I get a lot of emails from parents who are wanting to switch to a vegan diet, but are concerned about meeting the nutritional requirements of their kids. Since I have shared my experience throughout my vegan pregnancy and raising my vegan baby (now toddler) and kids with so many through email, I thought that it would make a good blog post for others who are interested.
Basically, my husband and I are not at all worried about raising our children on a vegan diet or having them not be able to meet their nutritional requirements eating this way. We both feel that this way of eating is way healthier than the standard or typical diet, which includes meat, eggs, dairy and refined flour and sugar, the main things that we exclude from our diet. I feel as though not only can all of the nutritional requirements be met on a vegan diet, but also with so many more health benefits! Natural, organic, wholesome, vegan foods, like lentils, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, not only meet the needs for protein, carbohydrates and fats, but are also full of fibre, vitamins and minerals too. I think that it would be difficult to feel bad or get unhealthy when eating a clean, natural, vegan diet. Even eating a not-so-healthy vegan diet (which includes vegan convenience foods, like faux meats and cheese or refined flour or sugar) still seems healthier to me than the standard or typical diet and many grocery store shelf foods.
In my experience living vegan, making our own homemade, healthy meals and snacks and raising our kids this way, I know that we are all much healthier and we all rarely ever get sick anymore like we used to. Sure, there are vegan junk foods that are pretty void of nutrition, (like Oreo’s, chips and pop), processed foods (like fake meat and cheese or non-dairy ice cream), but if you focus on providing your family with healthy, organic, vegan foods to eat, (or what I call real food), I think that you will find it difficult to feel bad or unhealthy in any way, never mind suffer from any deficiencies.
I think that many people are brainwashed by both the meat and dairy industries and years of cultural conditioning as children into believing that we need meat, eggs and dairy to be healthy, but it only takes a little bit of research and common sense to realize that a plant-based diet is healthier, not only for your body, but for your mind and spirit as well (and for the animals and the environment too, or course). I think that once you take the plunge and face that initial fear of letting go of those ingrained beliefs (which every new vegan experiences) and you see how truly better you and your family feel overall, it won’t be long until you decide that you never want to go back to eating animal foods or feeding them to your children. To me, eating this way just makes complete and total sense and I feel as though I finally found what being truly healthy is. Diets will never work long-term, but eating what nature intended for us to eat, eating plant-based, organic, whole foods, that makes sense and that provides life-long, lasting health and happiness.
My pregnancy with Serafina was really great! I started out at a healthy weight and made sure that I ate a healthy diet throughout my pregnancy.
I’ll be honest, at first I had super-bad cravings for junk foods (just like in my other pregnancies) and I did cave into many of them in the beginning because I really felt like if I was craving something, then I should have it (think greasy french fries and sugary popsicles, even cheesy pizza a few times). But after the first few months of having those feelings and also being very tired and a little nauseous, I returned to healthy vegan eating and exercise (walking, yoga and swimming) and realized how much better I felt living a healthy vegan lifestyle. (See this post, this post and this post for a little more on my pregnancy). My delivery was very peaceful and both Serafina and I were very healthy. I had an all-natural birth and she came out in one push, weighing a healthy 8 lbs and measuring 20 inches. Serafina was born at night and the next day Craig and I were out walking already! The nurses watched Serafina so that we could take a walk together for 30 minutes everyday that we had to stay. That is how great I felt after having just having gave birth and I know that it was because of my healthy eating and exercising. My other two pregnancies and deliveries seem like horror stories in contrast to my last experience with Serafina, so I know that a healthy lifestyle does in fact make a huge difference!
I breastfed Serafina for 21 months and for the first 10 months of her life, she basically lived off of breast milk. She was an extremely avid nurser and quite a little chub monster. She started eating food around 4 months. Her first food was mashed banana. She had a bit of baby rice cereal with breast milk for maybe a few months, but after reading some of the ingredients in them (like sugar and many unpronounceable things), I felt sort of skeptical about giving them to her and decided to stick more to natural foods or make my own cereal by grinding my own oats or mixing breast milk with brown rice flour.
She has always loved fruit and so when she started eating more, we would always give her fruit. She also had some jarred different vegetable and fruit organic baby food from the store. Homemade mashed sweet potatoes, carrots and avocado were great. She also loved apple butter and unsweetened applesauce.
Soon I was just feeding her what we ate, just pureed up. Things like soup, or meals with rice or red lentils. When she got older and had some teeth, she enjoyed eating many of the things that I would make too, like pancakes, lentil burgers, black bean burgers or potatoes and of course she still always ate a ton of fruit. She enjoyed the healthy, whole wheat, naturally-sweetened, homemade cookies, muffins and quick breads that I baked. Almond cookies were also one of her favorites! Other snack foods included organic soda crackers or Late July crackers and baby cookies.
Eventually, she got a hold of the peanut butter jar and became an instant addict like the rest of us too.
Nowadays Serafina is still a very good eater. She is loving a variety and every meal that I make, she devours. She still loves fresh fruit too and eats a giant container of raspberries or strawberries in under a minute! I kid you not! And she still always makes that Mmmmmmm!! sound whenever she is eating.
