How to introduce plant-based meals to children

How to introduce plant-based meals to your children: lessons from a vegan newbie.
By Ryan McKee, owner and founder of Elemeno

Like Tik-Tok dances and virtual birthday parties, plant-based meals have burst into family homes of late. The 2019 update of the Canada Food Guide significantly de-emphasized meat and dairy, and Canadians have shifted their eating habits accordingly. A recent study by Statista.com indicates that 36.5% of respondents plan to reduce meat and dairy in the coming year, while 23% are willing to restrict it completely. Searches for the term ‘veganism’ have increased 113% since 2016 – with BC leading the way – suggesting that intentions are turning to actions.

How to introduce plant-based meals to your children: lessons from a vegan newbie Elemeno food delivery

In the past, veganism was a line-in-the-sand movement, pitting itself squarely against meat eaters. But this either-or scenario has been replaced by a more inviting and pragmatic ‘spectrum’ approach, giving rise to categories such as flexitarian and pescatarian, among others.

I became plant-based in October 2020 and take this spectrum approach to heart. I call myself ‘98% vegan’ which in my mind is a little more rigid than a flexitarian diet but still allows for the occasional ‘cheat’ meal. Upon reflection, I would say that my 2% leeway has made the 98% achievable.

This way of thinking also impacted the launch of my business, elemeno, which delivers hassle-free, plant-based kids lunches to busy Vancouver parents. I hope to not only give parents a reprieve from the daily chore of making lunches but also help families introduce plant-based meals into their weekly routine.

Adding plant-based meals to a weekly diet can be tricky, however, no matter where on this spectrum your family might fall. There can be resistance in any break of routine and you certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of making multiple variations of meals each day.

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So with that in mind, here are some tips that I have found helpful in getting my kids on board:

Teamwork Makes the Meal Work

Start with meals that you already have fun making as a family. Smoothies, cookies and even popcorn can be made just as tasty without the use of milk, yogurt or butter.

Lose the Labels

Labels get kids’ spidey sense up that something different and potentially threatening is entering their space. In our house, we don’t make ‘fake tuna wraps’ or even ‘vegan tuna wraps’ but simply: chickpea wraps with mayo and pickles.

Dabble Then De-emphasize

I don’t recommend lying or misleading your kids as to a meal’s ingredients, but I do seek to normalize a new ingredient. For example, the first time we had spaghetti bolognese using Beyond Meat, we were completely upfront with our kids; but once it passed their initial test, we now use it in spaghetti, chilli and tacos without even bringing it up.

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Trial by Taste

Blind taste tests can be really fun and help to develop your children’s natural curiosity and bravery. Choose items with a multitude of options and can be purchased affordably. We recently did this with Caesar salad dressing and, to our surprise, discovered that the entire family loves the Mother Raw non-dairy caesar dressing the most.

Hashtag Help

Embrace a trend like #MeatlessMondays and show your kids Instagram pics of families taking part. You can even have your kids design the Monday menu based on skimming through recipes on Instagram or the good old fashioned web. I like this site – www.mondaycampaigns.org – because my kids can pick a recipe by filtering meal type and ingredient.

Regardless of whether you go all in or take a baby-step approach, introducing more plant-based meals into your routine will greatly impact the health of your family and the planet.

Vegan Baked Feta Pasta

If you’re looking for a can’t-miss recipe to get started, look no further than my take on the TikTok trending Vegan Baked Feta Pasta. It’s healthy, hearty and simple to make. My kids love the slightly cheesy flavour that the nutritional yeast provides and introducing pesto to their pasta repertoire is an added bonus.

Ingredients
I package of firm organic tofu, drained
½ pesto (nut-free if you wish)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
3 cups of cherry tomatoes
½ passata
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
A few handfuls of spinach
Pasta noodles of choice (I used rotelle, which look like wagon wheels)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 F
Add tofu, pesto, vinegar, yeast and salt to a food processor and mix until consistently combined
Spread tomatoes in a single layer onto a baking dish and leave a sizable space in the middle. Drizzle with olive oil and add a pinch of salt and pepper
Add tofu mixture to the middle of your baking dish and bake for 35 mins
Boil your pasta, drain and put noodle back into the pot
When finished, take baking dish out of the oven and add a few handfuls of spinach. Stir gently with a spoon – the tomatoes should naturally break apart if they haven’t already.
Add the mixture to the noodles and serve

Bonus for Parents
I find a little bit of chilli oil or chilli flakes really complete the dish, so feel free to add some to your bowl – just remember which bowl is yours!

Ryan McKee lives in Vancouver with his wife and two young daughters. You can follow elemeno on Instagram or visit elemeno.co.

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