Monique Koch has been vegan for a decade and even got her sons to give up meat. She shares her sage insight on her blog, Brown Vegan, part of her dedication to showing folks how easy it can be to go vegan without skimping out on flavor or alienating your meat-eating family members. She’s an expert in family vegan advice and can help you get your loved ones on board with plant-based alternatives. She’s one of The Beet’s favorite Black vegan influencers to follow for inspiration.

Here, in an exclusive interview with The Beet, Koch talks about what made her go vegan over ten years ago, her tips for getting young kids to be excited about plant-based food, and the books that helped her transition to a vegan diet and lifestyle. Her advice will encourage you to make plant-based swaps for some of your favorite foods such as pasta and stir fry.

The Beet: Tell us about when you switched to a plant-based diet?

Monique Koch: It was back in 2008 when the seeds were planted when I read “Skinny Bitch.” After reading that book I was vegan by default for a couple of weeks because I was just terrified to eat anything. I legit survived on sunflower seeds and water for two weeks because I was afraid to eat anything. I decided that being vegetarian worked best for me.

Then in April 2010, I decided to become a vegan after reading Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society. That was the first time I connected to veganism as a Black woman. Up to that point, everything I saw about veganism was usually white women, so I never saw anyone that looked like me doing it. At that moment I thought I can do this, other people do this, it's not too strange.

That book was a collection of stories, Black women from all walks of life talking about being vegan. I decided to become a vegan, and it was strictly for ethics from the beginning. I wanted to do better for the planet and animals. As the years went on it was for health reasons, because I’m older now.

TB: What are some of the changes you saw in your health after you decided to stop eating meat over a decade ago?

MK: I went vegan when I was younger, so maybe I think it's in the reverse now, so I don’t have any health issues because I went vegan when I was younger. I’m almost 40 now. I’m being proactive in making sure I don’t have any health issues.

TB: How did you transition your family into a vegan diet?

MK: At the time my oldest son was about eight years old. He was a little more open-minded than my older boys. My middle son was the one who was like we’re not doing that. My youngest was about five. The way I transitioned him was making sure that I took a lot of their favorite meals and made a vegan version out of them. I veganized some of their favorite dishes.

In the beginning, I used to give them super healthy food like granola. They would just throw it in the trash. When I figured out they wanted their food to look like their friends, I made sure to give them the fun vegan junk food type stuff. I made sure I provided a lot of the things they enjoy and just made a healthier version of it.

TB: What are your top tips for someone who wants to encourage their family to go vegan?

MK: Showing by example is the biggest piece—you cooking the food, enjoying the food, sharing the food. Don’t come from a place of preaching to them, because that doesn’t work, all that does is make people shut down. They’re not going to listen after you come to them because they probably already knew that information. Making them feel like you’re judging them doesn’t help. Come to them with love, no judgment. See if they’re open to watching some of the documentaries.

TB: What do you have to say to folks who think that vegan food is bland?

MK: You haven’t had enough good vegan food. There’s so much variety. It's so fun.

People eat chicken. They are seasoning their chicken with vegetables and herbs. How can our food possibly be bland if you’re using the same seasonings that are made from vegetables and herbs to flavor your foods? The same preparation for cooking meats is the same thing they need to do with their tofu or seitan.

TB: What do you eat on an average day?

MK: I usually go to work early in the morning. In the car on my way to work, I always have a banana, an apple, a pear, or some type of fruit that holds me over until I can have breakfast. Usually, breakfast is like lunch, at 10 o’clock I’ll have some type of salad with beans, corn, a spring mix. I get home around two thirtyish and eat dark chocolate or an ice cream bar. At night It's usually some type of pasta like spaghetti or alfredo with broccoli. Something really simple.

TB: Is there one ingredient you cannot live without?

MK: Definitely rice. I love rice so much. Basmati rice or jasmine. I can always put that on the side. I eat a lot of stir frys. I know it's kind of boring, but rice is my favorite food. It's cheap too and pretty filling!

TB: If you were preparing a special meal at your house what would be the star dish of the meal?

MK: Vegan macaroni and cheese. This is one of the dishes that according to my family always tastes pretty good. I bake it in the oven.

TB: Do you have a go-to smoothie recipe?

MK: I do. I love smoothies. When my kids were young and even now, I always put spinach there. It always makes me feel like I’m getting some type of nutrient because I just love to eat all the vegan junk food. I love having a banana, spinach, and strawberries in my smoothies. I also usually put some chia seeds and the base is usually water or coconut water.

TB: Do you have a favorite restaurant to get vegan food?

ML: I like this place in Washington D.C. called Busboys and Poets. The food is pretty good but I just like the ambiance there. It just feels so welcoming to me when I go there. They usually have live music and there's a bookstore there. It's just divine.

They have a huge vegan menu. You know how sometimes you’ll get a vegan menu and they don’t give us cheese, they don’t give us the vegan dessert. They have all of that there. They have legit meals on that menu. I love that place. I like that I can go there with my friends and family. There’s something on that menu for everyone.

TB: Do you have a go-to thirty-minute workout routine?

MK: I live near a river that's about two and a half miles from my house. My go-to workout is to jog to that river and sit there for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then walk back. That is the thing that keeps me going. I think that helps my sanity. I do it about three days a week. My motivation to work out is I know I can sit at this river at the end of it.

TB: Do you have a mantra or words that you live by?

MK: This is something I have been saying lately, “I’m a magnet for opportunities.” I believe that the more I put myself out there, the more the impact will be to help other people, to have other people go vegan.