“My son is going to raise his daughter vegetarian!” Fran exclaimed. “I’m inspired to adopt a more plant-based diet! I want to join them.”
I found her excitement heartening. More people are making a serious commitment to laying a foundation for their children, a solid foundation of wholesome eating habits. With the dangers of sugar, sugar substitutes, and genetically modified food in the mainstream discourse now, it’s no surprise. Still, the task of shepherding youngsters in a wholesome direction is challenging in today’s world of produced food laced with sugar at every corner store.
Sometimes the journey to the mountaintop requires a gradual approach, one that begins with accepting where we are and envisioning the next plateau. Focusing on the next plateau and then the next can help us firmly establish new dietary routines. Once these new routines have become easy breezy, we can take things up a notch and then another, adding one positive, victorious reference point after another along the way.
The importance of creating small wins cannot be overstated. You need to know you’re on course if you want to be a good role model, and nothing is more important than being a good role model. When you know you are capable of making progress toward an increasingly healthy diet, the way is opened for your children to feel like they are succeeding in the game of nutrition as well.
Engaging your children is also key. Everyone can be a participant on the journey to the next plateau. And everyone can buy into the destination with excitement.
The challenges are not insurmountable; if you approach the game of upgrading your nutrition one step at a time, it can be a joyous win for everyone. More important, the byproducts of healthier eating habits will likely include a more contented, joyful disposition from one day to the next.
Here are eight tips to get you started on your journey.
1) Decide from the get-go to make the journey without any judgments or repercussions. If you take two steps forward and one step back (or three steps back), notice that you’re off course and suspend judgment.
2) Prioritize positive acknowledgment of your children’s efforts. When the family sits down at the table for dinner and the salad bowl is being passed around, make an announcement: Jenny made the salad this evening. (Be doubly sure to do this if you have dinner guests.)
3) Don’t rush from one plateau to the next. Take some time to solidify the new eating habits before forging on to the next level. If you envisioned a plateau of two vegetarian dinners each week as your first milestone along the way, spent a good six or seven weeks on that plateau, making it your new baseline.
4) Don’t overreach when you decide on the next plateau. If you’ve been preparing plant-based meals Monday and Thursday for six weeks, you don’t have to aim for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the next six weeks. Always go for an easy win that won’t strain or stress you. Aiming for three a week might be a realistic next plateau for you. And if you end out having only two veggie meals the first week after setting your sights on three, remember the first rule: no judging. Accept it and move on. Or better yet, congratulate yourself for another week of two. After all, that’s higher up the mountain than you were just a couple of months ago.
5) Don’t fall into the trap of idolizing a 100% vegetarian diet as your mountaintop. Allow yourself to discover your sweet-spot as you experiment and make the journey. We all have different bodies, different blood-types, different somatic needs and preferences. There’s no need to adopt a final destination rooted in a notion that one particular brand of wholesome eating is better for everyone.
6) Start improvising from time to time. Improvising? Yes! You don’t want cooking to become drudgery. No one wants to go through life saying, oh, it’s Tuesday, I have to make a plant-based supper. Zest and a love for life, an enjoyment of creativity, a passion for your relationship with food: these need to be in the mix. (And if you tap into these energies in the kitchen, they might start showing up in other areas of your life as well.)
Debra Poneman told me about staying with a guru for a few days. On one particular evening, those who were in the kitchen preparing the dahl were conversing in a contentious, rancorous tone. The guru stepped into the kitchen, picked up the pot of dahl and dumped it saying, “Better to have no dinner than to bring those energies into our bodies.”
Improvising can be as easy as making modifications to a recipe you use all the time. If ratatouille is your signature dish, see how it turns out with red peppers instead of green peppers, or emphasize the zucchini by doubling the amount. You’ll end out with something the same but different, a new variation on a well-known theme.
7) Invite your children to suggest improvisations You can make this simple by asking for suggestions for what to include in the omelet you’re making for super. Or ask for nominations for what to include in the marinara for the linguini. If you’ve got three kids, you might get three nominations. Include them all.
8) When you reach your two- or three-month anniversary of eating more wholesome plant-based meals, be sure to celebrate. This can be as simple as a dinner conversation. “What were some of your favorite moments that we shared in the kitchen on veggie nights?” can kindle cheerful memories. And rehearsing happy moments, especially miraculous ones, can fortify and renew your spirit.
Be sure to allow everyone to celebrate the mistakes you’ve made along the way. “Remember when I made grate zucchini pancakes and burned nearly every one of them?” can bring a chuckle and levity. A bad meal every once in a while won’t ruin your life.
Fran has made it to the first plateau, three plant-based meals a week. (When she envisioned this plateau, she was already having one or two vegetarian dinners a week generally.) She is happy where she is and intends to stay there, at least for now. She says she might bump it up as she granddaughter gets older.
“Don’t worry if you backslide,” I responded. “Now you know you can set a goal that’s within reach and make it happen. That’s the main thing, knowing you have what it takes to be at the helm.”
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