At 23 months, some of her favorite things to eat are:
- Oatmeal with a bit of almond milk and maple syrup
- Fresh Fruit (especially berries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas and apples)
- Red lentils
- Whole wheat, corn or brown rice pasta and tomato sauce
- Wheat Puff Cereal
- Whole wheat bread with margarine and jam and/or peanut butter
- Any pancake, muffin or quick bread recipe (especially Banana Bread)
- Taco Casserole
- Spaghetti and Lentil Balls
- Bell Pepper and Black Bean Chili
- Smoky Hickory Black Bean and Quinoa Burgers
- Veggie-Loaded Vegan Lasagna
- Any type of homemade, whole wheat pizza
- Bolthouse fruit smoothies to drink
I also thought that I would include some of my top ten tips on how to get kids to eat healthy! Some things that I have learned along the way, getting my kids to enjoy healthy eating.
How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy
1) Set a Healthy Example. This is definitely my number-one tip. Kids learn by example and really look to their parents as their role models. If you are wondering why your kids don’t want to eat healthy, have a look at the example you are setting. Do you often buy packaged snack foods or bottled pop and wonder why your kids beg for these things at the grocery store? Does your child see you purchasing healthy foods and eating your fruits and veggies? If you really want your family to make healthy choices, resolve to set a good example by choosing the right foods for yourself, too, and model the behavior that you wish to see in your children.
2) Make Food Fun. Kids love fun. Make your meals kid-friendly by arranging their plates in unique and appealing ways. Talk about how awesome healthy foods are and what wonderful things they do for our bodies, enabling us to jump, dance, and play. Make an Eat the Rainbow Poster and have a competition to see who can eat the most color in a day. Call a food by a different name. We like to call broccoli “trees,” and each bean has a different name, too. Chickpeas are “grandma beans,” black beans are “baby beans,” kidney beans are “daddy beans,” etc. Naming the different foods makes eating them so much more fun!
3) Get Your Kids in the Kitchen. Another great tip is to get your kids in the kitchen cooking alongside you. Kids will be excited to eat anything that they helped make and will love to share it with others. I like to give age-appropriate kitchen tasks to my children, like washing the fruits or vegetables, adding ingredients to a mixing bowl, stirring, or (for the older kids) peeling or chopping vegetables. Involving kids in food preparation is a sure way to get them excited about eating their creations and gives them such a sense of accomplishment.
Licking the mixing spoon is always fun too!
4) Eat Meals Together. I think that there is nothing like sitting together around the table and sharing a meal. I see it as a time to get to know each other better and share our day as well as some good food. Eating together feels safe and peaceful. It creates good food memories that will last a child their entire lifetime.
5) Offer Variety. Kids like to be in control. Offering a variety of choices that are all still healthy and allowing them to choose is a way you can win any food battle. Keep only healthy snacks on hand and even if your kids refuse to eat a meal, you at least know that they are getting nutritious snacks. At dinnertime offer two different types of vegetables and have them choose which one they want. While my middle child doesn’t really care for cooked vegetables, I know that she will always eat raw vegetables cut up on the side at lunch or dinner. It may also be a good idea to have your kids choose the meal one night a week or the main ingredient to use in a dish.
6) Be Patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and getting your kids to eat healthy may not come easy at first, especially if they aren’t used to the new and unfamiliar foods and tastes. Be patient while you make the transition and remember that it takes about 10 tries before kids start to take a liking to something.
7) Keep Only Healthy Foods in Your Kitchen. Stocking your kitchen with only healthy foods ensures that everyone in the family will make only healthy choices. Don’t bring sugary, processed foods in the house and there won’t be any temptation for you or your kids.
8) Take Your Kids Shopping. My kids love to go to the grocery store with me, and in our town the grocery store even has mini shopping carts that they love to use. My oldest daughter always helps to write the grocery list, and the girls love to find everything on the list at the store, like a scavenger hunt. Have them scope out the produce department and pick out what favorite fruits and vegetables they like or something new and different that they might want to try when they get home.
9) Try, Try Again. Often times it may not even be the food itself that you or your kids may not like, but the way that it is prepared. When we first had tofu I was not the biggest fan, until one day we had tofu bacon and we all fell absolutely in love. Try new ways of preparing a not-so-favorite food before giving up on it altogether. Experiment with a different cooking method, add some different herbs or spices, and make it exciting. It can take many tries before discovering that a long-avoided food may actually be one of your favorites!
10) Be Sneaky. When all else fails, sneak fruits and veggies into their snacks. My girls love Zucchini Walnut Bread, Carrot Walnut Muffins, and Oil-Free Double-Chocolate Avocado Muffins. I have also been sneaky enough to make Creamy Chocolate Pudding out of avocados, and blend chickpeas into Secret Ingredient Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip. They have no idea that these foods are disguised in their favorite delicious snacks, and often request I make them again and again! 🙂
Another thing we do is plant a vegetable garden every year. The girls love to plant the seeds and watch our food grow. I think it is also a great way for them to connect with nature and it always gets them eager to eat fresh veggies!
I hope that you find this post helpful! If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below! 🙂
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