I was at the grocery store with my son yesterday and I asked him which vegetables we should buy. Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli? I asked. He chose all of them. Plus asparagus, cherry tomatoes, peppers and avocado. It wasn’t along ago that he didn’t eat much aside from cucumber but I’m glad to report he’s broadened his taste.
So how did I get my picky eater to eat more than just cucumbers and white rice? Obviously there were many factors and it helped to have a big sister who loves vegetables. But there are two things that I credit the most with his transformation to a little rabbit.
My vegetable garden
I have a vegetable garden. And the kids help me choose what to plant and they’re welcome to eat anything from the garden at any time (as long as I get the first ripe tomato). There was a year that (thanks to my daughter) we planted purple varieties of everything: peas, broccoli, carrots, beans. And that was the year my son decided he would only eat orange carrots. I guess a guy’s got to draw the line somewhere! So the next year I bought orange carrot seeds and planted more traditional varieties of vegetables. Goodbye lemon cucumbers!
My kids get really excited about the veggies growing in the garden. They graze on whatever they find. They eat pea shoots, berries, and they love parsley stems. One year I thought I had a regular rabbit visitor but it turned out my daughter thought the carrot tops were parsley.
I try to get them to help in the garden as much as I can but if all they’re doing is eating from the garden, that’s great too. And when we pull a nice orange carrot from the ground, it’s something everyone is excited about. I think being involved and eating from the garden has made my son appreciate fresh vegetables.
Setting a good example
The other thing that I think we’ve done to encourage him to eat a bigger variety of vegetables is to eat them ourselves. The three of us love all kinds of vegetables and we eat them all the time. When my son turned his nose up at most vegetables, we always made sure we had his favourite vegetables at every meal but we also fit in the zucchini, beets and squash. We enjoy them – and he sees us enjoy them. And I think if he tries them a few times, he warms up to them.
You’ll notice a few ingredients in my bowl that I don’t put in his. Onions, mushrooms, salsa, cashew cream and even orange vegan cheese are on his list of things he won’t touch at the moment. But that list is shrinking every day and I’m proud of him for following our example and being adventurous at the dinner table.
Here’s another quick weeknight meal. It’s one I reach for when I’m really short on time. Chopped raw veggies with beans over couscous takes only minutes to prepare and it’s a reliable kid-pleaser.
Today, I cubed tofu, covered it in olive oil, a splash of apple cider vinegar, garlic clove and oregano and put it under the broiler while I prepared the rest of the food. I added chopped broccoli under the broiler for the last five minutes and it was delicious.
For the grownups, I made a tahini-miso sauce. A couple tablespoons of tahini mixed with a tablespoon of each olive oil, miso and water to thin it.
Rinse the canned chickpeas under hot watch to get rid of some of the sodium from the can and warm them up. The couscous is ready about 5 minutes after the water boils – my kids like the rainbow couscous.
The best part – altogether, it takes about 15 minutes to prepare. What’s your easiest home-cooked weeknight dinner?
We don’t have a lot of Easter traditions because we don’t eat eggs (or decorate with them) and we’re not religious. Rather, we use this weekend to celebrate the coming of Spring. It’s not always here on Easter weekend but early signs are everywhere. The snow is gone and the robins are back with their trilling birdsongs. When the sun comes out, it’s really nice to be outside. I even put my super warm winter coat away – though our light winter coats are still needed.
This morning, the kids played together nicely enough for me to sleep in. And when I got up, I craved this breakfast that I used to make often before the kids were born. It’s one or two steps too many for most weekend breakfasts (and the kids are often begging for pancakes or oatmeal) but with the extra sleep I got last night, I thought I’d make one of my favourite breakfasts.
If you start the potatoes first, it isn’t time-consuming to make. Start by boiling the potatoes. While the tofu is broiling, fry an onion until golden, add the potatoes and whatever spices you like. Steam the spinach and make the hollandaise sauce. There are a lot of really nice vegan hollandaise sauces but this one is so simple that it’s always been my go to. Sometimes, simplicity just wins.
