With all of this whole food, plant-based cooking I do you, may have wondered how I get our kids to eat plant-based meals…
There are dozens of different ways parents are told how to get kids to eat their vegetables and plant-based meals – with ingredients derived from fruits, vegetables, and other plants. I often see parents give their children meals of low nutritional quality such as Lunchables or chicken nuggets and fries, surrendering the battle of getting their kids to eat their vegetables. Honestly, I’m not judging you. I too used to feed my son whatever was easiest to get him to eat with the lowest amount of effort and stress. I would even make two separate meals or tailor a portion to my son’s liking when I was a single parent.
A couple years ago, I met my boyfriend and was shocked at the versatility of his children’s diets. His daughter would sneak raw peppers and onions off the cutting board and happily devour them when no one was looking! I wondered how he got his kids to eat plant-based. When we moved in together, their adventurous palettes inspired me to cook healthy meals for the whole house. Inspiring the kids to live a healthy lifestyle, helping them grow strong with sufficient nutrition, and (honestly) their affirmations when I get a thumbs up 👍on a meal is very motivating in my clean cooking endeavors!
How We Got Our Kids to Eat Plant-Based Meals
Witnessing the flexibility in my boyfriend’s kids diets and wanting to cook plant-based healthy meals motivated me to try and get my son to eat more fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods. I did not want to cook two different meals every night and I yearned for the opportunity to focus on making more colorful dishes. My son was also having some mild digestive issues due to the lack of fiber he was consuming. I won’t expand on that. 😂
There are a lot of things I learned during transitioning my son to a more plant-based diet:
- Be a good role model
- Get a grasp on snacking
- Set an unwavering expectation
- Allow some limited choice for empowerment
- Don’t give up!
1. Be a Good Role Model
Most importantly, kids follow in your footsteps. If you aren’t living a healthy lifestyle, they aren’t likely to want to live it either. It’s a little hypocritical that we expect children to keep their rooms cleaned when ours is often messier (true story), just the same as it’s hard to get kids to want to eat plant foods if you do not. Start incorporating more plant-based whole food meals with your family, and do it happily alongside them.
2. Get a Grasp on Snacking
One key reason kids get away with not eating their meals is that we allow them to snack on addicting foods with low nutritional value between meals. They either get into snack foods before a meal and ruin their appetite or know that if they don’t eat their meal a snack is likely to be accessible after. If you moderate snack intake, your kids will actually be hungry when it’s mealtime.
You can also offer a salad, steamed edamame, or other plant food high in fiber as an appetizer while the kids are most hungry. This encourages them to eat more of the nutritious plant foods they are less inclined to desire. A nutritious, high fiber appetizer with high water content prevents overeating for kids and adults alike, by giving your brain more time to get the signal that you are full – says Dr. Greger in “How Not to Diet”. We keep fruit accessible on the counter that the kids can eat if they are hungry between meals and cut vegetables in the fridge. Just make sure they don’t eat the whole hand of bananas! 🍌
3. Set Clear Expectations
When incorporating more plant based meals you will hear a lot of attempts at bartering. “How many vegetables do I have to eat? Did I eat enough? I don’t like that.” This is diminished by setting a clear expectation. Even with a little flexibility, your kids will try to bargain with you so it’s necessary to be consistent. Consistency is difficult to maintain unless they are required to eat everything at every meal, therefore my expectations are somewhat different depending on the meal I serve.
At any given meal, I find it easiest to not to waiver once the expectation has been set. I often wait until my son asks first what he is required to eat because if I make a show of it he often does as well. If the meal isn’t too adventurous for my son (e.g. things he has eaten before) I expect him to eat most of it, or all of it if he wants seconds of the main course. If it’s a little more adventurous, I’ll ask him to eat at least one of the vegetables in the meal. You will get more of a chance in the future that they will eat a given vegetable if it isn’t forced and presented to them many times in different ways. We ask that the kids try at least two bites of a new vegetable.
