I have known Dreena Burton (virtually) for close to a decade! Best-selling cookbook author and mother of three plant-powered girls, Dreena is literally THE authority for cooking kid-approved vegan recipes.
This interview feels particularly timely given the recent news that Italy may ban vegan diets for kids. As I mentioned in my post on feeding vegetarian kids, you can absolutely raise healthy vegan kids…just like you can seriously malnourish your omnivore kids. A parent needs to be well educated on what their children need to support their rapid growth.
It’s all about feeding your kids nutrient-dense real food. Dreena’s cookbooks are a lifesaver for this; her recipes are not only fool proof and tasty but they are centred around whole foods…which has permanently won Dreena a spot in this dietitian’s heart. I know you’ll will love getting to know her better…so enjoy!
As a mother and a plant-powered cookbook author, what would you say are the misconceptions you encounter about feeding kids a plant-based diet?
Most definitely that kids may be ‘lacking’ something, either in nutrition or in food joy. In truth, their diet is very nutrient-dense, my kids have abundant energy, clear skin and eyes, and robust immune systems. They also love their food, and enjoy all the fun foods other kids enjoy like cookies, ice cream, pizza, and burgers – just all made from plant foods!
Wellness is a path, not a destination. How has your own eating journey evolved since you became vegan?
I still feel I’m on a food journey. I’ve been vegan 20 years, and my diet and recipes have evolved quite a lot over that time. There are always new foods to try, new products and ingredients to discover, and also changing health needs to address. When I first became vegan, the information wasn’t abundant as it is now. There also weren’t as many convenience vegan foods. So, I started on a path of using a lot of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and nuts and seeds – what I call “the vegan basics”.
Looking back, I was eating less variety in my early vegan days, and also ate more refined carbohydrates (white breads/pasta/flour). When we became parents, I felt it was more important as ever to expand my food knowledge. While our family does eat some processed and refined foods now, the majority of our diet is based on whole plant foods.
Feeding three children is almost a full time job by itself! What are your go-to meals for when time is tight?
It sure is! Especially as they get older. I find my older two girls can eat as much (or more) than most adults now, so it can be a lot to keep up with groceries and food prep. I do find some shortcuts, and make use of batch-cooking where possible. Also, sometimes it’s about rounding out dishes. For instance, I may have a bean stew or salad that isn’t quite enough for a full meal, but by adding a big side of baked potatoes or sweet potato home fries – we have a satisfying meal. Some of the dishes I love to make on busy days are things like “Apple Lentil Dal” and “Creamy Fettucine” from Plant-Powered Families. Or, I may take a storebought chili and amp it up with a lot of extras like beans, corn, and sweet potatoes, and serve with a salad and crusty bread. Instead of feeding maybe two people, that chili now makes a meal to serve five!
What are the five plant-based pantry essentials you can’t live without?
Ooooh, that’s tough! For sure I have to put sweet potatoes, chickpeas, apple cider vinegar, bananas (and other fruit – is that cheating?), and dark leafy greens on that list. Chocolate should be squeezed in there too!
If readers are interested in transitioning to a more plant-powered eating plan for their family, how do you recommend they get started?
I’d say start with the foods you love. It can feel overwhelming at first, looking at a plant-based diet from a perspective of eating a traditional diet. But, we ALL eat some plant-based foods – rice, bananas, potatoes, pasta, nuts, peanut butter, corn, carrots, etc. I like to remind people that as vegans, we simply eat all plant-based foods, and so begin to build on what you know and love.
If you love rice, switch to brown rice and other whole-grain rice varieties. If you love potatoes, try a new vegan recipe that uses potatoes, or try sweet potatoes. If you find a new recipe that really resonates with you, try it again and pair it with a new vegetable or grain. Then with children, it’s key to keep a longer term perspective in mind. You may not see a lot of progress in the first month or even year, but over time these food habits become more ingrained, and you’ll see your children embracing whole plant-based foods as you do.
Learn more about Dreena and her amazing book, Plant-powered Families