Column: Plant-based Mama Natasha Ashton on why her family eat vegan

Meet ‘Plant-based Mama’ Natasha Ashton, a Suffolk-based content creator, who explains why she and her children swapped to a vegan diet

Buckle up, plant pals, because this vegan mama of two, plus one step munchkin, is about to spill the chickpeas on why our family swapped the meat and dairy for the greens. Was it ethical enlightenment, eco-epiphany or a quest for kale-fuelled vitality? Well, embarking on this vegan odyssey wasn't just about health or the environment; it was a full-on ethical awakening, especially throughout lockdown. Picture this: me, my partner, and our little squad pondering the profound question; do we want to be friends with cows or be drinking their calves’ milk?

Spoiler alert: mooing won our hearts so oat milk took the spotlight.

Natasha and family
Natasha and family

I watched many documentaries which resonated with me before making the change (and I try to get friends and family to watch them, too). My top Netflix recommendations are What The Health, Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy, and on Prime, Pignorant, which is, in my humble opinion, the best.

Health Benefits

My energy levels certainly sky rocketed within the first 10 days of being vegan. But, oh, the nutritional jitters! Who knew a diet filled with plants could raise so many questions? B12? Iron? Omega-3s?

But the good news is you really can get all the nutrients and vitamins from plants. And studies show that a plant-based diet can lower the risk of heart disease, improve blood sugar control, and aid weight management.

The protein in meat is tougher for humans to break down than plant protein, making it a challenge to digest, which can cause sluggishness. Thankfully after all vegan meals I don’t feel lethargic anymore.

Making Meals

Now, let's get to the cooking! As a vegan, everyday staples like lentils, spinach, kale, chickpeas, and nutritional yeast become your best friends at meal times. Food planning can look something like this; spag bol on Tuesday, sweet ‘n’ sour plant chicken on Wednesday, and lasagne on Thursday. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can still cook everything you eat now. Just swap the meat for a plant alternative, swap the cow’s milk for oat milk and swap the cheese for vegan Cathedral City (which, by the way, is the best one out there!).

Vegan food can be healthy and delicious
Vegan food can be healthy and delicious

The Challenges

There can be certain challenges that come with being vegan. I’m talking the side-eye glances at family barbecues and navigating restaurant menus. How do you deal with this?

Be informative and be armed with the facts. People can take the information onboard or not.

Where To Eat

If you're lucky enough to live near a city or have takeaway on your doorstep, my recommendations in Cambridge are Stem & Glory and Hanks Dirty, whilst London gems include Holy Carrot, Unity Diner and Neat Burger. Other eateries that aren’t fully vegan but boast a great vegan menu are Giggling Squid, Cote Brasserie, Leon, and Costa to name a few. Even Tesco, M&S, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Asda offer a vegan sandwich meal deal, so you’re never far from something quick to eat!

A scrumptious vegan curry
A scrumptious vegan curry

Raising Vegan Children

With a one-year-old daughter and an almost five-year-old son, my journey as a parent involves navigating the waters of school life and holiday celebrations while upholding our family's vegan values.

I believe communicating openly with teachers about your child's dietary choices is key. Thankfully, many schools are becoming more accommodating, offering plant-based options.

When it comes to birthdays, Christmas, and Easter – occasions often synonymous with traditional feasting and being around other family members with a different lifestyle – flexibility is paramount. While our little family remains committed to a vegan lifestyle, we embrace a vegetarian approach during these festivities. This compromise allows my children to partake in shared meals without feeling excluded from the joyous spirit of these celebrations.

My stepson has always been really open and flexible about being a plant eater at our house, and he is always excited to tell me when he’s tried new vegan or vegetarian meals at his other household.

So, here's the take home; I advise taking small steps towards a plant-based life! Let's make this world a better place, one chickpea at a time.

Follow Natasha’s vegan journey on socials @natashauk_

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