Switching to a plant-based diet can be a challenging task, especially when it comes to children. Children are often fussy and may resist eating new foods, particularly vegetables.
However, introducing more plants and greens into their diets can have numerous health benefits, including improved digestion, stronger immunity, and a lower risk of chronic diseases. In this article, we'll explore how you can motivate your children to eat more vegetables when transitioning to a plant-based diet.
Lead by example
Leading by example is one of the most effective ways to get your children to eat more vegetables. Children tend to model their eating habits after their parents, so if you're passionate about eating healthy and incorporating more vegetables into your diet, they'll likely follow suit. So let them see you cutting up oranges for your meal prep and making a smoothie in the morning. Prepare delicious and nutritious meals and snacks with plenty of vegetables, and share them with your children.
Make it fun
Another way to encourage your children to eat more vegetables is to make it fun. Cut vegetables into fun shapes and sizes, create vegetable-based games and activities, or let your children help you prepare meals in the kitchen. You can also make food-themed books, movies, and games around vegetables to get them interested in this type of food. Here are some games and activities that can make eating vegetables more enjoyable for children:
- Veggie Bingo: Create a bingo board with different vegetables in each square. When your child eats a vegetable, they can mark it off their board. You can offer a small prize for getting a row or column.
- Vegetable Taste Test: Buy various vegetables and have your family taste each. Have them rate the vegetables on a scale of 1-10 and keep track of their ratings. You can also have them guess which vegetable they are tasting.
- Veggie Name Game: Give each vegetable a silly or fun name and encourage your child to create their names for vegetables. Here are examples:
- Broccoli - Little Trees
- Carrots - Crunch Sticks
- Cauliflower - Brainy Buds
- Cucumber - Cool Cukes
- Eggplant - Purple Power
- Garlic - Stinky Bulbs
- Onion - Tear Jerkers
- Peppers - Rainbow Bells
- Potatoes - Spud Buddies
- Spinach - Popeye's Fave
- Tomatoes - Juicy Reds
- Zucchini - Green Boats
4. Veggie Art: Encourage your child to create art using vegetables. They can use sliced vegetables to make prints, or create a vegetable sculpture. Let them play with their food.
5. Vegetable Garden: Plant a small vegetable garden with your child. They can help with planting, watering, and harvesting. Children are more likely to eat vegetables that they have grown themselves.
There are plenty of delicious and nutritious plant-based meals that you can prepare for your children. Try incorporating a variety of veggies into your recipes, such as roasted carrots, sautéed spinach, or steamed broccoli. You can also make vegetable-based smoothies, soups, and stews that are easy for kids to digest and enjoy. Here are some other ideas the kids might like and might enjoy making with you in the kitchen:
- Salad Bar: Set up a salad bar at home with various vegetables, fruits, and toppings. Let your child choose their ingredients and make their salad.
- Vegetable Smoothies: Blend vegetables and fruits to make a delicious and healthy smoothie. Let your child choose which vegetables and fruits they want to include when you're going around the frozen or the produce section of the grocery store. Try these 5 Delicious Planta-Based Smoothies.
- Vegan Pizza: Buy some vegan pizza dough, tomato sauce, and your favorite veggies (like bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions). Let your child help roll out the dough, spread the sauce, and add the veggies. Bake in the oven and enjoy! Try this delicious Biga Neapolitan Pizza Dough Recipe and easy Neapolitan Pizza Sauce Recipe any kid can make.
- Lentil Sloppy Joes: Cook some lentils with tomato sauce and your favorite spices (like chili powder and cumin) until soft and flavorful. Serve the lentils on hamburger buns with some vegan cheese and pickles.
- Vegan Chickpea Salad: Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas, and mix with diced celery, red onion, and vegan mayonnaise. Add some salt and pepper to taste, and serve on whole-grain bread or in a lettuce wrap. You can also try Roasted Chickpeas Croutons as a tasty on-the-go snack.