2/3 cup vegan mayo
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dijon mustard
Combine the ingredients. Done.
Because I was generous with the cayenne, I topped my daughter’s breakfast with plain mayo (which I know she likes) and a sprinkling of paprika. My son won’t eat spinach or mayo so his english muffin is buttered and topped with tofu with the potatoes on the side. He’ll eat his veggies at another meal.
Some day he’ll look at our meals and realize he’s missing out when he skips the veggies and sauce but we’re not there yet. That’s okay – we’ve got time. The truth is, we’re making progress and every month he becomes less strict about the foods he eats. Last month, he happily ate parsley and halved cherry tomatoes for the first time instead of just whole cherry tomatoes. I think this summer, we’ll win him over to regular-sized tomatoes. Fingers-crossed!
We came home from running around too late to make a nice meal so I grabbed the veggie burgers I picked up the other day and we made fries. The burgers are a new brand we hadn’t tried before: VG Gourmet Artisan Vegan Burgers. I got the lentil and walnut burgers with fresh herbs and wild mushrooms. Perhaps not the most kid-friendly choice since my picky eater likes neither fresh herbs nor mushrooms.
These burgers are packed with lentils and veggies that are visible in the patty – that’s nice for my husband and me but I knew if my kids were to see onions, they’d turn their noses up at the whole burger. So I covered them in melted Daiya cheese as a disguise.
The kids were not fooled. They topped their burgers with tomatoes, pickles, relish and ketchup and were eating them nicely at first. But in the end, these burgers were not a hit with the kids. They managed to get them down with extra pickles. We liked them a lot, however.
Though they were a bit drier than other veggie burgers, the flavours were unique and complex since there was a good variety of veggies in each burger. Often, veggie burgers try too hard to be like hamburgers and they fail. These burgers were not trying to disguise the veggies and I appreciated that.
The kids have taste preferences all of their own. But there are a few brands of veggie burgers that my kids like. They tend to like the ones that are uniform and hamburger-like more than the ones that are dotted with veggies the way I like them. But sometimes I slice off a square of tofu and grill it with a mild marinade for him to eat as a burger. Or sometimes we’ll make them veggie dogs while we have the burgers. But sometimes they surprise me and happily eat a whole burger. Just not tonight.
It is now widely recognized that a well-balanced vegan diet is healthy for adults. But can we say the same for kids? Kids have specialized needs since they’re growing and using so much more energy on an average day than adults (if only I had a fraction of that energy!). So there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re transitioning to a vegan diet with kids.
Can it be a healthy lifestyle for kids?
Absolutely. I think it’s quite natural for kids to have vegetarian tendencies. They tend to be quite empathetic towards animals. The idea of killing and eating animals can be a hard one for kids to learn to accept. There’s a mental leap between seeing a cute cow at the petting zoo and eating a burger that vegan kids don’t have to make. And I think being compassionate towards animals and other people is a healthy and positive worldview to teach our children.
But will they be healthy?
Absolutely. Meal planning for kids (vegan or non-vegan) follow specific conventions to ensure they’re getting balanced meals. Non-vegan meals in Canada are based on the four food groups: fruit and vegetables, grains, dairy and alternative and meat and alternatives. Vegans can follow this same example using the alternatives to easily substitute familiar meals with vegan versions of family favourites.
But you can do better than that. If you really want to ensure your kids are getting healthy meals, don’t rely on convenience or processed food even if they are vegan. Serve them whole grain, plant-based meals with ingredients they’ll recognize. And don’t be sneaky. Kids are smart and their tastebuds rat you out (no offence meant to rats, who are apparently very smart and sweet creatures once you get to know them).
