How this vegan mother got her family to eat more plant based food

“It is getting rarer and rarer to find a restaurant that doesn’t have vegan options!”

36-year-old UAE resident Alex Sandhar started exploring vegan/vegetarian diet after moving to Dubai with her husband and three kids (7,5,3) . In 2013, Alex and her husband decided to become pescatarian, then became vegetarian and about 2 years ago, she became vegan for the better planet and future of her children. She also has a history of heart disease and high blood pressure in her family, she felt this was the right way for a healthier future for her family. 
Story of Fitness spoke to Alex about what made her switch to plant based food, changes she noticed in her health after she stopped eating meat and dairy, how did the family transition into vegan diet, top tips from her if a family wants to become vegan, her answer to people who think vegan food is bland, and more

Tell us about your transition to a plant-based diet?
I moved to Dubai in 2014 with my husband and adolescent daughter, and when we started exploring the grocery stores we weren’t finding the same “quality” of meat I used us to in Canada and the UK. We were going out of our way to find grass-fed, organic etc. meat and it was very expensive. So we decided as a family to stop eating meat and become pescatarian (figuring we were living on the sea so this option would be more affordable and we could get lovely fresh fish), we were pescatarian for about a year before I started reading about the horrors of the fishing industry and lack of sustainability. We had our second child, and I was becoming more interested in living a sustainable life, and we transitioned to a vegetarian diet as a family. Once we became veggie and I started cooking vegetarian meals and started watching documentaries and reading books, listening to podcast, etc. I knew inevitably, a plant-based diet was the only option for me and shortly after my third child was born, I transitioned to a plant-based diet. I began by eating plant-based when at home but would eat dairy when eating out. Then about 2 years ago I am into a plant-based diet full-time.

What were some of the health improvements you noticed when you stopped consuming meat?
I’ve noticed an improvement in my skin, I have more energy and I just feel better when I’m eating plants. I don’t feel sluggish after eating an enormous meal and rarely suffer from bloating. I would however say that I feel my best when I’m eating lots of whole foods, fruits, veggies, lentils etc. and if I’m eating too much “vegan junk food” I don’t feel my best.

When and why did you make the switch to a vegan diet for your family?
My husband and children eat a mostly plant-based diet while at home and when out they eat a vegetarian diet. However, over time they have been moving to a predominately plant-based diet. We try to eat in restaurants that have great options for little plant-eaters. I spend a lot of time talking to my children about why we choose not to eat animals and ultimately I’m vegan because of them and because I want them to have a healthy planet and I want to live a long life with them.

What are the best ideas for those looking to inspire their families to go vegan?
Cook and buy delicious plant-based food, show them it doesn’t have to be complicated and that it can taste great. Recommend books and documentaries to them. But more than anything, be patient and kind. It is difficult for everyone to make this transition and pressurising or guilting someone will not work. Even eating 1 or 2 days a week plant-based or only eating plant-based breakfast, for example, can be a great way to start.

What is your favourite vegan restaurant in Dubai?
This is so tricky! Favourite vegan pizza is Freedom or Papa Johns. Favourite fast food is the plant burger from Burger King. Costa and Cafe Nero both have great vegan options. Bounty beets and Marina social both have great vegan menus and my favourite roast is at Hillhouse Brasserie. I could go on and on. It is getting rarer and rarer to find a restaurant that doesn’t have vegan options!

What do you have to say to people that think vegan eating is boring?
I would say look at my Instagram haha…just kidding! I would say that eating a plant-based diet has been way more exciting for me than when I was Omni, I try so many new flavours and experiment with plants more than I ever did with meat. I would also say that most of what people love about meat is the way they flavoured it and seasoned it, not the meat itself. A plain chicken breast is terrible until you marinate or season it. So you aren’t enjoying the flavour of the meat itself but instead the way it’s cooked and seasoned and that is so easy to replicate with a plant-based diet.

What do you eat daily?
Anything and everything!! No two days are the same! For breakfast, I usually make a chickpea omelette or a tofu scramble with veggies and a slice of sourdough. For lunch, I love a wrap or a salad with soup. For a snack, I’ll have fruit or veggies with hummus or make a smoothie. And for dinner, it could be anything! I love Mexican food so once a week we usually have fajitas with veggies, refried black beans and all the fixings. My kids love a vegan roast dinner. Pasta, salads, baked tofu, I could go on and on!

Is there any ingredient that you can’t do without?
Chickpea (gram) flour for making omelettes, nutritional yeast for a “cheesy” flavour, cashews for blending to make cream sauces or for making vegan cheese, kale and tofu because they are every vegan’s favourites haha, I also love garlic powder and smoked paprika and could add those to anything!!

What will be the star dish of a special meal you are cooking at home?
When we have friends or family around, I like to make homemade seitan and all the fixings for kebabs and everyone make their own or ill make a big curry with homemade roti or something more traditional like a lentil shepherd’s pie. I like to get creative but also show my non-plant-based friends how delicious plant-based food is!

You can follow Alex on her Instagram

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