________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2016


Plant-Powered Families: Over 100 Kid-Tested, Whole-Foods Vegan Recipes.

Dreena Burton.
Dalla, TX: BenBella Books (orderentry@perseusbooks.com), 2015.
307 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $23.00 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-941631-04-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-940363-59-2 (ebook).

Subject Heading:
Vegan cooking.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4



While plant-based and vegan eating have become popular in recent years for being both healthful and compassionate, there has been little representation of this lifestyle for parents and families. My husband and I have been eating a plant-based diet since 1995. I've nurtured three pregnancies with plant foods, and we are now raising three daughters on this healthy diet.

Eating plant-powered means eating healthful, whole plant foods that are nutrient-dense. As parents, this is particularly important, as we model dietary choices for our "weegans". Diet is learned. So let's teach our children early about real, wholesome, delicious plant foods!

Dreena Burton wasn't always a vegan (defined by the on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products"). Her grandfather's candy store provided a ready and steady supply of sweets and not-so-healthy snacks, and she describes her family's diet as definitely "meat-centric, and always paired with a glass of milk. . . . We didn't eat a lot of vegetables, and when we did they were doused with gravy or mashed with butter and evaporated milk." (p. 7) By late adolescence, in an effort to control her weight, she had stopped eating red meat. Later, she gave up eating all animal meat, as well as eggs, and finally, dairy products.

      But, to paraphrase Kermit the Frog, it's not easy being vegan. In order to eat vegan, you have to do all of your own cooking (or, at least, you did in the mid-90's when Burton began her journey down the vegan road ). Prior to becoming a vegan, Burton claims that she never really cooked, depending instead on items that came out of the grocery store's frozen food section or the deli's "to go" department. Embracing veganism led to an enthusiastic new interest in cooking and baking. As a result, she began developing her own recipes and embarked on a new career as an author of vegan cookbooks and a contributor to a variety of web-sites and blogs.

      While I don't know anyone who is a vegan, I have several friends who are vegetarians, know many people who have either food sensitivities and/or serious food allergies (ranging from the manageable to the intolerable or even life-threatening), as well as those who have made the choice to eat only organic produce or to forego wheat or red meat. So, knowing the challenges faced by those with "food issues", I was intrigued by the concept of Plant-Powered Families. In a world where sugar- and salt-packed snacks abound, where McDonald's establishes a market force through its provision of toys, promos, and Happy Meals, I was curious as to the alternatives which Burton's book offers to families with children who are bombarded with messages that encourage bad nutritional choices.

      Burton does not deny that "it may seem like a lot of work to eat plant-powered because more food is cooked from scratch. It does get easier as you get more comfortable with the diet" (p. 11), and, in Part One of the book, she does provide strategies to optimize the process of meal prep. Her "Pantry Primer" is very thorough, providing lists of legumes, whole grains and grain products, seeds and seed butters, nuts and nut butters, dairy substitutes, dried herbs and spices, condiments, sweeteners, and baking products (such as agar powder and xanthan gum, the latter being familiar to those with gluten intolerance). While most people know of whole wheat flour, have heard of chia seeds, and may have tried sugar substitutes such as agave nectar, she lists plenty of items which would be otherwise unfamiliar. I know that these products are readily available in larger urban centres, but I wondered how someone living in a smaller centre would obtain them, other than through on-line ordering from specialized vendors. Burton's suggestions for "Batch Food and Recipe Preparation" offer very useful ideas for those not used to this level of meal planning, and her recipes provide little icons indicating those which are amenable for batch cooking and batch ingredient prep. Burton certainly advocates family involvement in the process of prepping and cooking, both for the positive family interaction it promotes, as well as the nutritional knowledge the kids will gain.

