My vegan children are really thriving... try it!

As this month marks Veganuary, AUDREY ELLARD WALSH catches up with Vegan Mammy Ciara Norton, from Cork, to find out how to feed your family vegan food
My vegan children are really thriving... try it!
Blogger Ciara Norton and her daughter Síofra. 

WITH the indulgent excesses of Christmas swiftly fading into distant memory, a healthy diet is top of the agenda for many as they head into the new year.

One campaign, Veganuary, encourages people to ditch meat, eggs and dairy for the month in an effort to help boost people’s health, reduce animal suffering and ease the environmental strain of animal agriculture.

The UK-based campaign, which was established in 2014, has now gone global, attracting thousands of people to a plant-based diet each year. Growing from 3,300 participants in its first year, to 60,000 around the world in 2017, organisers hope to engage 150,000 people through their online community in the coming weeks.

Participants who pledge to ditch animal-based foods for the month are supported with regular emails and social media groups, with many deciding to keep up their new diet into spring, and beyond.

While vegan, and even vegetarian diets, provoked raised eyebrows until recent years, organisers argue that veganism has gone “from niche to mainstream”, in recent times, with dedicated restaurants and food brands springing up daily. Many Cork restaurants boast dedicated vegan menus, with the city’s first dedicated vegan café 143 V opening last year.

Cork based blogger Ciara Norton was eating vegan long before it was cool though, and says it’s very easy to do. Now a mother of three, she documents her family’s favourite meals at veganmammy.com, sharing tips and tricks with vegans and non-vegans alike.

“I’ve been vegan since I was about 16 and I’m 30 now, so I haven’t eaten animal products in about 14 years,” she says.

“The choice was an easy one for me to make. I have always loved animals, and was uncomfortable about eating meat.

“It was a bit trickier back then. I live in a small town in north Cork, but there were some options in the supermarket like soya milk and cheeses.

“Restaurants didn’t really know how to cater to it back then though, but things are much better now.

Rian and Oran tucking into some banana and peanut butter "sushi".
Rian and Oran tucking into some banana and peanut butter "sushi".

“I actually think that Cork is a really good place to be vegan. There are loads of places to eat now, and plenty of health food shops stocking a wide range of foods.”

Ciara started blogging when her youngest son Oran, aged two, began eating solids.

“I was always posting pictures of the food I was making on Facebook and people told me that others would be interested in learning about raising vegan kids,” she explains.

“I wanted to show people they can do this, that they are not the only ones doing it, and it’s been a really good to get in touch with other parents.

“It’s very reassuring for me to meet other people doing the same thing.”

Her boys Rian, aged four, and Oran now regularly feature on her blog and instagram, devouring tasty meals and treats like lentil bolognese and sweet potato Spanish ‘omelette’.

Last year, Ciara also documented her vegan pregnancy with baby Síofra, now aged 10 months.

“Pregnancy while vegan isn’t very different,” she says. “You have to make sure to keep an eye on your iron and B12, like all women, but being vegan I’m used to that anyway so it was all second nature to me.

“I am experienced eating this way so I don’t need to count every gram of protein, I just eat healthily as normal, and my levels were all fine.

“I didn’t have any adverse health effects during pregnancy, and actually found that my energy was pretty good throughout.”

Feeding her kids meat or dairy was never up for question for Ciara, and she says that they are thriving.

“When I first went vegan as a teenager some people were concerned that I wouldn’t get all the nutrients I needed as I was still young and growing,” she remembers.

“I haven’t had much negative feedback about raising the kids this way though.

“I think it helps with family and friends when they see that the kids are thriving and eating such healthy food. They definitely eat more fruit and vegetables than the average child.

“My doctor sees that they are really healthy too, they are never sick.”

When it comes to navigating social events like birthday parties, a little preparation is all that’s required.

“Sometimes we bring food ourselves, or friends will offer to cook vegan options,” Ciara explains.

“I usually ask ahead and bake a similar cake, or pack similar snacks that can be eaten at the party. It’s really never an issue.”

So, do the kids understand what veganism means?

“My oldest does,” Ciara says. “He is almost five and I introduced the idea of being vegan to him from when he could talk.

“I explained it to him in simple terms, and in an age-appropriate way.

“He understands why we eat this way and is actually a very passionate little vegan now. He always wants to eat vegan food and is always asking ‘is this vegan’?”

Ciara encourages people to give veganism a go, and says now is as good a time as any.

“I think people should definitely try Veganuary, because if you eat this way for a whole month you’ll never look back.

“Most people who try eating this way recognise the health benefits very quickly.

“There are also so many benefits for the animals and the environment. Give it a go!”

Ciara's Creamy Tofu, Mushroom and Chickpea Curry.
Ciara's Creamy Tofu, Mushroom and Chickpea Curry.

CIARA’S CREAMY TOFU, MUSHROOM AND CHICKPEA CURRY

Ingredients (Serves 4)

4 cloves of garlic

2 inches of root ginger

1 medium onion

About 10 mushrooms

1 handful fresh coriander

400g firm tofu

1 tin of chickpeas

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tin of tomatoes

1 tin of coconut milk (or a small 160ml tin of coconut cream)

A pinch of chilli flakes (plus extra if you like)

1 tsp turmeric,

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cinnamon (or use a couple of tbsp of curry powder to save time if you like)

Sea salt and black pepper (optional)

Wholegrain rice to serve

Method:

Peel and crush or finely chop the garlic. Peel and grate or crush the ginger.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Slice the mushrooms. Finely chop the coriander.

Drain the tofu if it’s in liquid, pat dry with a clean towel, and cut into bite size pieces.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Blend the tin of tomatoes until smooth (optional).

In a non-stick frying pan, heat one to two table spoons of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the tofu and fry until golden brown, turning every so often so it gets cooked on all sides. (Alternatively you could bake the tofu in the oven if you want to make it without oil, which works fine as well.)

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat one table spoon of olive oil over a medium heat and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for a few minutes, stirring every now and again.

Add the mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes, stirring every now and again.

Add the spices and stir and cook for a minute. Add the tin of tomatoes and the “cream” part from the tin of coconut milk (or tin of coconut cream if using) and stir. (If using a tin of coconut milk, reserve the watery part of the tin for using in a smoothie! You can add a little extra water (or the coconut water) if you think it needs it.

Bring to a simmer, add the tofu, chickpeas, half the fresh coriander, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Serve with wholegrain rice, with the remaining coriander scattered on top.

For more recipes and other tips see www.veganmammy.com

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