Changing Family Behavior – Lessons to Date

Children Want to do Right in the World

Our two boys, now 8 & 10, are very interested in the world at large.  They still put a lot of weight in their parents’ opinions (when not in conflict with their own wants).  So, they easily took to the challenge of eating less meat.  It also at times gave them something to hold their parents to task when we were eating too much meat in their mind. 

The real challenge is replacing meat with meals that are plant-rich, meaning more greens and less carbohydrates. This is really challenging when eating out. In American restaurants, the kids menus are often chicken nuggets, pizza, a hamburger or a cheese quesadilla.  The boys almost always opt for the quesadilla but this doesn’t fit our goal.  As a result we find ourselves eating out less than we were before.  There are a lot of secondary advantages, lower food costs, learning new recipes and spending more time together talking and preparing meals.

Routine is King

Large changes to family behaviors take a lot of planning and effort.  It really works when the family is in its normal day to day routines of school and work.  Yet things can fall apart easily when there is a disruption.  For example we took a 2 ½ week family vacation to the United Kingdom this year.  We drove most of that in a large motor-home (see my future post of the amount of Xanax one needs to drive a 9 meter manual transmission vehicle on small UK roads while switching sides of the road).  All the changes and reliance on Tesco/Waitrose and pubs/restaurants throws routine out the window. Its also not enjoyable to use your down time to plan meals, etc.  In these cases it was worth some planning up front so minimize impact, accept that changes will backslide and re-commit when routine is re-established.

One thing leads to another and another

Change begets change.  First you are looking for more vegetarian recipes and before you know it you are wondering if those avocados came from a Mexican drug cartel (btw they did), how much fuel is being wasted moving your cleaning products and is your dish soap safe for the environment?  I tended to try and tackles these as they popped up…big mistake. This only leads to impulsive and often unsatisfying solutions.  Its better to add them to a list and schedule them in order so that you can take your time to understand the problem and weigh options.

There are few silver bullets

Continuing lesson 3, the market is usually a step ahead of you.  These are often well meaning people who see a niche to fill.  I jumped on two solutions quickly with disastrous results.  The first was a company that is reducing the carbon impact of transporting cleaning solutions (usually 99% water – what a waste!) and the disposal of the 8 billion plastic bottles thrown out every year. I love the idea…I love the work they have put into their solutions (basically you buy an acrylic “forever” bottle from them and then tabs that dissolve to make cleaning solution using your tap water, costs are 30% lower than store bought solution).  A lot of science apparently goes into ensuring consistency in product with varying water sources.  Well the solution can really clean but the “forever” bottles didn’t last a month. Do I need to go to plastic bottles?

Three acrylic bottles – left to right – bottle 1 – crack forming at seam, bottles 2&3 – tops completely sheared off

In another knee-jerk solution, I replaced our washing liquids (laundry and dish detergents) with tabs that lack of the normal complement of chemicals found in such solutions.  January, my wife, immediately pointed out how these were not working…not cleaning while leaving streaks and something I can only describe as sticky goo in the washing machine.  Ok – so more research is needed.

Everything is a system

This is not a passive activity…there are few shortcuts.  This is real change and needs time, buy in from your stakeholders and patience…lots of patience.

4 thoughts on “Changing Family Behavior – Lessons to Date

  1. Nice system diagram!! 😁

    The routine point really struck me. About how much easier things are once they are part of the usual routine but how quickly they can slide when you’re doing something different. I listened to a podcast the other day about the difference between change and transformation – change being like water in that it’s possible to go backwards and forwards between states. Transformation is like a butterfly – it’s not possible to go back to the previous state. I’m definitely not there yet on the various things I’m trying to change, let me know how when you’ve got it figured out please!


  2. Great (and personal) story. Thank you. To a large extent I recognise the journey you have taken you children on. Mine are 7 and 12 and I have had many of the same experiences. That “Routine is King” is certainly true but I have found that it takes some level of persistency. My daughter decided to go vegetarian for a month. She did but then reverted. The reversion was also brought about by the fact that mum is not vegetarian and although she helped support the effort it turned out to not be easy to think of new vegetarian dishes.

    I am impressed by how much children (in Denmark) are taught about the environmental damage we cause and what causes it. It is meaningful teaching (and not just don’t do this and that).

    Nevertheless, I still have a feeling that we (Danes and me included) don’t want to make the really difficult choices or admit that as a nation we are not so “Low carbon”. I am writing this from my holiday (we flew) looking at a buffet (for tonight). Hard to give up..


  3. Loved reading this, thanks Marc! My wife and I have also been attempting to live a more sustainable life this year. Some parts of that have been made a little easier living in the south of Italy. Food being a key one. I’ve found it much simpler to source seasonal, local produce and there are (surprisingly to naïve me) plenty of great vegetarian options. Other things have been trickier, I feel our use of plastics has increased substantially, and being temporary residents only – we’ve been less willing to purchase (or bring with us from Australia) the type of kit that makes sustainable living possible.

    I thought your feedback loops within your family around frustration, accountability were great. Have you been sharing this journey with others in your life? I’m wondering about your lived experience of some of the conflicting studies around the effectiveness goal-sharing. You mentioned the role of your boys keeping you honest on meat-eating.

    Keep it up, and please keep posting. I feel a little further behind in the changes I’m making in my own life so it’s empowering to see others doing it. Until then, I’ll do my best to avoid cartelvocados.


  4. Hi Marc,
    Following your “diary of change” is a pleasure and a reminder of the different challenges we all face (including driving on the other side of the road!!! For which I am very emphatic aha aha!). It is great to see how you are taking your family on a path to change. Be proud!
    I just read that Burger King has introduced the impossible Whopper! Have you tried it? Apparently, 97% of those that eat veggie hamburgers are meat-eater, which I found an impressive but not surprising figure! And 
    Pat Brown, the creator of the “Impossible” burger, recently said: “Our mission is to replace animals in the food system by 2035 completely. You laugh, but we are absolutely serious about it, and it’s doable.” I do not think that meat consumption will ever drop to zero, but I am confident that a number of alternatives with the same taste experience will become mainstream soon. Please write a review if you go to Burger King!

    The fact that you mentioned how hard it is to stick to your purpose when on holiday is a challenge I share. I was in the mountains at a family hotel for two weeks, and it was tough to stick to a vegetarian diet without eating the same salad or pasta every day!!! Moreover, my little girl struggled to adapt to a change in diet – incredible how much children are entrenched in their habits! – so I ended up eating her fish to avoid it went wasted! Auch!

    As for your cleaning experience…bear with me as I am a chemist by training and worked on detergents for Unilever in my past life! I am really curious to know what was inside the cleaning tabs to crack the bottle! It sounds scaring! I also found strange that they went for acrylic bottles and not PET or HDPE that are the materials usually employed for detergents bottles ( The idea itself is excellent, but very few companies are applying it. Moving from diluted liquid to tablets is definitely technically challenging, so if you want to give it another try, I would advise looking for liquid concentrates. A system such as for example (I checked, and they are not currently present in the USA). Or you may want to take a big leap and consider Loop ( It is now present in a few USA major cities and expanding to Europe. I want to try it myself as soon as Tesco introduce it! 
    Finally, your System Thinking chart is fabulous! 🙂

    Keep posting about your progress!!!



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