4. Offer Choices
When the opportunity arises, I find it effective to offer choices so your kids feel empowered. This technique with time helps them make good choices. Therefore with many meals, I make it “cafeteria style” where they need to pick a set number of vegetables or toppings out of several healthy options that I provide. This works with tacos, buddha bowls, topping oatmeal, etc. I also have our kids make their own lunches for school and require a fruit/vegetable be included. After a while, you’ll be surprised which fruits and vegetables your child picks! My mind is still blown that my son now loves avocado! 🥑
5. Don’t Give Up!
There will be numerous occasions where you will want to cave and give in to their bartering or just stop bothering to make healthy whole food plant-based meals. Kids remember when you offer them a loophole, so avoid changing your mind once once the expectation has been set. Remember, you are doing something healthy and loving for your kids cooking them nutritious meals. Give it time and they will come around to loving the variety and flavor in plant foods. These good habits will likely follow them into adulthood and be passed to their children as well.
There will be times when you are too busy or tired, and end up throwing in the towel for the night by throwing some pizza rolls into the oven. You don’t have to be perfect. I have these kind of nights too. These are the nights where frozen mixed vegetables and salad kits come to the rescue. Forgive yourself and set a goal to make a healthy, whole food plant-based meals the next day.
Is a 100% Plant-Based Diet Safe for Kids?
I don’t have the authority to answer whether a 100% plant-based diet is smart for kids and the subject is quite controversial. I do know without doubt that eating more plant foods than animal foods is tremendously beneficial for people of all ages. Your family doesn’t have to completely give up meat and dairy altogether, especially if that will deter you from eating more plant foods. “Eating a mostly plant-based diet leaves room for flexibility, which can remove a lot of stress around eating. I’m a big fan of flexibility when it comes to food ― no need to try to be perfect.” – Plant-Based Diet: Everything You Need To Know. This applies to kids too. A mostly plant-based diet is definitely safe for kids.
Eating a mostly plant-based diet leaves room for flexibility, which can remove a lot of stress around eating.
I personally eat a 99% plant-based diet, while our kids have many vegan, vegetarian, and varied meals. I find that I stick to habits better if I go “all in”. I have also read a lot of propaganda on the subject, which makes meat and dairy less appetizing to me. However, I don’t have the credibility to claim that my diet is healthier than one with animal products.
I advise that you take a close look at your diet, as processed ingredients are in a majority of foods at the grocery store; and honestly, who can have just one serving of cheese? I avoid addictive foods because they are harder to moderate. I doubt you would have to test that with kids. If you leave a box of Cheez-Its out on the counter, the whole box will surely get devoured. Fruit is out on our counter at all times, and while it is eaten in abundance, it’s clear that apples aren’t nearly as addicting as Cheez-Its.
This Is Only Part One
Some food bloggers that I collaborate with submitted some of their favorite kid-friendly plant-based recipes to share. I quickly realized I have a lot to say on the subject of getting your kids to eat their vegetables! Be on the lookout for Part Two where I share my own and my friends favorite kid-friendly plant-based recipes. Sign up for my newsletter and you will be alerted when I release those recipes from many other food bloggers later this week!
In the meantime, here’s a plant-based recipe for kids teaser…
Date Energy Bars Recipe – Cherry Chocolate Coconut Cashew Cereal ♥
These date bars make for a great beginners plant-based food item as they are very palatable – almost like dessert! Kids will love them so much they will want to eat them all! Only serve one to kids for breakfast though, as they are labeled “energy bars” for a reason. These cereal bars with dried cherries, dark chocolate, cashews, coconut, and whole grain cereal are calorie, fiber, and nutrient dense to give your kids a great start to their morning. They are sweetened only by yummy dates, if you avoid sweetened cherries and coconut. They are also easy to make and shape with a cookie cutter (if desired) as they are no-bake. I hope your family enjoys these delicious energy cereal bars! Stay tuned for more recipes you can try to get your kids to eat plant-based meals! 😋