This past year has taught us a lot about making changes, whether it’s how we socialize, how we attend work or school, or even how we eat. Keeping our families happy and healthy, mentally and physically, is at the top of our “to do” list. Plenty of exercise and time outdoors, finding creative ways to connect with friends and family, and examining our eating habits are all great ways to boost our overall health.
I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve been scarfing down more junk and convenience food lately over at our house, because let’s face it… it’s easy and comforting. Now is a great time to start making healthy changes by incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet. Changing eating habits can be tricky, but with these tips and tricks, you can easily start adding more plant-based foods to your daily eating routine.
It’s not all or nothing
First things first: Eating a plant-based diet does not mean you need to stop eating all animal products (such as meats, dairy, eggs, honey, etc.). It does mean that you can slowly and steadily start increasing the number of plant-based food sources (such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains) into your regular meal rotation so that they become a majority of your nutrition. A good goal for many families might be making at least half of your plate plant-based, and eating smaller amounts of meat. Start slowly, by swapping out one to two of your “normal” meals with plant-based options. If you dive into the deep end of the plant-based pool from the start, you may meet more resistance. There’s been a lot of change happening in the world, so take this one slow and find the right balance for your family of plant-based versus meat-based meals.
Get the kids involved
When kids are part of the planning process, they are more likely to want to reap the rewards (the meal). Ask your kids what they would like to eat and let them help plan the weekly menu. If possible, take them to the grocery store with you to pick out new fruits and vegetables, or start a small backyard or windowsill garden to grow your own. Kids of all ages can help prep and cook meals, whether it’s your toddler dumping and stirring ingredients, or your tween or teen chopping and sautéeing.
Start with dessert!
The easiest way to convince your kids to eat more plant-based foods may be to start with desserts. Why? Because they are fun, tasty and non-threatening (a plate full of broccoli or spaghetti squash can be a bit intimidating if you’re not used to eating it on a regular occasion). Make your own vegan ice cream -- this easy recipe from Jessica in the Kitchen uses only five ingredients and doesn't require an ice cream maker. Or try no-bake peanut butter chocolate chip cookie bars from Love and Lemons.
Keep it simple and recognizable
Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel. Stick with foods your kids already love and find ways to incorporate more plant-based meals. If your family loves spaghetti, chili, meatballs and burgers, by all means, keep eating them! Just swap out the meat and dairy with beans, tofu or other plant-based ingredients. Start simple with Cookie and Kate’s vegetarian chili recipe, made with beans. Get a little out of your comfort zone with quick chickpea bolognese made with mushrooms from Fork Over Knives. Or, get a little more adventurous and try the best vegan mac and cheese from Detoxinista, featuring a creamy cashew “cheese” sauce.
Incorporate vegan snack options
Keep a drawer in your refrigerator or a shelf in the cupboard loaded with ready-to-eat plant-based snacks. Kids love to grab and-go with meals, so take the guesswork out for them and have delicious and healthy munchies easily accessible. You can keep it as simple as vegan yogurt, a bowl full of cut fruit, sliced veggies or whole-grain pretzels with hummus or store-bought energy bars. Make your own paleo and vegan trail mix granola bars from Bakerita or whip up a quick smoothie packed with hidden fruits and veggies.
Don’t let switching to a more plant-based diet be a stressor for you or your kids. Take it easy and slow, and make it fun. Enjoy eating as a family and making decisions together. Some days it will be easy to swap things out and your kids will eat a quinoa power bowl like the one from Fit Mitten Kitchen. Other days, you may go to a birthday party or picnic and eat a hot dog and a slice of cake. Both are okay! Make your changes a way of life, not a “diet” with restrictive behavior. You’re teaching your family how to make good choices, with guidance from you or own their own, for years to come.
If your goal is to become 100 percent plant-based (vegan), you’ll need to work hard to make sure everyone is getting enough Vitamin B12 and D, calcium, iron and zinc found in more traditional diets. Your best bet is to talk with your pediatrician or a nutritionist before starting an entirely plant-based diet, to make sure your little one’s brains and bodies are getting all they need to grow strong and healthy.
You might also like: