Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
Star of The Big Bang Theory, Mayim Bialik is a mom of two, a trained neuroscientist (!), and the author of the new cookbook Mayim’s Vegan Table. Recently Mayim spoke with us about the challenges and rewards of avoiding meat and dairy and how she gets her kids to eat Brussels sprouts.
What inspired you to write this cookbook?
I write for a website called Kveller.com where I talk about mom things like what I cooked and how I made things vegan…and there was interest in me publishing a book. I am not a fancy celebrity cook; I’m a regular mom with no chef or nanny or anything. These are the recipes I most often make for the non-vegans in my life as well as for my own family. Dr. Jay Gordon is pediatric nutritionist and pediatrician and he helped with all of the nutrition stuff in the book.
How long have you been vegan? What were your reasons for giving up meat products entirely?
I was always an animal lover and became vegetarian at 19. I still ate dairy and eggs, but after cutting out most dairy in college, my health improved significantly. I didn’t get seasonal allergies, I have not been on antibiotics or had a sinus infection since. When my first son was born, he got gassy, fussy and really miserable if I ate any dairy so I cut it out completely and that solved the problem! I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer about six years ago and after that, I cut out all trace eggs and dairy. I am vegan for environmental reasons, nutritional and health reasons, and ethical reasons. I love the lifestyle and I love raising my kids vegan.
How old are your children now? Did you ever consider not raising them vegan?
My boys are 5 1/2 and 8. Their dad and I assumed we would raise them vegan unless it wasn’t working. But it is working! They are thriving and everyone is happy with how they eat.
What are the biggest challenges of cooking for a vegan family?
Talking to them about “growing foods” – meaning the foods that make you grow – and letting them know that it’s our job as parents to feed them well makes all conversations about food easier in my house. My kids know I expect them to eat food that is good for them, and they also know I want them to eat fun foods, too. I never bargain with them or bribe them to eat. I also don’t have a lot of the rules many of us grew up with such as “No dessert unless you finish everything on your plate” and stuff like that. I have found those things don’t work for my kids, and we have other ways to make meals enjoyable and a success for all!
Do your children ever ask you for non-vegan foods? How do you respond to them?
Once they hit about age 3 1/2, they understood we eat differently and they could understand why we couldn’t eat everything everywhere we go. I simply tell them that everyone eats differently, and this is how we eat to grow our bodies best without allergies and the problems many people have from eating animal products. Now that they are older, they like not eating animals (which they think are so cute), and they eat a ton of fun, exciting food. They sometimes get bummed out if they can’t eat cake at a kid’s party, but they get plenty of opportunities to eat cake so they are very reasonable about it.
What gifts do you feel being vegan has given your family?
A sense of consciousness in our eating, which is in line with our values. And for our bodies and with the support of our pediatrician, I believe this is the best way to raise my sons for their health and optimal growth.
Which of the recipes in the book are your kids’ favorites?
They like salads, like the green salad with agave (honey!)-mustard dressing. They love brussels sprouts and kale chips, and they of course love anything with Daiya cheese like pizza and quesadillas. They like any burrito I make which is good because I get to pack lots of healthy stuff in a burrito, and everyone is happy. And of course, they like any cookie I make. And my mom’s banana bread recipe!
You’re a busy lady! How do you find time to cook for your family?
I cook ahead a lot. I generally don’t make super-elaborate stuff during the week since I barely have time! So, simple stuff on weekdays and a special thing or two on weekends or for holidays.
Are your kids choosy? What are your strategies for dealing with that?
My older son is choosier than my younger one. I try not to make a big deal of any food preferences since they invariably lead to struggles around food, which I really try and avoid. I try and have a few reasonable choices for everyone at each meal, and my rule is that if you don’t like the choices, you can eat anything raw in the house: I will cut up any fruit or vegetable and they can have any nuts in the cupboard. It seems to work fine for us.
What are some surprising foods that your kids like?
Well, they love brussels sprouts chips. They don’t taste bitter when you bake them with olive oil like I suggest in my book. It’s better than potato chips we think!
What are your thoughts on organic foods, especially for families on a budget?
If you want to pick and choose, there is a list of which fruits and veggies are most susceptible to holding pesticides, and which “Dirty Dozen” to avoid. We all do the best we can with our budget and lifestyle and I think any produce is better than none. I also hope the day comes when we don’t have to choose between budgeting and having healthy, organic foods available to all of us.
Some people may not be ready to be 100% vegan, but still interested in eating a more plant-based diet. What are some baby steps you recommend?
I know being vegan isn’t for everyone and that’s fine! My book isn’t designed to make you vegan; it’s simply providing plant-based recipes that are yummy. I think it’s good to think about what foods you already enjoy that happen to be vegan, and eat more of that kind of thing. Bean-based chills, Asian food (which requires almost no dairy and rarely needs meat for a variety of dishes), and pastas are a good place to start. You don’t need to eat processed vegan foods if you don’t want to. There are plenty of plant-based options and recipes that you probably already can enjoy, and every meal counts!
