Kids are funny, aren’t they? I mean, only tiny humans with impossibly innocent faces could really get away with the stuff they pull, right? They can have a way of making things take 5 times longer than they should, and simple tasks seem way harder than they need to be. Oh, they don’t mean to (except when they do) and it does get better as they get older (until it gets worse), but there are definite moments in time when they choose to make something as routine as meal time an absolute horror show. Fear not, I’ve been there and I’m here to help.
So, you’ve decided to go plant-based and now you are wondering how to get your kidlets on board. Seems impossible but I promise you it’s not. I have a picky kid in the house and while occasionally I still have to count to 10 in my head while she refuses items she ate happily a week ago, there are also times I’m trying to contain my happy dance while she goes to town on a plate of broccoli. The point is, we’ve made a ton of progress and you can too. I’ve got not one, but two posts chalked full of tips to get your kids eating plants. Whether you are going completely plant-based or just trying to get more healthy foods into them, read on for some tips and tricks from a mom who’s been there.
Some people can take a large-scale overhaul of their diet and make a serious go of it right off the bat. I promise you, there are very few children that can. If they’ve eaten junk food all weekend and you suddenly serve a quinoa salad for Monday’s dinner, you’re in for a rough night.
Take baby steps with kids. A great place to start is by adding an extra plant-based side or two to meals that you are already serving. Essentially crowding out the foods you want to eventually eliminate. This way, it doesn’t seem so restrictive to them. You’re allowing them to become comfortable with new food items before removing anything they are used to. This will be less stress on all of you. This is a great time to experiment with new foods and recipes. The nice part is, you can experiment with a bit of a safety net. If the new recipe isn’t a hit, there are some more familiar items on the plate that they can fall back on.
There are some swaps you can make early on that your kids may not even notice. Nowadays, there are so many varieties of non-dairy milk on the market that you can really take your pick. Try swapping in soy milk or almond milk instead of cow’s milk. If those aren’t a hit, there are many others to try: oat milk, hemp milk, rice milk, cashew milk, the list goes on. You can even swap out those chicken fingers you have hiding in your freezer for a soy-based version.
While ideally, you don’t want to be eating a lot of processed foods (even vegan processed foods), they can certainly get you over the hump while making the transition with little ones. Other simple swaps can include brown rice in place of white rice and whole wheat or brown rice pasta in place of white pasta (check the ingredients, many are made without eggs now). You can even make some dairy-free cheese sauces that you can use in place of the old stuff. This goes for family favourites too. Things like pancakes and baked goods can often be adjusted to a plant-based version with just a couple of simple substitutions. Unless they are budding chefs with a super sensitive palate, they likely won’t even notice.
Be Sneaky If You Have To!
There is no full disclosure requirement when it comes to what you serve your kids to eat. Grab a blender and use this to your advantage. You can hide a crazy amount of healthy goodness in a marinara sauce. Think lentils, sweet potato, bell peppers, greens and more. Dice them up nice and small and simmer in your favourite marinara sauce. If you think they’ll notice the change in texture, just puree it up and serve with a smile. Not that crazy, twitchy smile that screams “I’ve just hidden 42 vegetables in this sauce and I dare you to notice.” They will smell you coming a mile away. Play it cool, act natural, you got this.
The same goes for smoothies. You can fill them with greens, fruits, seeds, nut butter, veggies, whatever. Anything goes, really. Just keep an eye on proportions so it will still taste good. Use some nice and ripe (think brown and spotty) bananas for sweetness. This will help cover up the flavour of the greens. Throw in some flax, hemp or chia seeds for some omega-3 fats and blend it all up. If your smoothie comes out green and your child is likely to balk at the colour, throw some cocoa powder in there and make it a chocolate smoothie. Most cocoa powders contain no sugar but add a nice chocolate flavour, so throw some in there and call it a win!
Dessert is another awesome place to sneak in some good foods. Freeze up some fruit (including those spotty bananas) and blend with a splash of non-dairy milk for some healthy ice cream. Chocolate comes to the rescue again here, you can slip sweet potato, black beans, even zucchini into some baked treats. Think chocolate zucchini bread or black bean brownies. This is another great place to sneak in some nuts and seeds for those healthy fats.
Just Dip It!
Kids love to dip stuff. It must call to their innate desire to make a mess. Take this and run with it. If your kids are dip fiends, embrace it and fire up that blender. Serve a veggie platter at dinner with hummus or bean dip. Or drizzle some salad dressing over those veggies on their plate. Try some new recipes for dairy-free dips and let them taste test with fresh veggies of their choice.
This works for fruit as well. Let them dip fresh fruit in a dessert hummus or chocolate avocado pudding. Sauces make everything a little more palatable, so remember which dips they like the most and keep those on-hand to help at meal times.
Most kids have a natural silly streak and will often tune you out when they feel like they are being lectured. It’s best to approach this topic with an attitude they can relate to. Tell them their favourite superheroes are so strong because of all the broccoli they eat. Tell them the calcium in kale will make them grow tall and strong. Joke about how beets can sometimes turn your pee pink (true story) and make an experiment out of it. Sing merrily about “beans, beans, the magical fruit…” If you are so inclined, make up a vegetable rap.
The point is, make it fun for them. If you are always super serious about meal time it’s going to be boring for them. What do bored kids do? Leave the table as soon as they can, whether they’ve had enough to eat or not. So, joke around about it and sell the benefits in a fun way. They will be more likely to embrace it if they are having fun.
Get Them Involved
You don’t want your kids to feel like prisoners of this lifestyle, you want them to be your partners in crime. One way to get them on your side is to give them some say. Take them shopping with you and have them pick a new item in the produce section to try. Or start a backyard garden and get them involved in watering and tending to the plants. Have them go through a plant-based cookbook and choose a recipe and then get involved in the cooking process (in an age-appropriate way, of course). When they’ve been involved in the selection, preparation or cooking of a meal, they can claim some form of ownership over it and ultimately, they will be way more likely to actually eat it and enjoy it.
I have so many more ideas on this topic, but I don’t want to bore you to death with a post that’s way too long. So, start with these ideas and come back next week for part 2! Until then, I’ll leave you with this recipe for a peanut butter cup smoothie that is sure to please. Talk about sneaky, this one hides the flavour of the spinach very well. If your kids aren’t big on smoothies, just cut back on the amount of non-dairy milk a bit to get a thicker blend and call it a milkshake. Enjoy!
Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie
This kid-friendly smoothie packs in some good nutrients that they won't even taste. Winning!
- 3 frozen ripe bananas, in chunks
- 1 1/2 cups almond milk, or any non-dairy milk you prefer
- 1 tbsp hemp hearts
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup natural peanut butter
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder, or cacao powder
- 1 packed cup baby spinach, or any mild flavoured green
- 1/2-1 cup ice (optional)
- Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth and creamy.
1. The amount of almond milk required will depend on the size of your bananas. If your bananas are small or you'd prefer to make this a milkshake, start with 1 cup of almond milk and add a little more after blending until you get the thickness you are looking for.
2. Added ice makes it more of a frosty consistency.
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More Top Tips for Picky Kids + Chocolate Orange Hummus
How to Eat More Leafy Greens When You Aren’t a Big Fan
Time-Saving Kitchen Tips – 15 Tricks to Make Your Life Easier
What Is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet? + Double Chocolate Mint Cookies
Featured image credit: Photo by Silviarita via Pixabay