Both my wife and I were fortunate that we grew up in houses where we sat down at the dinner table as a family to a home cooked meal from scratch 98% of the time. We both value meal time around the table and love food. Now that we have our own family, we want to give our kids the same experience we had and appreciated growing up.

Along with this experience we want to expose them to as many different varieties of food as we can. Different vegetables, spices, flavors, ethnic foods, etc. Not only do we want them to experience variety, but also know a little nutrition and not think “healthy = vegetables = yuck.” I’d rather them think, “Yay food! Food is good! We love food!” We want to instill in them a positive, healthy image about food.

It’s really difficult to determine what “proper” nutrition is now though. Between all the different studies and diets being advertised, it’s really hard to tell. Low carbs – high protein, low protein – high carbs, meat, no meat, dairy, non-dairy, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, organic, South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, Keto? How are we supposed to know what’s best? Especially when our government declares pizza as a vegetable in public school lunches, who do you trust?

Reading articles about nutrition (even the more scientific ones) are like reading opinion pieces. And if you look in the comments section of these articles, whoa watch out. It’s a dog fight debate of whose nutritional philosophy is the best. Each commenter references articles and documentaries like they are the absolute truth. It’s like a political debate. Everyone is talking but no one is listening. There is no discussion. So again, who and what sources can you trust?

Everybody has a different background, a different upbringing, a different point of view, different health issues and concerns. After doing some reading and watching of our own, we wanted to try to incorporate some things into our diet that make sense to us. We want to reduce the amount of refined white sugar, white flour, meat, dairy, and processed foods we consume. Realistically, we know we can’t, and don’t want to, eliminate them completely. But we can make an effort to reduce the quantity of them.

We already use raw sugar, unbleached white flour, brown rice, and buy mostly organic produce and products where we can. And we mostly use non-dairy milk already, so it’s really just dropping some meat, cheese, and eggs.

So to research some new recipes to start incorporating on a weekly basis, I had a vegan week to see what’s out there. Like I said before, we don’t plan on becoming vegetarian or vegan, we just wanted to open our minds and our mouths to the different possibilities in the kitchen when reducing meat and dairy. Ellie didn’t follow it completely because she still had a yogurt here and there, but Aya and I did for a full week. In addition to the five days of recipes I posted here, we started three days before that.

More than the vegan aspect of this week, it was more about eliminating processed foods (as much as possible) and eating a plant-based diet without dairy. We wanted to reboot our interest in nutrition, and just trying something new.

What did we learn?

1) Vegan seems like a loaded word. There’s a preconceived notion and it’s like telling someone you are a democratic or a republican. It brings a lot of emotion and judgment with it. Most everybody has an opinion, good or bad, realistic or unrealistic, when you hear the term vegan. I know I did. I pictured most of the food to be meat substitutes, and everything having beans and lentils. I pictured everything to be dry, flavorless, and mushy. I found that to be false. It wasn’t until later in the week when I made vegan dishes that were trying to replicate cheesy and meaty dishes that I felt like I was eating “vegan” food. Everything else I made just tasted like good food.

2) It was not hard giving up meat and dairy at all. (I know it was only one week) We all felt full and completely satisfied after every meal. I think we won’t have any trouble incorporating aspects of this into our regular diet.

3) My grocery budget was cheaper not buying any meat. I really liked that.

4) My wife has been struggling with a constant bloated feeling for awhile. Since she’s breastfeeding, she is always hungry and has been looking for healthy foods that keep her full. After this week she said she didn’t feel bloated and her clothes fit better. Is it because she avoided meat and dairy? Maybe. Or was it from avoiding processed foods more than usual? Either way, it got her attention enough to think that her physical discomfort could be diet related and is making her more aware of what she eats. My pants are a little less snug after this week too.

5) I’ve found a lot of new websites and blogs with a whole new world of recipes I can’t wait to try. It’s forcing me to break out of my CookingLight.com comfort zone. I was also feeling really bored and uninspired in the kitchen. This week really helped getting me excited about cooking again and reminding me the importance of our family sitting down to enjoy a meal together.

6) This week also made me appreciate all the home-cooked meals my mom made for us growing up. From the homegrown corn and fresh tomatoes in the summer, the always homemade mashed potatoes, to the 1001 chicken recipes, I know she provided my brother and I with a balanced home-cooked meal as much as possible. I think it’s reminiscing those experiences that inspire me to try my best in the kitchen for my family. I hope my involvement in the kitchen and the variety of food I serve, combined with the love of food my wife and I share, influence our children and their food choices in a positive way.

We found healthy food doesn’t need to be scary. It doesn’t need to be complicated and time consuming either. We aren’tlooking at reducing our consumption of meat as taking anything away from our diet, but more like making room for a variety of other things.

Food is habit. Food is comfort, and food is emotional. I think that more than the actual food we put into our bodies, how our minds think about that food is sometimes more controlling than anything. But there’s soooo much GOOD food outside of our safety boxes too.

Yay food, food is good, we love food!

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