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Dreena Burton is the famous author of four bestselling vegan cookbooks, Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, Vive le Vegan!, The Everyday Vegan, and Let Them Eat Vegan!
Dreena became a vegan in 1995, and at a time when there weren't as many options for vegans, she started creating her own recipes. She loves cooking and finds great peace and happiness in providing healthy food for her family.
The Everyday Vegan was Dreena Burton's first book and it focuses on meals for new vegans looking to move to a vegan diet, and it even helps long-time vegans who need some inspiration.
Dreena Burton's second book, Vive le Vegan!, is great for vegan families, and includes tons of information on raising and feeding vegan children. Most of her dishes are quick and easy, but still completely delicious.
In Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, Dreena Burton turns the focus to celebration meals like dinner parties, special romantic dinners, and even bigger celebrations. Dreena also gives sample meal plans and talks about vegan drinks to pair with the meals.
Her fourth book, Let Them Eat Vegan! offers 200 recipes that are geared towards family meals.
Dreena Burton writes a a blog called eat, drink, & be vegan, that links to her recipes blog, viveleveganrecipes.blogspot.com.
She has two young daughters, both of whom were raised since birth as vegans. She believes there is "no better gift" you can give your children than wholesome, unprocessed food.
Dreena Burton was nice enough to take time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions to help us learn more about cooking, raising children, and living healthfully.
1. What's your favorite go-to meal on nights you're too busy to think?
I often find myself using pasta and pizzas as a base for a quick meal. If I have fresh veggies, some tasty seasonings (olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil), and beans on hand, I can whip up something different but delicious every time. Plus, these foods are always family-pleasers. Our kids always love pizzas, and pastas are usually a hit as well.
Also, in colder months, I rely heavily on soups. Nutritionally-dense with beans and vegetables, a big pot can stretch two or three meals with sides of bread or rice, and a fresh salad. Makes dinner time easy when a batch of soup is in the freezer just waiting for thawing!
Baked potatoes also nicely round out many meals. They are so simple and often forgotten! If we have something like a rice and bean dish, tofu and quinoa, or even baked burritos... if I pop a few potatoes in the oven it is the simplest way to add a side dish to a meal that the family loves.
Top those hot spuds with a slather of Earth Balance, or a drizzle of olive oil, or a good dollop of cashew cheese, and the hungry bellies are happy!
2. Where do you get your inspiration for your recipes?
I have recipe ideas bouncing around my head daily. Trouble is, I rarely have enough time in the day to materialize the yummy thoughts I have! Still, I do notice that there are some ideas that return to me using specific ingredients or about a type of dish. I may juggle the thoughts until I have clarity about how I want to approach the recipe. Other times I have an urgency to try something (usually for dessert!), and I must get in the kitchen to play with the idea.
I find inspiration from photos of food, seasonal dishes, discussions of ingredients I might hear on the radio or TV or in groups of people, and also from trial and error in my kitchen - some recipes evolve from an idea that was originally very different.
I know many mothers who aspire to raise their children vegan and would love to have more guidance from someone like you. I have a few questions related to being a vegan mom...
3. Did you face any challenges with finding doctors who were open-minded to your food choices?
Our family visits both naturopathic and medical doctors. Naturopathic doctors usually have a good understanding of the vegan diet, and most that I have spoken with have been very supportive (though, not all). It's important to have a doctor that can support your diet, and help with supplement advice if needed, especially with children and during times of the year that our immune systems may need some help.
4. How do tell others about what your children eat, especially in situations when others are going to be responsible for feeding your children?
Our older daughter is seven, and has a very good understanding of our diet so that when she is in school or at parties, she will ask if something has dairy or meat. Most times she doesn't want to eat something if she isn't sure, such as candies given out at school parties. But, we are always prepared and sure to give her similar treats for parties and special occasions.
On hot lunch days at her school, I always pack her the similar food that is being delivered for lunch. If it's pizza day, I pack her a special pizza... hot dog day, I give her a veggie dog in her lunch. For birthday parties, I send along some cake or other treat so she can enjoy the fun with her friends. She never feels left out or complains about our food choices. Instead, she is proud of her healthy and compassionate way of eating.
Our younger daughter is almost four. I am with her all of the time, and prepare her snacks for preschool. She's not at an age that she can assess if something may have meat, eggs, or dairy, but she isn't in any situations where that determination is necessary.
The discussions with other parents usually involve a good deal of Q&A, since most people really don't understand what the vegan diet is. Since they see it as everything that we "don't eat" rather than all the amazing foods we do eat, they have a lot of questions (and concerned looks) about what our girls eat... and of course, where they get their calcium and protein!
It's sometimes difficult to convey all I've learned about the nutrition of a vegan diet in a five or ten minute conversation with other parents. I keep the answers simple and non-confrontational, and am always open to answer more questions any parents have.
5. Conversely, when children come to your house for meals, how do you help them feel comfortable with what you serve? What are the best dishes in those situations?
Another scrumptious nibbler is a recipe I have in Eat, Drink & Be Vegan called "Tamari Roasted Chickpeas". When I make these, my daughters can easily polish off the entire lot - which uses a full can of chickpeas!
When children visit our house for play dates I typically keep snacks simple with offerings like fruit and maybe crackers or popcorn. For parties, the kids have always loved the cakes and other foods we serve.
Kids enjoy finger foods, and most love fruit. Hummus and chips or pitas also go over well with children - as long as it's very mild without much garlic or spices. Children have a very heightened awareness of spices and so dips like hummus are best very mild and creamy. I have a recipe in my second cookbook Vive le Vegan! called "Creamy Hummus" - it's always a winner for kids (adults too)!
6. How do your children feel about their diets?
Our older daughter has become very connected to the compassionate component of eating vegan - and has done so naturally. Children are kind and see all living beings as important, until that view is altered by the opinions of theadults around them.
If a child makes the connection of the food on their plate to an actual live animal that they consider cute or incredible, they typically no longer want to eat that food - usually that's meat.
Our older daughter also understands how nutritious some of her foods are, and that those are important to eat for good health. She loves her food, and eats with gusto! Our younger daughter is starting to grasp these ideas as well.
7. I know we have some very enterprising readers out there who would be curious... How do you get started on writing a cookbook? What's the hardest part?
A cookbook is a big project, and is more than creating and compiling a hundred or so recipes (though that's obviously a chunk of the work). The hardest part for me is taking a break from recipe-making.
I love the creative process of designing recipes, and then presenting a new dish or dessert to family or friends and seeing their enjoyment of the food. I am happy to create and cook most of the time.
Also, I have been blessed to hear from people who feel that my recipes and books have really helped them, such as after facing a health challenge and needing to change their diet to remove dairy, meat, etc. When I hear from people that my recipes have made a difference for them, I am always touched and feel motivated to put more recipes out there.
It's very rewarding to show people that eating vegan can be simple, delicious... and fun! If you want to take on writing a cookbook, do it for the love of the process... and then do your research to get a publishing deal.
Thank you, Dreena Burton!!