Emma Kenny is encouraging families everywhere to make more of mealtimes. As she's a veggie herself, she's the perfect person to talk to about coming together and sharing delicious vegetable dishes with your loved ones.
What made you go veggie in the first place and how long have you avoided meat?
I haven’t eaten meat since I was 9 years old! I have also brought my boys up vegetarian; they have never eaten any meat. Nowadays, I am also vegetarian for environmental reasons.
Did you find it hard to make the change?
I didn't, my Mum was a fantastic cook and made a big effort to involve me in family meals. We ate together as a family every day as I was growing up, so she made my food as close to what the others were eating, and that resulted in me eating delicious food, just without the animals in it.
Have you ever considered going vegan and ditching the eggs and cheese?
I was vegan for 8 years and I will be vegan again. Right now, we have milk and cheese in the house because of my husband and my eldest son. My youngest son is pretty much vegan, but he does wear leather products on occasion, so he isn’t quite there yet. Personally the healthiest I felt was when I was vegan and I am slowly getting closer to that place once again.
What are some of your favourite veggie dishes to cook for your family?
I LOVE my boys getting involved with me, so anything that's quick, simple and delicious is perfect. We LOVE Mexican food, and I like mine really spicy, but usually have to add the heat after we have served the food. Tacos are amazing, they just make the food experience real and my boys are old enough to get creative and whilst we all have beans with our tacos, each of my boys will make theirs individual by adding cheese or salad. I love food, so anything vegetarian works for me. Having worked on the Old El Paso campaign, which is all about getting kids involved with meal preparation, we have also discovered fruit tacos, which are absolute genius, and mean that we can create a main and a desert together really quickly.
Do you ask your children to help you with dinner prep and cooking?
I ask my kids to help me with EVERYTHING! We are a family, and the happiest families do lots of things together. I guess that I am modelling my own childhood, but honestly, every single night we ate together as a family and on a Sunday, grand parents would also join us. I have so many fond memories of us all sat around the table nattering and laughing, that I want my children to reflect on their childhoods in the same way. I am a very busy career woman, but my family is my priority and also, I have two boys and that means I am also raising someone’s husband and someone’s father and that means teaching them how to be good men and how to look after the home and have life skills such as cooking. The research that Old El Paso carried out suggested that when we sit down to eat as a family, we tend to be on our phones and that is such a missed opportunity, because eating a meal together should involve catching up and checking in with other family members. The research also makes it clear that if we all cook, prepare, eat and clean together and make the whole experience interactive then we create meaningful family moments. Below I’ve put my top 10 tips to make your family meal times yours #makeityours.
You mentioned that you have brought your boys up on meat- so do they still follow an entirely veggie diet?
Yes, my children have never tasted meat. They know that I accept their choices and should one of them wish to order steak in the future then they will have a right to that choice. The only struggle they have is gelatine because it is in lots of sweets and so this means they are forever checking packets.
How important is it to discuss any dietary changes with your family if this is something new you want to adopt?
I believe that it is really important to take your children’s choices seriously. If they come home and suggest that they want to be vegetarian or vegan, instead of telling them that it is a fad, or forbidding them going ahead, have a sensible discussion with them. As long as what they want to do is healthy then let them try. People often say to me ‘but where do your kids get protein from’ and it makes me giggle, because protein deficiency simply isn’t a thing, in fact, no person that I have ever met has a problem with protein. When people tell my kids won’t be as strong, I simply point out that the world’s biggest mammals are all vegan and they seem to be doing a pretty good job at being strong and healthy.
What are your top tips for new veggies?
There are LOADS of meat alternatives so you don't need to stress because much of the time it is the sauce you can taste and not the meat. You can still enjoy your chilli tacos without sacrificing the taste.
Try lots of new things! Being vegetarian means you need to figure out what works for you and there are awesome vegetarian recipes and meal plans out there to try.
Make sure if you have meat eating kids that you still have a few Veggie days each week. My Mum made my vegetarian meals fit with the rest of my families and that made it feel like a lot less effort. Old El Paso is trying to get us to eat together as families and you can use meat alternatives in all their quick and delicious recipes.
If someone challenges your choice to be veggie what do you say to them?
The one that cracks me up most is “aren’t you imposing your beliefs on your children?” the answer is Damn Right I am, and guess what, so is every meat eater who decides that their kids should eat meat.
Emma Kenny’s Top Ten Tips to #Makeityours
Planning meals with your family can make eating together a successful and enjoyable experience. Sitting down on a Sunday and setting out a daily menu that suits everyone can make meal times feel harmonious and also mean that you are not dealing with left overs, because everyone feels happy with the choices
Encourage kids to get involved with the preparation and cooking of family meals. Children love to feel involved and enjoy the quality time that they share with parents when making the food. Yes, it may get a little messier than you would like, but it will also be a great deal more fun and your kids will learn important life lessons
Ditch the digital technology! Meal times should be about connection and that can only happen if you are all mentally present. Having a no phone rule at the dinner table is a simple, but highly effective way of making sure everyone can catch up with one another, whilst inspiring positive family communication
Make sure you sit down to a meal together at least twice per week. Whilst we may all be busier than ever, forming healthy family habits is really important and research suggests that families that eat together, feel happier and more supported than those who don't
Have theme nights! That's right, dress up, set the table in a fancy fashion, pop on some music traditional to the country the food you are eating comes from and have an authentic night in
Don't give yourself too much work. If you only have twenty minutes to rustle up a family meal then make something quick and easy. Eating together as a family isn’t about slaving for hours in the kitchen trying to prepare Michelin style food, it is about sharing quality time
Eat around a table if you can! Being face to face whilst you eat your meals makes conversation simple and means you can all connect on a physical and conversational level
Use family meal times to find out what is happening in each of your lives. You can do this by setting some questions, such as “tell me what you did at school today”, right through to discussing issues unravelling in the news
Give Mum and Dad the night off! Allowing your children to prepare dinner once a week is a fabulous way of engaging them and educating them at the same time. For younger children this may mean a cold meal or a carpet picnic with salad and bread for example, and for older kids whatever they feel comfortable cooking
Clear the table and clean the dishes together. When you are chatting and enjoying one another’s company, there are no chores, and making sure that your children respect and appreciate all the hard work you do comes when they experience the housework you do every day
Research by Old El Paso shows Brits have less meaningful mealtimes than ever before. The #MakeItYours campaign aims to help families reclaim quality mealtimes by coming together, eating with their hands, passing things around and generally breaking all the rules when it comes to stereotypical family dinners. Spark a conversation and be inspired to spend more quality time together with Old El Paso and its Stand ‘N’ Stuff ™ Mini Soft Taco Kits – perfect for little hands. Find out more https://www.oldelpaso.co.uk/products/make-it-yours