Whether you’re raising your toddler on a plant-based diet or just trying to eat more plants as a family, it’s a good idea to try to think about the variety going into your little one’s meals and snacks each day.
Ensuring most of their meals are balanced is important, but sometimes we may need to think a little outside the box when it comes to meals that are entirely plant-based. However, there are PLENTY of simple ways you can make the most out of plant-based meals for kids.
Here are some of my top tips:
Try making meat alternatives regular foods that you have at home
Lentils, pulses, tofu and soya beans can be a good source of some of the vitamins and minerals you may get from animal products such as iron, protein and calcium.
Make frozen veggies a regular feature in family meals
Whether they’re in a pasta sauce, stirred into some rice or just on the side of a meal, frozen veggies can be a really quick, convenient and easy way to add another portion of veggies to your little one’s daily intakes.
Sprinkle on some chopped/milled nuts and seeds
Nuts are such a nutritious food and I’m a big fan of adding them to breakfast in the morning, but you can always add them to salads, soups and sauces too. Remember to chop nuts really well for children under 5 as whole nuts can be a choking hazard.
Spread on or stir in some nut butter
There are so many different options for nut butters these days, but do try to look out for ones that are 100% nut butter without added salt or sugar. Nut butters can add some protein, fibre and minerals to your little one’s diet so use them as a dip, spread them on sandwiches or crackers or dollop some in your little one’s pudding.
Throw in a handful of chickpeas, beans, lentils or peas to your main meals
It’s so easy to use less meat by swapping some out for a handful of plant proteins such as these. They can help to bulk out meals and make them go further but they also add plenty of protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals at the same time.
Always think variety when it comes to your plant-based meals
It’s so easy to get stuck on those 5 or so veggies that you always use when cooking, but including plenty of variety in their meals can really make a big difference to their nutrient intakes over the week. Think about all the colours that you’re including in their meals and try and vary the veggie and protein sources as much as you can each week.
Try something new
Get your little ones involved in taste tests with some new foods that none of you have ever tried before. You can taste them and rate them together and then decide what you’re going to make with them. This can add a bit of fun to mealtimes, but also gets your little ones trying something that they’ve never had before.
Don’t forget to balance snacks too
I like to think of snacks as “mini meals” so when you’re offering these to kids, try to make the most of the opportunity to get some extra nutrients in and focus on snacks that also contain veggies, proteins and carbohydrates e.g. a green smoothie with oats, greens and nut butter or some hummus with pitta fingers and veggie sticks.
A few other things that can make plant-based eating easier:
- Try to menu plan so you can balance out the foods on offer over the week, as well as help to use up leftovers
- Use your freezer well – freeze any untouched leftovers, but also stock your fridge with bags of frozen fruit, veggies and lentils
- Batch cook sauces – it’s so easy to bulk prepare lots of sauces and throw in beans, lentils and veggies and freeze them for another day
- Get your little one involved in shopping and meal prep - try to talk to them about the foods you’re having and why you’re having them (and not just the health reasons!)
- Give children a choice at mealtimes - “Do you want carrots or peas with dinner tonight?” This can offer them some autonomy around the foods they are going to be eating, and so might make them more likely to accept the food!
I hope these tips make it easier for you and your family to get more plants into your diet.