Implementing a plant based diet into young children’s lives may sound like a daunting task but nutrition, as we are learning through research plays a much bigger role in mental and physical development than we knew twenty years ago. Dairy is responsible for over 13% of visits to the pediatrician for issues with constipation, eczema and acne in children. A 12 oz. cup of milk contains the same amount of grams of sugar as a 12 oz. soda. Meat and dairy products are responsible for one of the largest problems among children today, obesity and Type II Diabetes due to high sugar and fat content of these highly processed products . Teaching your kid(s) to consume healthy and wholesome, plant-based foods is something that will benefit them in their food choices and wellness throughout their lives. As a parent, having a good toolbox to make sure you stay on track is key! Here are some tips and tricks to stay on track:
Keep it Simple: Kids just want food to taste good and look good. Colorful foods like orange, red, purple and green are very attractive to kids. Getting familiar with easy garnishes or drizzles, like coconut sprinkles, goji berries, finely chopped nuts or a strawberry sorbet or puree to dress up a dish is something a kids will notice and fall in love with. There is no need to over complicate real foods. Let your kid(s) fall in love with the true flavor of the food. Keep your pick of ingredients to 3- 5 and work with it! Smoothies makes excellent snacks, they are colorful and you can pack nutrient density into them without too much hassle.
The Element of Choice: It is important to make sure you are putting healthy food choices in front of your kids. Much of this start at the grocery store. If you buy junk, it will for sure be consumed at home. Incorporate your kids with grocery shopping and direct them at healthy food choices from the start. At the dinner table allow them to pick which foods to eat, kids love this feeling of independence and confidence. Creating a taco bar or make your own pizza night utilizing plant based ingredients is a great way to imply this element of choice.
Sneak Attack: For parents who have a picky kid(s) you may need to include this tactic in your toolbox! Blending beans or legumes into pasta sauce or hiding kale in a smoothie may be effective in order to establish the taste bud response to want a certain food. This does take time and can be frustrating but do not give up! Kids are constantly growing and changing and once they have a positive taste or presentation response to a food it makes consuming that food so much easier!
Fun games: Of course, kids love games and why not include what they eat? Dinner table challenges of who can eat the most veggies or how many servings of greens can they eat in week, at the end of the week they get a prize. Setting reachable goals over a few days with healthy foods are a great tool in all aspects of life, it is a great feeling for a kids to know they have reached a goal and then get to experience a healthy reward response, weather its food or an activity. Fun names and phrases for good foods, like: The Hulk for a green smoothie.
Emergency Meals: Life is crazy and not everyone can meal prep all the time. It is helpful to plan out the week, but sometimes that doesn’t work out and you need a bit of magic. Keeping frozen and/or canned veggies in the kitchen is very helpful and within fifteen minutes you can whip up pasta dinner or Sautee veggies and beans for burrito bowls. Implying the emergency arsenal takes practice and getting in the routine to be prepared in the pantry.
Be a Role Model: Yes, this means you! If your going to dedicate yourself to your kid(s) health than you should be dedicating yourself to a plant based, whole foods lifestyle too! This makes for one healthy family with less doctors visits, healthy bodies and highly reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and various types of cancer. Kids want to look up to their elders and learn from them, you need to be the one to show them the way! Choosing a whole foods, plant based diet for your family is not only beneficial for your family directly, it is a huge improvement in sustainability and to the environment in reducing your carbon footprint and creating positive change for this one planet we live on.