I still consider my kids to be relatively picky, but they really aren’t so picky when I take a look at what they’re typically willing to try.
My son was 2 when I went vegan and my daughter has never known anything different from our whole-foods plant-based lifestyle. But I DO remember transitioning my relatively picky two-year-old and offering new plant-based options to him, so if you’re just starting out with plant-based family living, I’ve got a few VERY simple tips for you that are bound to work or at least help. (These tips should help with EVERYONE in the household, not just the kids!)
Be consistent yourself.
If you’re going to try to encourage your children to adopt your lifestyle too, you absolutely MUST be consistent. I’m not saying you have to be perfect, by any means, when starting out, but explain your choices to your kids and include them in discovering new foods and making their own choices. Consistently have them help you check labels for ingredients right along with you at the grocery store.
My now almost five year old asks me to check labels on things he asks for in the grocery store. After I read the labels I ask him to tell me if he recognizes the ingredients. If the answer is yes, that is a “green light” food, and if the answer is no, we typically put it back on the shelf, and he doesn’t have a fit about it because he knows. I say “typically”, because I’m not a total food nazi. My kids know we eat healthy foods at home always, and if we want to go out and enjoy a treat now and then, we can. We don’t have any allergies to be aware of necessarily, we simply eat well to respect our bodies and honor ourselves and the planet.
Treat the process as a positive experience you can talk about openly.
Honestly, I’ve tried a lot of diets and lifestyles, but none of them matter to me anymore. Living a plant-based lifestyle struck to the core of my values like glue. This was how I wanted to live, so maintaining consistency has been easy. Consistency will be harder if this lifestyle is just something you’re trying out. But that’s not a bad thing! Trying it out is good too! But then extend the same amount of grace to everyone in your family and make the transition in our household one of discussion, experience, and education rather than “okay, kids, this is how we’re gonna eat now”, only to change back again later.
Having experienced very unhealthy relationships with food and weight in the past, I do my very best to have open discussions with my kids about the enjoyment and value of food, and then in addition, why our family chooses plants. I want them to have a thorough understanding of food and how the choices we make affect how we live and our planet and culture, but I never want them to just have a set of rules in front of them. (I often tell my kids it’s their choice whether to eat a plant-based diet or not. Not always, but nearly always, they choose yes. I don’t condemn them or guilt trip them when they don’t.)
For example, this week I was craving vegan donuts. I’ll likely take my kids out to find one at some point this week! It’ll be a fun experience and we will thoroughly enjoy ourselves, but we won’t buy a case to bring home. 😉 Except we’ll be sure to bring Dad one!
Keep things simple, but with lots of flavor.
One thing I’m STILL working on is adding more flavor to food. I’m naturally a good “cook”, but being plant-based offers new opportunities to use new herbs and spices and I’m still picking up on how to use those best.
I pick up plant-based cooking courses and follow vegan chefs every chance I get!
This is the big one for my husband. He truly does enjoy our plant-based meals, but if there’s one thing he can’t handle, it’s a bland dinner. (what a foodie.) Flavor is also becoming increasingly important to my children, especially if I’m trying to get them to enjoy something new.
Tip: a little Himalayan salt, fresh ground black pepper and FRESH herbs will go a long way!! I find THIS little fresh herb conversion chart very helpful, I keep it in my kitchen.
Offer fruits and vegetables as snacks and at every single meal.
We would totally miss out on the abundant benefits of the plant-based lifestyle if we ignored the rich, delicious produce available to us. We eat an enormous amount of raw food in the summertime, but in the winter time, it doesn’t fit into our budget at this point in our life, but we still eat large amount of raw and lightly steamed produce, (just not 80% of our diet like it is during farmers market season!)
Fit in what you can, wherever you can. For snacks, we offer fruits and veggies first and include them with each meal.
You don’t have to cook every single meal from scratch
I DID notice an increase in my time spent in the kitchen when I went vegan! Washing and chopping produce can take a lot of time! And when I started, I was used to making every meal, three meals a day. At this time I was also growing my family, so this quickly became massively overwhelming. I learned quickly that in order to make sure I was eating enough and enough of the RIGHT foods, I would need to… dun dun dun… meal prep. I’d have to do the whole “container thing” and do a little bit of bulk preparation.
Some people love it, I never used to enjoy it, but now I think I get quite a bit of enjoyment from it. I think it’s because my lifestyle is so important to me now, I enjoy it that much more because it’s part of my success story. I don’t know… its a theory. 🙂 Anyhow, it’s not a cumbersome chore to me anymore.
We have also found simple recipes that the kids and I whip up when we are at home (so I don’t always have to meal prep those ahead of time, like I do my husband’s) and ingredients ready to add to new dishes on the evenings when we are all home for a sit-down dinner.
Gently monitor to ensure success
Lastly but most importantly, make sure if you’re swapping your diet for a 100% plant-based diet, that you’re monitoring that your children get enough macro and micronutrients. I stress this one again and again, but honestly, my kids have NEVER had an issue. At every checkup, they check out perfectly. But I’m also on top of their diet and lifestyle as best I can be, to ensure they have enough of everything, so there’s never been a single red flag. And most of us are, but I have to put this in there because it’s a valid concern. (And these concerns are absolutely just as valid for omnivorous families as well, not only herbivorous.) So keep your meals varied and eat your fruits and veggies, give it the best you can with the resources you have, and have fun!
How do you make your vegan, plant-based lifestyle work for everyone in your household, including the kids?
Ready to go? Start eating plant-based this week or going meatless more often with my simple “Just for starters” list of vegan breakfasts and lunches to do just that – get you started! Breakfasts, lunches and snacks are all listed separately so you can pick and choose and pencil them in on your calendar wherever you want them. Why haven’t I included dinners? Well, dinners are coming to Restoring the Day soon, but for now, start exploring new recipes and have FUN!