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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