How to get the kids excited about eating more plant-based foods
The vegan revolution isn't just touching adults - 10% of Brit kids aged 8 to 16 are now vegan or vegetarian. Here's how to get kids eating the rainbow.
With many parents adopting the policy of feeding their kids the same things they feed themselves (who can be bothered to cook separate meals anyway?), this can pose a bit of a conundrum: how do you get your fish-and-chips, burger-and-chips and sausage-and-chips loving child to eat a more plant-based diet?
It might be easier than you think: turns out that kids these days are choosing to ditch meat without any parental intervention. Research from Linda McCartney Foods found that 10% of British children (8-18) say they're vegan or vegetarian, while 44% of school kids are trying to cut meat from their diets, even petitioning schools for fewer meat-based dishes to be served.
Animal welfare and the environment were the two biggest reasons children voiced when asked why they want to eat less meat. Great... except that vegetarian and vegan diets can be tricky enough for adults to get right (you need to be disciplined about eating balanced meals and taking any supplements you're not getting through food).
While plant-based diets which include a variety of whole foods can be suitable and healthy for every age and life stage, you need to be careful before you completely go vegan (and may want to consult a nutritionist or specialist to ensure you and your kids are getting all of the essential nutrients).
Keen for the kids to eat more veg? Now that, we can help with - eating plant-based has never been easier. Here are the tips, resources and places to check out to get your kids eating the rainbow.
The Vegan Kitchen cookbook
Top tips for plant-based swaps
Rose Glover, nutritionist and author (with Laura Nickoll) of The Vegan Kitchen: Over 100 Essential Ingredients for Your Plant-Based Diet, a handbook covering essential ingredients, nutritional info, recipes and more for new vegans, gives Culture Whisper her best tips and tricks for getting your kids to eat more meat-free meals (these really work since she's done them with her own toddler!).
- Simple swaps: Try making vegan versions of their favourite meals. For example, instead of traditional spaghetti Bolognese or Shepherd's pie, try making one with lentils instead of beef. Or make a batch of macaroni cheese using nutritional yeast (for that cheesy flavour) and blending some butternut squash into the mix for some extra nutrients and colour.
- Use fortified milk: If you are taking cow’s milk out of their diet, be sure to replace it with a fortified alternative such as soya or pea milk that has added calcium, vitamin D and B12 and ideally iodine, too.
- Load up on fruit and veggies: It may seem obvious but it’s important to get a variety of veggies and colours into the diet. With fussy eaters, use some veggie purees blended and concealed into foods they like. You can do a red veg combo by frying red pepper, red onion, courgette and swede in some olive oil before blending. Use in baked beans and spaghetti. A green veg combo (cauliflower, courgette, spinach, broccoli) can be added to mashed potato, curries, pancakes and pies.
- Picky eater? Know a kid who only wants to eat white or beige foods (don't we all?). Make a white veg combo by blending steamed potato, celeriac and cauliflower with a little low salt stock or water. Add to pancakes, waffles, bread recipes and muffins.
- Talk and teach: Teach them about foods and make them interested in how good they are for them, e.g. did you know broccoli helps you build strong bones?
- Take it slowly: If you are encouraging older kids to eat more plant-based introduce veg or a new food one by one – try to see it as a long term goal rather than meal by meal. Pushing them too quickly can backfire.
- Supplement B12: Any vegan child will need a vitamin B12 supplement - there simply isn’t enough of this essential vitamin in plant foods. If you have a really fussy eater, a good multi-vitamin/mineral would be a good idea.
- Try and get a source of protein in at every meal: Plant protein sources include all types of beans and lentils, soya products like tofu and soya yoghurt, nuts and seeds. For example, morning porridge could have a sprinkling of chia, flax or sunflower seeds or you could include cubes of tofu in the stir-fry or beans whizzed up in soups.
- Aim for whole-grains instead of white refined grains: They contain far more nutrition such as fibre, B-vitamins and minerals, and don’t affect blood sugar balance as much - helping you avoid that mid afternoon crash (and cranky kids!). Whole grains include brown rice, wholemeal bread and wholemeal pasta.
- Avoid vegan junk food: There are plenty of vegan alternatives to everyday foods such as vegan ‘mince’ or vegan ‘meatballs’. These are useful and fine to have every now and then, but aim to have processed foods like this in moderation. Instead bulk cook bean burgers, lentil bolognaise, bean stews, chillis and mild curries you can throw in the oven to heat through on weeknights.
ALMA deli offers plant-based cooking for kids
Classes and activities to get the kids more plant-minded
We're constantly shown statistics that indicate children are still confused about where food comes from, so the more we can do to teach them, the better. London has plenty of opportunities for keen gardeners to pick up a trick or two, and even Hillary and Chelsea Clinton have a children's book coming out in 2020, Grandma's Gardens, that celebrates the magic of nature and gardening.
If your child is motivated by animal welfare or the environment, there are tons of eco-themed exhibitions and activities around London that can get your children inspired and educated about the reasons they might want to skip the beef burger every now and again. We're especially excited about the Mushrooms exhibition at Somerset House, which should have us obsessing over all things fungi.
While kids' cooking classes abound in the city, we've found a rather unique destination teaching kids to love - and make - plant-based cuisine: ALMA Deli in Belgravia, where kids can learn to make plant-based dishes that are organic, seasonal, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free and sugar-free (there's also a lovely garden space so children can see where the food comes from).
At ALMA, children learn to explore different flavours in the cooking class with food-based characters (e.g. Mr. Good Fat, an avocado), and they cook a breakfast, main course and dessert. They also cook with the colours of the rainbow, creating their own plate of seasonal vegetables and fruit, with consciousness, learning that they can't have certain berries on the cake because they're not in season.
Even better? You can take home delicious, plant-based snacks and even get ALMA foods delivered straight to your door for any meals you require. There are also cooking classes available for parents with babes at the weaning stage.