Everyone knows that eating more plants is good for us. And it's no secret that getting kids to eat what we want them to eat can be a challenge. But transitioning your kids to a plant-based diet? That can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. Here are my tips and tricks for transitioning your kids to a plant-based diet.
1. Set an Example. Any parent will tell you that kids notice everything – from the swear words we let slip out to the foods we put on our plates. So when our kids see us consistently making healthy choices, they are more inclined to follow our behavior and choose the same types of foods.
2. Teach Them Why. For kids who are old enough teach them why eating a plant-based diet is best. Explain how plant foods help them become big and strong, think well in class and have more energy for activities and sports. But don’t stop there. Teach them to love all animals – not just pets – and explain to them why eating animal foods is harmful to our planet.
3. Let Them Help With Planning and Shopping. Kids love being part of whatever we are doing, and giving them a role to play in meal planning and shopping will get them excited and invested in the process. Let them choose a few of their snacks or meals from a vegan recipe blog or book, and ask them to find the ingredients at the grocery store.
4. Let Them Help With Cooking. From the time I was 1 or 2 years old, my mother had me helping her in the kitchen. From pouring flour into the mixing bowl, to pushing a button on the blender, to licking the batter off a spoon, helping my mom in the kitchen made me feel important. Get your kids involved in cooking and baking and they will be much more interested in eating the foods that come out of your kitchen.
5. Start a Garden, Get Involved in a Co-op or Take Them to the Farmer’s Market. Teaching your kids where their foods come from is an important part of their investment in eating plants. Putting broccoli on your kid’s plate without giving them any choice or explanation may feel forced, but when they play a role in growing or picking that broccoli, they are more likely to appreciate it and the other plant foods they are given to eat.
6. Make Smoothies a Staple. The consistency. The taste. Who doesn’t love a smoothie? Smoothies are a great way to sneak in greens and veggies that kids may resist at first, but will gladly drink up when sweetened by fruit and masked by flavors they love, like chocolate (cacao powder) or peanut butter (for kids without peanut allergies), or both! You can even reach out to Squeeze'D who often teach kids how to make smoothies!
7. Transition with Mock Meats. Mock meats, or meat alternatives, are processed foods made to mirror the aesthetic qualities (texture, flavor and appearance) of real meat, i.e., Garden crispy “chicken” fingers. They are usually soy-based or gluten-based. While I don’t recommend mock meats as a staple in any household since they are processed rather than whole foods, they can be key for helping kids (and adults) transition away from animal meat and into the plant-based world. And even after transitioning, once in a while, a meal made with mock meat is perfectly ok too.
8. Make Everything Cheesy. Kids love cheese. And by kids, I mean us big kids too. Rather than taking away your kids’ favorite foods like pizza and pasta with cheese, substitute the cheese with vegan nut-based options, or make your own cheesy sauce using nutritional yeast. Try this recipe by one of my favorite plant-based food bloggers: ohsheglows at http://ohsheglows.com/2011/08/18/quick-dirty-5-ingredient-vegan-cheeze-sauce-recipe-challenge/
9. Listen to What They Like and Dislike. Don’t fret if your kid won’t touch brussel sprouts or refuses to eat string beans. Find what he or she does like and build off of that. We don’t need to eat every vegetable, fruit, grain, legume, nut or seed in order to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. Of course, teaching our kids to “eat the rainbow” is a great goal, but forcing things on them is counterproductive. In addition, if they don’t like something, don’t give up – ask them what they didn’t like about it. Was it the texture, consistency, temperature, taste? Try serving it differently the next time, i.e., raw, cooked, in a sauce, in a smoothie, etc.