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Whether your family are vegetarians, vegans, pegans or full-fledged meat eaters, getting more plant-based foods into your kid’s diet is one of the best things you can do for their health.
Plant-based foods are packed with the nutrition kids need for their growth and development.
Most plant-based foods also have filling fiber to satisfy their hunger and prevent constipation.
Recent studies show plant-based diets are also linked with a lower risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity.
When you have picky eaters however, getting them to eat more vegetables, plant-based proteins and different types of grains can seem impossible.
With a few tips and tricks however, you can add more plant-based foods to your kid’s diet. Here are 10.
1. Start small
If your kids already don’t love beans, you’re probably not going to get them to eat black-bean soup, no matter how different it may look.
Instead, start out by introducing small—even minuscule—amounts like a teaspoon of peas they can munch on before dinner when they’re most likely to be hungry.
2. Blend it up
Every morning, I make this really easy smoothie for my kids and I in my Vitamix: one cup of almond milk, 2 cups of spinach, 2 stalks of celery, one banana, and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds.
I like green smoothies for kids, not as a way to sneak vegetables, but to get a bunch of vegetables and other plant-based foods into one meal.
Making smoothies with your kids is also a great way to teach them about healthy eating. When kids pick what goes into smoothies and have a hand in making it, they feel empowered and excited to try what they made.
3. Take advantage of snack time
Kids love their snacks but most kids snack up to three times a day on foods like chips, cookies and other junk food, which nets a whopping 600 calories, a March 2010 study in the journal Health Affairs found.
If snack time is when your kid is hungry and most likely to eat, use it as an opportunity to get more plant-based foods into his diet.
Serve cut veggies with a bean dip or hummus, fruit with a nut butter, chia seed pudding, a muffin with almond flour and flaxseeds, or homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and raisins.
4. Put fruits and vegetables in plain sight
Kids will eat what’s visible and accessible so keep healthy options front and center.
Keep a fruit bowl filled with easy options like bananas, apples and pears.
Also, when you get home from the grocery store, wash and cut up fruits and veggie and store them in glass containers in the refrigerator. Most grocery stores also have grab and go containers of fruits and vegetables that are already washed and cut up, making healthy eating a no-brainer.
5. Serve frozen fruit for dessert
Frozen fruit is a great way to get more plant-based foods into your kid’s diet and it may pack more nutrition than fresh. In fact, a June 2017 study in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found in some cases frozen produce is more nutritious than fresh that’s been stored in the refrigerator for 5 days.
Serve frozen fruit straight out of the package for snack time or add it to smoothies, yogurt parfaits or overnight oats. You can also blend it up with some almond or coconut milk for a delicious dessert.
6. Re-think recipes
When you do your meal planning, think about ways to swap meat for plant-based foods. Try zoodles, bean burgers, veggie burgers, black bean soup, vegetarian chili, or an egg “fried” rice with edamame.
7. Try new whole-grains
Most kids will eat pasta and rice but those with whole grains are the best. Whole grains provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Some whole grains like quinoa, (a seed), provides both protein and fiber.
Make meals interesting by switching up the grains you serve. Instead of brown rice, experiment with new types like farro, teff and millet.
8. Make “fries” and “chips”
There are so many ways to transform plant-based foods into foods kids already love like fries and chips. Carrots can be sliced thin and roasted in the oven. Check out this recipe for carrot chips on Weelicious.
Or try kale chips, jicama and parsnip “fries,” or roasted chickpeas.
9. Make a vegetable hash
Kids may not eat leftover vegetables for breakfast but if they like hash browns, try substituting grated veggies like squash, zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes or parsnips into a hash and serve them with eggs.
10. Think finger foods
Kids love finger foods and when you serve plant-based foods, there are plenty of options.
Offer small pieces of fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, edamame, small cubes of tofu or tempeh, nuts, seeds, and avocado.