We hear it all the time – eat less meat. The health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet are becoming harder to ignore, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be stress and guilt as we navigate changing our menus each week.
Far too many parents struggle with their child’s diet due to picky and stubborn behaviors, so the challenge to incorporate more plants can be very overwhelming. My hope is that, with some of the recommendations below, you will be able to share dinners with your family that your children enjoy eating and you feel good about serving.
My husband and I have been Pescatarians (Vegetarians who incorporate seafood) with most of our diet coming from plants for almost four years now. We have found that this nutritional lifestyle works best for our bodies, minds, and our family. Anyone can incorporate more plants however they best see fit for their family and lifestyle.
As a quick caveat to the below recommendations, I am not a doctor. I have taken several nutrition courses and have a certificate from Cornell University’s online Plant Based Nutrition program. With that being said, I have more nutritional training than what is offered to MDs. I find that fascinatingly frightening!
All of these recommendations have been tested and approved by a very stubborn two year old.
1.) Disguise the veggies. Now we’re not talking drowning the vegetable in a sugary, unhealthy sauce, but I will occasionally add a few dashes of soy sauce to some steamed broccoli or some melted butter to the peas. By inviting a new flavor or a tried and true favorite sauce to their palate before the vegetable taste hits, they may be more willing to swallow – instead of spitting out – the new treat.
2.) Buy frozen. Sometimes the most daunting part of incorporating vegetables to a meal is the prep work. Steaming broccoli for instance. Ok so who owns a steamer? Who wants to cut the florets? What even is a floret?! I pick up the big frozen bags of broccoli at Whole Foods, microwave for a minute and viola, Ina Garten at your service. Frozen peas, edamame, and corn are all wonderful sources of plant-based protein. Frozen chopped spinach added to smoothies, soups, pasta sauces and eggs adds iron and vitamin A to your dish.
3.) Beans, beans, good for your heart, buy them canned it’s an easy start! Lima beans, black eyed peas, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, etc. Just try to buy no salt added if you can, give them a good rinse and have fun adding them to dishes or on their own. If your kids are into pickles, try adding a little red wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt and serve them cold.
4.) Limit meat alternatives. Those chik’n nuggets and c*w patties (made that one up) may seem inviting, but unfortunately meat alternatives are chock full of processed oils, sugars and off the scale salt content. Occasionally we’ll dabble in the fake nugget world, but I try to buy black bean burgers instead of Beyond Meat and tofu instead of the fake chicken stuff.
If you aren’t ready to fully ditch meat, I suggest having a real lean beef burger if you’re craving a burger or free range chicken if you’re craving white meat. Since you’ll be saving money on the amount of meat you buy a week, you could try to spend it on better quality meat instead.
5.) Think ahead. I try to plan our meals out for the week in the notes section of my phone while I’m making my grocery list. Eventually I’ll be one of those mom’s (I hope) who can meal prep everything ahead of time, but until then, writing down what we’ll have for dinner every night of the upcoming week helps me feel organized and on top of my family’s health.
Changing up your family’s diet is challenging. Knowing where to start is exhausting to even think about — let alone implement. We are doing the best we can to care for our families in a very difficult time so there is no shame in feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated to make the changes you may so desperately want to make. But keep in mind, no one is going to protect, lead, advocate or care for your family like you.
I believe it is my duty to do what I can to help lead my family’s health in the right direction, one broccoli floret at a time.