Today we are excited to feature our very first guest post! Ever wondered how to set your kiddos up for success on a plant-based diet? My plant eating sister is here to share how she feeds our nephews a whole food, plant-based diet!
Hi Plant Eaters! I am Kayli’s sister, Cara. Before I get in to how I feed my plant-based kids, here’s a little background about my own eating habits…
My own journey with real food and a plant-based diet began just three years ago. I loved all the delicious food Kayli and James brought to family gatherings and also started to worry about my own health and that of my husband’s (Nate). Heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure run in both of our families. Turning 30 helped push me into the light. We watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and immediately decided to commit to 30 days of a whole food plant-based diet. Fast forward more than four years, and it is safe to say we are in it for the long haul. During that time, we also had two kids!
Waylon, our two-and-a-half-year-old son, has been on a plant-based, real food diet since his days in the womb. Harlan, our almost 8-month-old, is following in his brother’s footsteps.
The Don’ts of Feeding Plant-based Kids
First, let’s talk about what I don’t do to get my kid to eat real food…
- I don’t sneak it in (very often). I don’t hide or sneak healthy foods into my children’s meals because I believe that kids, like adults, should know what they are eating. I think it’s an important part of the process of developing a lifelong whole food, plant-based diet. So, I will put spinach in his smoothies but I tell him it’s in there!
- I don’t go out of my way to try to make it “fun” or “different” than a meal for an adult. Once, Nate made Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes. Instead of marveling at the cartoon breakfast, Waylon stuck a fork in Mickey’s face, ripped off his ears and chowed down. It’s food, and he sees it as food- not as a game. I like to think that is a healthy relationship to eating. Now, this isn’t to say that eating shouldn’t be exciting! We make it exciting and interactive by talking to him about the food on his plate- who made it, where it came from, what color it is, what it tastes like and feels like (he loves this because he loves to talk). He likes to say, “Dad made this for me”. Even at two, he is fostering an appreciation for the effort that goes in to what he eats.
The Do’s of Feeding Plant-based Kids
Now for what we HAVE done to encourage healthy eating habits…
- First, breastfeeding is extremely important. It has amazing health benefits for both mom and baby and nearly every woman can do it with proper education and support. Preparing for breastfeeding should begin during pregnancy when a woman can educate herself on successfully beginning a breastfeeding relationship and setting up the support she will need to make it happen. The support of her partner and family is EXTREMELY important. So if you will never be a lactating mother but are supporting one, you are awesome and are having a positive impact on both mother and child! There is evidence that flavors are transmitted through breastmilk. So, baby is getting his or her first taste of the diet mom is eating. If mom is eating a whole food plant-based diet, baby is developing a palate for those foods! Also, if mom’s diet is wholesome and varied, baby is getting a lot of variation in taste and nutrients and preparing his body to accept new foods.
- Once baby is ready for solid foods (no earlier than 6 months), introduce a lot of whole foods- and keep them coming! When I’m feeding Waylon in public, people often say, “What is he eating?”, “Is he actually going to eat that?”, “Does he really like ____?”. Children who eat what the adults eat should be normal! If you don’t want them to eat chicken nuggets and Easy Mac into adulthood, then why feed it to them in their most formative years? The foods on Waylon’s plate that frequently come in to question are totally “normal” things like avocado, spinach salad, freeze-dried peas (a favorite!), or hummus. Many kids don’t even get the opportunity to like them because these foods are never offered! Don’t assume your toddler won’t like quinoa. Instead, give her a serving and let her try it! And act cool. Don’t sit there watching and waiting to react to her. Don’t make negative facial expressions. If she yums it up, awesome! If she spits it out, just keep eating your dinner and don’t make a big deal of it. Try again in a few days when there’s a good chance her reaction will be different. I bet you wish that you craved a variety of healthy plant foods, so set your child up to be a life-long healthy eater! Also, the most recent recommendation is to introduce allergenic foods like strawberries and peanuts early and often, so don’t skip those foods!
- Be persistent! Don’t rely on the faces your baby makes to determine whether or not they like it (and whether or not you will offer it again). Baby may make funny faces or even spit out foods (he’s experiencing an explosion of new flavors and textures!). If he eats some of it with no adverse side-effects, try it again in a few days! There are some textures Waylon isn’t a fan of (quinoa, sadly), but I continue to offer these foods in new forms to give him another opportunity to try! Mushrooms are a good example. He ate them at first, then seemed to reject them a few times, and now loves to eat them cooked and raw!
PEM Recipes with the Little Plant Eater Seal of Approval
Cara Schipkowski is a Birth Boot Camp certified childbirth educator, doula, placenta encapsulation specialist, and founder of Revolution Birth Services. Cara believes wholeheartedly in the strength and power of women and wishes to empower individuals through their birth experience. She also emphasizes evidenced-based care and is an advocate for education related to pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Email her at RevolutionBirthServices@