Sneaking spinach into a milkshake may seem like an ingenious way to eat more greens but kids won’t fall for it – they just won’t drink your milkshake and miss out on the banana and nutrient-dense berries you’ve included. At least, that’s my experience.
Are they getting enough calories?
This is important. As a pregnant vegan who was nauseous at the thought of most food but starving all the time, all I could stomach was carrots. Among the words that would trigger my gag reflex were bacon, beef, any meat, soy sauce or meat alternatives. I remember thinking that it didn’t matter how many carrots I ate, the baby inside wasn’t getting the calories she needed.
Luckily, I could stomach peanut butter, which has plenty of fat and calories. Nuts can provide a great source of energy and so can seeds. Sunflower seed butter is really tasty and I can send it to school with my kids.
When I make meals with beans and lentils, I’ll fry up onion, garlic and spices in oil and add the mix to the meals I make for the grown ups – which increases the calorie count for my meal but the kids like things plain. So I make sure I pour some high quality olive oil over the kids’ food too. I have a canister full of mixed nuts that the kids know to go to whenever they’re hungry between meals. Avocado is a favourite source of healthy fat too.
But the best way to ensure the kids are getting the nutrients, calories and fat they need, is to ensure the ingredients I use are nutrient-dense and I’m including good fats in our meals. This means swapping all-purpose flour for whole wheat (at least partially) and adding seeds and other grains like quinoa to my homemade bread. It means choosing the whole wheat bread and tortillas at the grocery store and getting the kids used to eating them.
I remember when my son was quite young, he decided he didn’t like brown rice but would only eat jasmine or basmati rice. I didn’t fight him over it – I switched to other grains for a little while and reintroduced brown rice again later. He ate it.
The same thing happened with quinoa and barley. We went a few weeks without eating those grains – not that I was feeding him white rice and couscous at every meal but we had other whole grains. Whole wheat bread (both store bought and homemade) whole wheat pasta and oatmeal are all safe bets.
What’s the easiest way to enrich kids’ meals?
If baking everything from scratch is asking too much or your kids refuse to touch whole grains, give your meals a nutritional boost with the right meal topper. Asian meals get a sprinkling of sesame seeds on top. Pasta dishes get a dash of nutritional yeast or a pre made vegan parmesan made from nuts.
What about milk?
Here’s another important decision to consider. From birth, milk plays a very important role in kids’ development. Even at age six, when my son is feeling overwhelmed, tired or sad, a glass of milk provides emotional comfort. A snuggle and a glass of milk will give him the fortitude he needs to finish the day in a good mood. That’s powerful stuff.
I believe breast milk is best for babies. A vegan mom who eats a well-balanced diet is best suited to provide the nutritional needs of her baby – if she is able to produce enough milk. Sometimes moms can’t breastfeed and that’s okay. There are vegan formulas that are an excellent replacement. They’re formulated to be calorie-rich unlike other milks.
Look at the labels (of everything you buy). Almond milk is great for adults who are watching their weight. Not great for kids. When you’re choosing the milk you’ll feed your young kids once they’re finished with formula, choose something that is fortified (check for B12), with plenty of protein and a source of healthy fat.
Comparing the labels of the milks I currently have in the fridge, one glass of soy milk provides 7 grams of protein while almond provides only one and coconut has none. They’re all low fat but soy has 3.5 to almond’s and coconut’s 2.5 grams. The soy and almond have been fortified but my Holiday Nog Coconut Seasonal Beverage (yum) is not. My seasonal beverage is primarily sugar (it’s a treat). It has 15 grams of sugar while my vanilla soy milk has 8 grams and the almond milk has none at all (the kids won’t touch it).
It would be preferable to give my kids unsweetened or original soy milk that has less sugar than the vanilla version but my son very stubbornly put his foot down at a young age and refused to drink anything but the Silk soy milk in a blue carton. We call it blue milk to this day because from the day he learned to express his opinion (and it was early), he refused to drink anything that didn’t come from a blue carton.