      Part Two is all about recipes. "Healthy Mornings" begins with breakfast bars and a variety of hot grain cereals and stand-bys, such as omelets, pancakes, and French toast (all made with vegetable alternatives to eggs, dairy, and refined wheat flours), and continues with "Smoothies and Milks" (a variety of non-dairy drinks) as well as "Muffins, Quick Breads, and Healthy Snack Bars". Progressing to mid-day are the "Lunch Fixes", offering new takes on salads and sandwiches (chickpeas feature heavily in these recipes), followed by "Salad Dressings, Sauces, and Toppers", which includes a cheese-free "Super Cheese Sprinkle" for popcorn (or pizza, soup, pasta, rice, etc.) The "Dinnertime" chapter offers numerous soups and stews, pizzas (crusts made from either polenta or whole-grain tortillas), "Burgers 'n Fries n' Such" (burgers are made from a variety of legumes), and "Casseroles, Stir-Fries, and One-Dish Wonders", in which tofu, chickpeas, and lentils offer the protein component of these meals. For many people, a meal isn't complete without dessert, and the "Sweet Treats" chapter offers dairy-free puddings, cookies and bars made with some truly inventive combinations of ingredients, frozen treats, and even cakes and frostings.

      Burton's three daughters are "weegans", vegans from infancy, but even she is frank in admitting that her children have gone through the "picky eater" phase. Part Three of the book addresses the problem of resistance, and vegan or not, her common-sense suggestions are valid whether your family is vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore. "School and Lunchbox Solutions" offers solutions for respecting a school's management of food allergies (so many of the book's recipes have nuts in them), as well as vegan substitutions for typical school hot lunch menus. And when classrooms celebrate birthdays or holidays, Burton provided her daughters' teachers with "goody bags" of items such as "natural lollipops , . . . pre-wrapped vegan cookies or crackers, small bags of popcorn, miniature dark chocolate bars, and organic fruit bars." (p. 233) Exposure to the foods that non-vegans consume becomes particularly problematic at events like kids' birthday parties. Many of her party food ideas are good for anyone, vegan or not: fruit and veggie trays, homemade popcorn, baked chips and tortilla chips are all undoubtedly better than the salt-, sugar-, and trans-fat loaded snacks typically on offer. Burton is clearly aware of the power of peer pressure or the temptation offered by a Rice Krispie™ treat or a Goldfish™ cracker. She sees these "slips" as an opportunity for discussion about nutrition, and it is clear that her children have the courage of their convictions. When one of her daughters was asked by another little girl why she didn't eat animals, her daughter replied, "Because we are vegan." (p. 249)

      The book concludes with a chapter on "DIY Staples and Cookie Guides", providing information on such preparation basics as toasting times for seeds and nuts, guidelines for the cooking of beans and grains, sample menus, and a very comprehensive description of nutritional needs and how they are met in a plant-based diet. The "Nutrient Charts" detail the carbohydrate, protein, fat, iron, and calcium content of the items used for the recipes in the book. Interestingly, each nutrient chart also ends with a listing of the nutritional content of such items as egg, ground beef, salmon, chicken breast, yogurt, and skim milk, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions about the choices they might make. Finally, the book offers two indexes: a "Subject Index" and a "Recipe Index". The Recipe Index is particularly user-friendly, bold-facing ingredients (pumpkin seeds), as well as the actual recipes (Pumpkin Seed and Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Breakfast Bars).

      Plant-Powered Families is the latest in a series of books on vegan cooking authored by Dreena Burton, and this book definitely demonstrates her expertise as a cookbook writer, as well as her passion for vegan cooking and nutrition. Each recipe is faced with a full-colour photography presenting food that is positively mouth-watering. And the photos of Dreena, her husband, and her three daughters, feature a photogenic family who are obviously the picture of health. They are truly committed to veganism as much as anyone might be committed to their religious faith or political ideology. Burton became a vegan as a young adult, and much like many converts, her faith is sincere and zealous. I am guessing that, as a cookbook author, she works from her home, and if so, it's much easier for her to do the extensive meal prep necessary for maintaining a vegan diet than might be the case for someone who works outside her/his home and has to build food prep into after-work routine. As well, for those of us who live in northern latitudes, it can be difficult to buy fresh high-quality fresh produce. The fruit and vegetables found in most chain groceries are often less than nutritious, with taste and nutrients being sacrificed for keeping and storage qualities during the journey from field to store, and grocers who specialize in organic produce charge a premium for it.

      Although parents of elementary school children are the book's primary audience, I could see that older teens who are interested in a vegan diet might be interested in its content. As well, individuals with strong sensitivities or intolerance for eggs or dairy might find some of the recipes useful because all are egg-free and use non-dairy milk. As for acquiring Plant-Powered Families for a high school library, if there's strong interest in alternative nutrition in the community, it's worthwhile.


Joanne Peters, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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