Interview has been edited and condensed.
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Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
With the Sochi Winter Olympics just around the corner, Parents chatted with Olympic figure-skating legend Kristi Yamaguchi about her favorite Olympic memories, keeping herself and her daughters (Keara, 10, and Emma, 8) healthy, and her work for the 2014 Olympics with Team Kellogg’s.
P: What is your favorite Olympic memory?
KY: They’re all so inspiring. I would probably have to go with something from ’92. I would say participating in the Opening Ceremony. At that point, putting on the Team USA uniform and meeting all of the athletes and marching in as a team was…you just felt the honor and the pride of representing our country and you just felt the enormity of the event and it wasn’t just about going out and skating, it’s the Olympics.
P: Do you watch with your daughters? How do you guys get into the Olympic spirit?
KY: We wear red, white and blue and I try to tell them a little bit about the athletes we’re watching if I happen to know anything about them. It’s fun just to cheer on all the athletes and hope to see great performances from them. I definitely encourage them to check out the Great Start stories of the athletes from Team Kellogg’s. It’s fun to learn about who they are before you actually watch them, before Sochi.
P: What is each of their favorite event to watch?
KY: I think probably skating is one of them, but then again, we’re sure to have that on. My older daughter is becoming a pretty good hockey fan. They’ll be exposed to more this year because they’re a little bit older and can understand it a little more. I think they’ll enjoy the snowboarding and some of the skiing events.
P: Your younger one, Emma, skates. At this point, it may be too soon to tell, but what would be a sign to you that she could take it to the next level?
KY: If she shows me the desire. It’s still fairly new, she started about two years ago, and I’m not pushing it too hard. If I see that desire to always want to go in and learn more and practice more and experience more within the sport, then that’s when I’ll know.
P: Is 6 about the age when kids usually start?
KY: It’s different for everyone. You see some who are learning how to walk and they’re already out there. I think it depends what part of the country you’re in and how available the ice is. I was about 6. Boys tend to be a little later in skating.
P: What advice do you have to moms who want to start their kids skating?
KY: Go to the local rink and, especially this time of year, they’ll have group classes to sign up with. At that point it’s not a huge commitment—probably once a week—where they can try skating and get some instruction in a group atmosphere. If they seem to like it and take to it, after a session or two of that, perhaps see if there is a particular coach that is teaching at that rink that your child connects with personality-wise. You can probably ask for a short private lesson.
P: Are there safety precautions that are important? At the end of the day it is a sport.
KY: It is. The U.S. Figure Skating Association has some guidelines. They recommend all beginner skaters wear a helmet when they’re first starting out. Our kids did until they were 5 or at least until they had a little more control on the ice. I think that’s why it is a good idea to put them in the classes, because there they learn how to get up when they fall and learn some techniques that will help them be safer on the ice.
P: I know you live in California so it’s warm, but what are some of your favorite winter recipes to make?
KY: I’m not a huge cook. I do cook dinner, but my kids are very particular and not as adventurous as I’d like them to be. I would say stir-fry chicken with some vegetables and some steamed rice as a go-to just because I know it’s something they’ll eat and it’s pretty quick and easy.
P: Eating is just one part of a healthy lifestyle and exercise is the other part. As an athlete, you’re obviously still very fit. How did your body change after your pregnancies?
KY: It’s quite different, especially coming from the athlete side of things. My lifestyle changed, with me not training like an athlete and burning calories like an athlete. The body slows down a bit and I wasn’t as active as I had been. I definitely didn’t feel as fit. People would say, “You don’t look like you’re out of shape.” But there’s a difference between looking fit and actually being fit.
P: Was that activity essentially the key to what got you back to a comfortable level of fitness for your life as a mom?
KY: It was gradual. What did I have time for? What could I do that fits into the schedule with the kids? Working in a routine at home worked when they were little because if they were home and I was looking after them, I could fit just a half hour in and I felt like I was doing something for myself and I didn’t have to find a babysitter to get that workout in. Now I have the luxury that when they’re at school there’s a bit more open time.
Check out our Lose the Baby Weight Newsletter for great tips to regain your fitness after the little one arrives.
P: Do you still skate?
KY: Every now and then. Emma goes twice a week so I try to get myself on the ice while she’s working with her coach and having a lesson I’ll go on the ice and skate just for fun. I’m like one of the public skaters out there these days, just recreationally skating around.
P: Can skating be a lifelong sport?
KY: Oh absolutely. For sure. There’s definitely skaters who have picked it up at a later time in life and there are definitely skaters who enjoy the sport recreationally for their entire life. It’s always inspiring to see the next generation out there still enjoying it and I’m always hoping that I can continue to get out there and have fun with it, too.
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