And yes, we tried putting less sweet milk in the blue carton to trick him. He’s too smart to trick like that! But it’s okay because generally, we don’t eat a lot of sweets and this milk checks off the other, more important boxes (providing protein, fat and enriched with the vitamins he needs).
Take it easy – and give yourself a break, give your child a break and take a deep breath. Sometimes kids turn their noses up at anything unfamiliar. So you can ease them into a vegan diet by feeding them convenience food versions of their favourites. Most grocery stores have vegan chicken fingers, fake-beef strips for stir fries and veggie burgers. Be prepared to try lots of different kinds before you find something your kids will eat.
My kids love veggie dogs. And that’s okay. When we go camping, they eat a lot of veggie dogs and we eat a lot of spicy vegan sausages. Because packing a cooler for a week with enough food to feed a vegan family of four isn’t easy. And I know we don’t always eat like that, which gives us a pass.
So start off gradually – introducing new foods slowly. But don’t give up. Sometimes it takes a few tries before a kid will like a new food. My rule is that my son has to taste everything but if he thinks the dressing on my slaw is too sour, he doesn’t have to eat it. I know one day he’ll learn to appreciate lime juice. But we’ll never know when that day has arrived if we don’t push him to taste it at every opportunity.
Set a good example
Don’t limit yourself to the fruits and vegetables that you know and love. Bring home a kohlrabi and let everyone taste it. My kids love kohlrabi (I even grow it in my garden) – it’s mild and easy to like.
Try a new way of cooking. Have you ever roasted cauliflower? Broccoli? Beets? It changes their flavour completely. Trust me – roast your brussels sprouts.
Give them choice
Cook a bunch of different veggies and lay them out on a platter to let them make up their own plates. This is my low-stress way of allowing my son to avoid the swiss chard completely. And he can choose the unbroken cherry tomatoes and (as long as he saves some for the rest of us) fill his bowl with green beans.
People often wonder what I feed my kids. We don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs. So what does a plant-based diet look like when you have kids who won’t touch a salad? Stick around and I’ll show you.
We eat a lot of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. We make sure we have something satisfying like lentils, beans, tofu or nuts every day. And we avoid processed foods. Sure, I have a weakness for french fries and my kids love candy and sweets but as long as we’re eating our rainbow of fruits and vegetables, it’s okay for us to indulge on junk every once and a while.
Dinner tonight will be an easy win for me. I’ve made basmati rice and chopped a variety of vegetables from our local farm (cauliflower, sweet potato, carrots, purple potato, brussels sprouts and orange bell pepper) to roast along with cubes of tofu.
Yes, tofu. It picks up the flavour of the marinade and the result is delicious. I drained and cubed the tofu and tossed it in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and a minced clove of garlic. I let it sit in the marinade for about 5 minutes before spreading it on a cookie sheet. It only needs about 20 minutes in a hot oven (425) to get crispy (turning once) – I roasted it with the orange pepper that didn’t fit on the vegetable roasting pan.
Did I burn the cauliflower?
Yes, I did. We love the burnt bits of cauliflower. We like our brussels sprouts crispy too – though I’ll admit these are bit crispier than usual… at 425, these were in for about 45 minutes with a couple of stirrings. The carrots could have used a bit more time since I chopped them in big chunks but they disappeared with the rest of dinner.
Everyone has rice and tofu in their bowls. There’s soy sauce and Sriracha for the adults. Leftovers will be packed in their lunches.
The kids heaped their bowls with roasted vegetables – with a little squabble over the purple potatoes. This meal is typical for our dinners since it’s easy to throw together and it goes over well.
My picky eater recently decided he likes brussels sprouts when they’re roasted – so I guess I can’t call him a picky eater anymore! My daughter did say that she likes her carrots crunchy (raw) but overall, dinner was a success.
Thanks for visiting. Leave a comment – let me know how you get your kids to eat their vegetables.