Before we had children, we spent many evenings cooking and eating together. Over the past few years, we have each started to learn more about the amazing health (and massive environmental!) benefits of wholesome meals that are free from meat and dairy. Now we are parents we are discovering that eating more of this type of food is an excellent way to set children up for more positive food choices and long term health as they grow.
We are learning it takes creativity, skill, and a lot of love to provide healthy meals our children want to eat every day. Shielding little ones from too much salt and refined sugar can be a challenge to say the least. Not to mention juggling to get food on the table before babies are tired and making sure meals suitable for the whole family are nutritionally balanced as well as tasty – Aaaggh, the pressure!
Fortunately, we have a mutual passion for cooking healthy family food and love to share child- and adult-approved(!) recipes that work. Because of this, we also wanted to inspire other families on this journey too. And so, Baby Loves Veg was born.
As well as being delicious and appealing for little tummies, our recipes are created with the whole family in mind, so that we can all benefit from fantastic nutrition using nature’s wonderful ingredients. Oh and of course, are easy to make to suit a busy family life! In addition to being mums, each of us has a background in science and related fields that inspire us to be evidence-based in our endeavours to ensure the best start for our little ones. Read a bit more about each of us in the Q&A below and join us on a journey to add a taste of veggie goodness to your little family’s life!
Q1: Tell us a little bit about yourselves
H: I’m Hannah, mum of two lively boys and am married to Tim. We turned veggie about 12 years ago and haven’t looked back. We love exploring new vegetarian and plant-based foods. I also love creating natural homemade beauty products so whenever I’m in the kitchen experimenting, Tim’s first inquiry is usually “are we going to be eating that or washing with it?”. I am fascinated by the important role that good nutrition plays in child development, both in terms of brain functioning and behaviour. I have a PhD in Developmental Psychology and my current work involves research into children’s cognitive development.
C: I’m Catherine, Mum to little Joshua and married to Symon. My route to introducing more veggie food into our cooking was actually through the team I work with in the medical industry. Working with patients being treated for chronic disease motivated us to read about countries in the world that live long lives without need for drugs and procedures. We learnt that populations in the world that eat more whole food, more plants and less meat show strength and health well into old age, avoiding chronic disease [1,2]. I am currently taking part in a nutrition course run by Cornell University to explore how doctors are using this approach to successfully treat even very progressive disease with diet and lifestyle changes.
Q2: Why are you involved in this blog
C: I know how daunting it can be to try and cook vegetarian or plant-based food. The pressure of a hungry husband looking at me with fear in his eyes as I experimented with meatless meals! With a lot of perseverance we found veggie, dairy free recipes can be delicious! Without trying, we lost weight, had more energy, better digestion and no longer craved refined food or rich meaty dishes. We feel happier that we are eating in a more sustainable way for the planet too. Now my baby is weaning I would like to feed him this fantastic food but I am keen that we achieve balance so he has all the essential nutrients needed to develop. Whilst on maternity leave I have loved learning how to develop our meals so we can eat as a family and this has been guided by Hannah who has cooked this way so successfully with her children and Ruth too with her background in dietetics. Through Baby Loves Veg I would like to inspire other families with delicious veg based meals!
R: I am passionate about children getting the best start in life through their diets, thereby avoiding conditions such as rickets that are entirely preventable. Children should be able to get all the nutrients they need from their diets, regardless of whether they eat meat or not, but it can sometimes take a bit more thought to ensure meals are balanced. With the plethora of processed and refined foods in the UK, coupled with rising obesity levels and a decreasing knowledge of healthy eating and cooking skills, a blog that promotes fresh, easy and affordable meals can only be a good thing. And with the birth of our first child, and with weaning age now upon us, a desire to provide him with the most nutritious start is certainly an additional motivator!
Q3: Do you ever eat meat and/or dairy?
H: I’ve never been able to eat dairy, so I was just a weird kid who never ate chocolate or ice-cream. Neither Tim or I eat meat but occasionally I eat fish. We’ve made a conscious decision not to strictly enforce a vegetarian diet on our children, and so cook meat and fish for them about once a week, giving them the opportunity to know what it tastes like should they choose to eat meat as they grow up. However, being that it’s not a huge part of his diet, our eldest son has already chosen not to eat meat (although loves fish!), and instead consistently opts to include loads of vegetables, fruits and yummy nuts, beans and pulses at mealtimes.
C: I would say my diet is around 90% plant-based and my husband Symon probably 50-60%. As a couple we balance this by making veggies the centre of our meals and it’s amazing how our taste palates have changed with this approach. We don’t cook meat at home, avoid dairy and we feel it’s better for the environment not to eat fish too often. Symon does enjoy a good burger takeaway occasionally and has to know there are healthy snacks in the fridge and dinner planned or he will devour anything at the station on his way home from work! If eating out at a friends house I won’t impose demands on them to cook a special meal but I will pile up my plate with veggies!
R: Yes, both! However, despite being brought up eating meat with every meal, we now only buy fish and therefore eat predominately pescatarian. Like Cat, we eat meat with friends and family and occasionally if eating out. With regards to dairy, I have always been a milk-lover (my brother and I used to race each other home from school to see who could get to the milk first!), but now we have fortified almond or soya milk with breakfast and in hot drinks – a huge change for us!
Q4: Why would you advocate a more plant-based or veggie diet?
H: Since our transition to vegetarianism (and in my case pescetarian!) over a decade ago and as our diet becomes evermore plant-based, the improvements we’ve seen in our health, lifestyle and wellbeing have been phenomenal. The more we discover about the effects excessive meat-eating has on our planet as well as our health, and the more we explore this way of feeding our family, the more excited we become about sharing our journey with others and developing easy, scrumptious and nutritious meals that are perfect for babies, toddlers and the whole family.
C: Choosing to eat whole-food plant-based each meal time is a very simple thing we can do every day that is so valuable for the family and the planet! It’s a lifestyle that has been shown to keep people well longer [1-2], treat chronic disease [3-6] and reduce the impact on the environment .
Q5: Who inspires you?
H: I’ve been so fortunate to work with some incredibly inspiring female scientists and academics, at the forefront of their field and who are also able to balance family life. My mother and maternal grandmother have also both been a huge inspiration to me in terms of their ability to host masses of people, sometimes at the drop of a hat and seemingly without breaking a sweat…. I think I learned the importance of cooking en masse from them (great for batch cooking for the freezer when you’re not expecting guests!), shopping for fruit and veg at the local market, and embracing the incredible importance of family mealtimes.
C: My parents who always explore things very deeply, whether it’s wildlife, a holiday to the mountains or how they can help others. I’m also inspired by Dr Michael Greger who is behind the not for profit website Nutritionfacts.org. He has dedicated his life to uncovering the best nutritional data out there. I love the fascinating short videos he shares.
R: I am incredibly lucky to have an inspiring family (on both sides) who really value relationships and who invest so much time and energy into supporting the three of us. But some of the people who inspire me most are the women in my life who manage to balance being amazing mums with having careers they are passionate about – I hope I can also achieve that balance!
Q6: How do you recharge and reboot?
H: Going for a swim with my two boys and Tim, or a long muddy walk. The sharing of food with friends, family and neighbours has always been a central part of my family’s life and is a great way to reconnect.
C: Enjoying good food round a table with my favourite people after a day in the outdoors.
R: I absolutely love spending time with family and friends, and I’m at my happiest when camping and getting to cook and eat outdoors. I would always rather be with others to relax, and sharing food and some games with people I love the most is the key for me!
We really hope you enjoy exploring our ideas for healthy veggie food for little ones and fall in love with the benefits of eating less meat and more plant-based as a family.