Last week, I shared some tips to help get your kids eating more plants and a recipe for a pretty awesome peanut butter cup smoothie. If you missed it, be sure to check it out here. This week I’ve got some more tips for you and another kid-friendly recipe for chocolate orange dessert hummus, so settle in and let’s get right to it.
Be Real with Them
Let them know the reasons you’ve decided to eat plant-based and how it can benefit them, both now and in the future. Approach this in an age-appropriate way, of course. You may need to simplify this idea for young kids. Talk about how you want them to grow up healthy and strong, and how they’ll be sick less often if they fuel their body with healthy foods. Older kids can hear more detail about how animal products are linked to many chronic diseases, including some of the leading causes of death. Or, sit down with them and watch a documentary like “Forks over Knives” or “Eating You Alive” as a family. Just be sure to check the ratings or preview them yourself first, as some documentaries may contain scenes from factory farms that are difficult to watch. You’re going for open and honest here, not shock and awe.
Walk Your Talk!
Kids are far more observant than we give them credit for. They are little hypocrisy detectors and have zero qualms about calling you out when you aren’t holding up your end of the bargain. Make sure you are modelling the behaviour you want to see in them. That means making sure they see you enjoying plates full of veggies, whole grains and legumes at meal times. If you’re asking them to eat more plants while you’re hiding in the kitchen stuffing your face with takeout, you are not going to have an easy time of it. We all know that “do as I say, not as I do” stuff does not fly.
Support is a huge predictor of success, so make it a team effort and a change that you are all embarking on together. Celebrate your successes together and talk about your setbacks as well. Cravings will happen, especially in the beginning, so it’s ok to talk about them, or even better, come up with a game plan on how to tackle them together. This gives them a more realistic picture and takes the stress of perfection off of them. Remember, progress, not perfection. This is a lifestyle, it’s going to take some time to lay the groundwork.
Don’t be afraid to get a little weird. Food doesn’t have to fit into neat little societally-approved boxes. If your kids like it and it’s healthy, use it! Does little Johnny love hummus? Awesome! Spread it on some whole grain bread and top with some veggies for a pretty epic sandwich. Toss it with some pasta noodles, a little non-dairy milk and your favourite add-ins for a nice pasta dinner. Little Sally doesn’t like her beans? No problem! Hummus is amazingly versatile. Mix up a batch with some cocoa, vanilla bean or cinnamon and you’ve got a dessert hummus that even the pickiest kid is likely to scarf down. How about a flavoured bean dip? She can use it as a dip for her veggies or spread it on a whole grain bagel with her favourite toppings and call it lunch.
If a savoury salad is not their jam, try a bed of greens topped with a bunch of fresh fruit. Sweet potatoes are another food that can go either sweet or savoury. Top with some peanut butter and banana for a sweet treat if they aren’t digging your savoury preparation. The point is, think outside the box. Make a list of the healthy items your kids do like and find ways to change them up and incorporate them into other meals so they don’t get old. Also, take those foods they don’t like and dream up ways to make them more palatable and interesting for them. All it takes is a little creativity.
Make It Look Appealing
Presentation is really important when it comes to food. We eat with our eyes before even a morsel has touched our lips. The same goes for kids. Serve them a bowl of beige mush and chances are good that they won’t even touch it. So, put a little effort into how you put their plates together. Throw some fresh berries or sliced banana on that oatmeal. Maybe some shredded coconut, slivered almonds and dark chocolate chips if you’re feeling fancy.
Fill their plates with all the colours of the rainbow. After all, we should be aiming to eat the rainbow on a daily basis anyway. Try cutting their sandwiches into cool shapes or make faces on their plates with different foods. Smoothie bowls can be beautiful and super appetizing, thankfully they don’t require an art degree to put together. The bottom line is, if it looks appealing to them you can bet they will be far more willing to eat it.
Make a Game of It
Another way to make it fun is to turn it into a game. Why not tap into some of their competitive spirit? The sky is the limit here, be creative with it. Incorporate trying new foods into a game the family already likes. Perhaps tasting a food when you land on a certain square. Or, how about family taste test night? Make small portions of a bunch of new foods and everyone can take turns trying them by dice roll or something similar. Maybe the kids get to choose what the parents try first and vice versa. Or, add a little competition to it by seeing who can finish the veggies on their plate first. The idea here is engagement. Instead of pestering them to try new foods, you are getting them engaged in a fun activity that will keep stress levels low.
It’s not going to happen overnight. Stick with it and keep offering these foods daily. It takes a number of tries before they will develop a taste for new foods. Children’s palates do change as they grow and will adjust as they eat more whole foods and less processed foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat (intentionally formulated to be addictive). The longer they stay away from those processed foods, the better the whole plant foods will taste to them.
Slow progress is still progress. It takes time to build healthy, sustainable habits. If you are patient and easy-going about this, they will grow an appreciation for healthy food and the way it makes their body feel. My 12-year-old will readily admit that she doesn’t always feel very good after she eats junk food. She feels much better when she eats the plant-based meals and treats that we make at home (and definitely is not shy about asking for her homemade favourites).
The Bottom Line
I hope you find some of these tips helpful in your home. The main idea is not to stress it too much. The harder we push, the more they will resist. So, approach meal times with as relaxed an attitude as you can muster and it will go a lot smoother for everyone involved. It’s important to empower them to make healthy decisions. While you have control over what is served, it’s best to let them listen to their little bodies and decide how much of that food they will eat.
Keep at it and over time you will start to see them gravitate toward healthier options and actually prefer them. This process happens a lot faster if there aren’t cupboards full of unhealthy options for them to choose instead, so keep your home a clean food zone.
Here’s a healthy, plant-based treat for you to try at home. This chocolate orange dessert hummus is super tasty and comes together in no time. Great for dipping fresh fruit or pretzels, or even spread on a slice of whole grain toast. This hummus is also picky kid approved! Enjoy.
- 1 15 oz can or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 3 tbsp cocoa or cacao powder
- 3 tbsp maple syrup, or date syrup
- 2-3 tbsp aquafaba, divided
- 1 tsp pure orange extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Add chickpeas, cocoa powder, maple syrup, salt, orange extract and 1 tbsp aquafaba to a food processor or high-speed blender.
- Puree/ blend about a minute, then stop to scrape down the sides.
- Add another tbsp or two of aquafaba and continue to puree/blend until you get a smooth and creamy consistency. Stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
- Feel free to add more aquafaba if you like a looser hummus.
- Serve with fresh fruit for dipping.
- Can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
If using canned chickpeas, look for unsalted. If you can't find them without salt, you can omit the salt in the recipe.
If using canned chickpeas, reserve the liquid in the can (this is aquafaba).
If making chickpeas from dried, reserve some of the cooking liquid to use in place of the aquafaba.
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Feature image credit: Photo by 95836 via Pixabay