Feeling like a weirdo.

I am sure that anyone on an extreme or fringe-type of diet feels like a weirdo sometimes, but vegan seems to conjure up more skepticism and ostracism than most. Some of it I totally understand. When I first thought about vegan “animal rights/crazy” is what first jumped to my mind. I am completely for humane treatment of our food chain, but I still consider it a food chain and have no moral issues with eating meat or dairy products. So, for many, when you say you are eating a vegan diet, you automatically get lumped in with PETA and others.

Another interesting social side effect to this diet is what I can only describe as Perceived Passive Judgment. What I mean is that when people find out you are eating a vegan diet because of its health benefits that must mean you are passively judging their diet as bad or wrong or whatever. People don’t react super-cool to this and it is understandable; nobody likes to be judged, myself included.

But on the whole I have found when given the opportunity to explain why we are eating vegan, most people are pretty receptive to the idea. I have had some great conversations with people these last few weeks about diet and health that likely never would have occurred otherwise.

Stay tuned for Oliver, Natalie, Jenna, and Lauren’s take on the Vegan Experiment!

10917942_350451218490737_1134908513769520501_oBlack Bean Tostadas


  1. Mary Jo Hallberg says:

    So, do we get the recipes???? These ALL look delicious!!