Recipe developer, plant-powered mom, and healthy food advocate Dreena Burton has been a reliable, creative source for families looking to incorporate delicious plant-based meals into their busy lives. A passionate advocate for a nutritious, vegan lifestyle, Dreena and her three “weegans” are inspiring households everywhere to embrace veggie-filled alternatives to kid-friendly favourites. This month, we spoke to the supermom and author of “Plant-Powered Families” about her creative journey, and how she convinces even the pickiest of eaters to eat their greens.
Parvati Magazine: What was the moment that made you realize you wanted to help others find their way towards good health?
Dreena Burton: When I experienced significant health improvements myself after a brief time eating vegan, I felt some inner excitement about sharing this change with others. However, that was 25 years ago, and eating plant-based/vegan was not at all known or understood. It was considered radical, fringe, unhealthy. A couple of years later, my father-in-law was diagnosed with heart disease. His cardiologist recommended he follow Dr. Dean Ornish’s program for preventing and reversing heart disease (which was largely plant-based). My husband’s parents came to us for help on how to eat. I knew then I wanted to develop recipes and share information more widely with others.
Parvati Magazine: How did your approach to nutrition shift after having children?
Dreena Burton: I always had a healthier approach to eating vegan, even when eating a whole foods vegan diet wasn’t popular. However, I remember after our first child that we didn’t eat as wide a variety of foods as we could have. I immersed myself in learning about new grains and how to bake with different whole-grain flours, and began experimenting with more vegetables, beans, and nutrient-rich ingredients. It was a learning curve, but it definitely helped expand my nutritional knowledge and culinary skills.
Parvati Magazine: What’s your advice for families looking to embrace a more wholesome relationship with food?
Dreena Burton: Start with what you know. We forget that most of us are already eating many plant-based/vegan foods! Most of us already eat foods like rice, potatoes, nuts and seeds, and even some beans—and common fruits and vegetables. So start with foods you love now, and build on those. For instance, if you love white rice in your weekly meals, try substituting brown long or short-grain rice, or brown basmati rice. If white pasta is a favorite, try whole-wheat, brown rice, or legume-based pastas. Love spuds but haven’t ever tried sweet potatoes? Choose yellow or orange sweet spuds in place of your regular spuds (just for variety, nothing wrong with potatoes)! Also make some simple plant-based swaps in favourite recipes. Taco night can easily be made healthier using veggie ground or brown lentils in place of ground beef, for instance. Start with what you know and love already in the plant-based world, and build on that foundation.
Parvati Magazine: Describe your creative process in developing plant-powered, family friendly recipes.
Dreena Burton: Sometimes it’s quite spontaneous, even impulsive. I get an idea and feel I just want to start mucking about in the kitchen. It’s not always a scripted-out plan for a recipe. More often, it’s an idea that just bubbles up, and I take out paper and pen and scratch down measures and ingredients as I go. Some make it—others don’t!
Parvati Magazine: What is one message you hope your children carry into their future from growing up as “weegans”?
Dreena Burton: Oh, that’s a great question. I’ve always hoped our girls would feel connected to our diet in a way that they would choose to eat this way on their own. I’ve already seen this connection, and I think it gives them their own confidence navigating social situations. So, I hope as they move into adulthood and building their own relationships and families, that they grow in their conviction, yet can inspire others they love in a compassionate way. Because there is so much to gain in this lifestyle on many levels.
Parvati Magazine: Can you share a favorite indulgent-yet-healthy recipe that convinces even the most skeptical?