Vegan chef Ann Gentry is a culinary powerhouse. The founder of Real Food Daily, the wildly popular Los Angeles vegan eatery that is soon to expand into Los Angeles International Airport, and author of The Real Food Daily Cookbook, has recently penned Vegan Family Meals, a beautiful cookbook filled with imaginative recipes perfect for the weeknight dinner table and dinner parties. VegNews sat down with the culinary mogul to find out more about Vegan Family Meals, vegan parenting, and what’s on her dinner table.
VegNews: What inspired you to write Vegan Family Meals?
Ann Gentry: Over the last few years, I found myself cooking at home more and enjoying re-visiting recipes I hadn’t made in years as well as whipping up new ones. I also thought I had something to say as a busy working mother because I struggle with the same day-to-day challenges everyone else has. Food wise, I’ve learned to stick with a plant-based diet, especially when cooking at home. Whole grains and vegetables are relatively simple to prepare, always accessible, and very economical.
VN: What is your go-to weeknight meal that you make for your family?
AG: A quick and simple bean-, grain- or vegetable-based soup; quinoa, rice, or soba noodles with a peanut or tahini sauce; and seasonal roasted vegetables or sautéed vegetables.
VN: Is everyone in your family vegan? If not, how do you navigate the varying diets?
AG: We eat primarily vegan at home. When the kids go to birthday parties or other social occasions, they eat vegetarian. We allow them to eat these “non-vegan” foods from time to time, not to supplement their vegan diet (as there are no supplements to an already ideal diet), but rather to allow them joy, comfort, and participation in their childhood social settings.
VN: What advice can you give to new vegan parents?
AG: If you haven’t had children yet, start at birth! The palates of infants and toddlers are relatively bland. The tiniest bit of flavor is intense for them and they prefer the simplicity of one taste or texture at a time. When they get a little older, start educating kids about where food comes from and how it is grown. Have them around in the kitchen when you are preparing their food and get them involved. I think most kids recognize quality fresh foods. Adults corrupt kids’ palates by feeding them fat, salt, and too many sweets. Unfortunately, kids get addicted to the highly processed foods and it becomes hard to move away from them. But you can, and I did! Before you change your children’s diet, you have to change yours. You set the example. Your kids will follow your lead.
VN: How do you balance running a successful vegan restaurant with being a mom?
AG: Lots of strong brewed black tea in the morning, an afternoon nap, and a wing and a prayer at night.
VN: For those who want to cook more at home but don’t know where to start, what’s three pieces of advice you can give them?
1. Be patient and kind to yourself. It takes time to really change your diet, because to change your diet, you ultimately have to change your mindset and lifestyle.
2. A plant-based diet encourages creativity in the kitchen. Prepare the best local and seasonal ingredients with a variety of cooking methods, and you’ll come up with more interesting and diverse flavors, textures, and colors on your plate.
3. Think about balancing your nutrition intake across the week, and don’t get hung up on making every meal a feast. Instead, focus on preparing a few recipes that will keep your cooking simple and your time in the kitchen enjoyable.
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