- Vegan Baked Mac and Cheese: The whole family will enjoy this delicious plant-based mac and cheese.
- Make an Easy Vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce, and serve with steamed broccoli on the side.
- Make Air-fryer Fries: Cut regular or sweet potatoes into thin slices or wedges, and toss with olive oil, salt, and your favorite spices (like paprika or cumin). Bake in the oven or air-fryer until crispy and golden brown. Serve with their favorite plant-based dip or sauce like Easy Vegan Aoili, Easy Vegan Yum Yum Sauce, Easy Vegan Ranch Dressing, and Vegan Honey Mustard Dressing.
Encourage them to try new things
Encouraging kids to sample new foods can be a hurdle. However, creating an environment that promotes healthy eating and motivates them to experiment is crucial. Here are some ideas for you to try that may be helpful for both you and your children:
- Offer choices: Give your child a choice between two or three different vegetables at mealtimes. This can help them feel like they have some control over what they are eating and may make them more willing to try something new.
- Start small: Introduce new vegetables gradually, starting with small amounts and building up over time. This can help your child adjust to new flavors and textures without feeling overwhelmed.
- Leave the veggies and fruits out on the counter: Leaving veggies, edamame, or fruit in a bowl encourages healthy snacking and reinforces their importance in daily eating. Presentation matters too, so consider cutting fruit and displaying it in an attractive bowl.
- Join a produce co-op and visit farmer's markets: Enroll in a produce cooperative that allows visits to the farm, collection of produce, and witness how it's grown firsthand. Since we lived around 40 minutes from our co-op, it became a day trip we took every couple of weeks. Observing the growth and harvesting process of the vegetables sparked their interest in the food they consumed. Additionally, they could savor the produce at its peak flavor right after it was picked. We also frequented local farmers' markets, where they sampled fresh local produce every weekend and created nice family memories that my kids still remember.
- Get an online recipe kit subscription: Recipe kit subscriptions, such as Purple Carrot, foster excitement for fresh produce and cooking. Although they may cost more, these kits offer unique recipe ideas, simple recipe cards, and fresh ingredients that older kids can help prepare. We subscribed to one of these services for a few months when my kids expressed interest in learning new recipes. We all enjoyed the experience of receiving the kit and creating the recipes together.
- Online produce delivery subscription: We briefly subscribed to an online delivery service. Our kids looked forward to unboxing it every week. Misfits Market is a service that brings organic produce from farms to homes. The company rescues "imperfect" or "ugly" fruits and veggies to minimize food waste. These items would have gone unsold in regular grocery stores and are sold at a lower cost. You can compare similar subscriptions like Imperfect Foods and Hungry Harvest for your best subscription options.
- Only use positive reinforcement: Negative reinforcement, such as punishment or scolding, can create negative associations with food and eating. It may also lead to power struggles between you and your child, making the situation more stressful and less productive. Instead, it is better to encourage using positive reinforcement by offering a variety of healthy foods, including vegetables, and praising your child when they try new foods or eat their vegetables.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be beneficial to children's health. However, ensuring they get all the necessary calories, nutrients, and vitamins from various plant-based sources is important. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance on ensuring your child gets a balanced and nutritious diet. You can also check out NutritionFacts.org for research and information about raising children plant-based.
It can take time for children to get used to eating vegetables, but the biggest key is to be patient and consistent. Encourage them to try new things, make mealtime fun, and offer them plenty of nutritious plant-based options. Over time, their tastebuds will evolve and they will likely develop a taste for vegetables and incorporate them into their diets more frequently. Persistence and consistency pays off!
Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be challenging, but it's important to remember that it's a journey, not a destination. With patience and persistence, you can help your children adopt a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle with plenty of veggies. Lead by example, make it fun, get creative with recipes, and encourage them to try new things. Ultimately, the key is to treat it like a lifestyle, stay committed, and maintain consistency in your efforts.