Dh and I recently eliminated most dairy and cook a vegetarian dinner 5 nights a week. (Dh could not give up meat for 7 days a week.)
I have been cooking bean, lentil and tofu dishes for more than a month now and dd (4) does not eat them. She also does not like plant milks. I don't mind buying her cows milk but I wish she would drink the plant milk sometimes too as they are healthy.
Any suggestions on how to
1. get a 4 year old to try new foods and
2. help her understand and participate in the changes we are making?
I have known a four year old who wouldn't eat anything but peanut butter and jelly (or junk food), a four year old who loved all vegetables, and liked tofu, but cried when his parents tried to get him to eat pizza, and a four year old who would eat most of the same foods adults enjoy. This is to say, in the case of your particular child, it would have to be trial and error for me to find some vegan meals she enjoys.
The easiest part of this is cow's vs. plant milk. It is easy because children this age don't have to get their nutrition in liquid form if they don't want to. There is no reason to push any particular drink other than water, though you could try making a smoothie for yourself and seeing if she'd like a small glass.
In terms of other foods, I don't know everything you've tried, but most children seem to like pasta. Pasta is fairly high in protein, itself, and becomes more so if you add something like lentils or crumbled tempeh to the sauce, or make bean or tofu balls in place of meatballs. I have also known multiple children to enjoy veggie burgers. In one case, this seemed to be mostly because this was the one time he was allowed to have a slice of pickle without getting grief about it (his parents were very health-oriented), but hey, he ate the burger, too. (The other child genuinely liked them.) If you haven't tried baked tofu (already baked and flavored, ready to eat), that might be an option. I fed a pair of children the Thai peanut flavor at least once a week, either in a stir fry or just heated up, for years. (My experience with feeding children has been as a nanny, since I am just now pregnant with my first.)
You could also try "sneaky" options, which involve pureeing a healthy food and sneaking it into a dish. Most "sneaky" recipes are not vegan, simply because they are not from vegan chefs, but I did find this:
In general, I would say allowing your daughter to see you enjoying the food, but not pushing any one particular thing, is best. If you notice she likes something, make it more often. Notice if your daughter is someone who only likes things "plain"; sometimes, the difference between a child eating a food or not is whether you force a sauce over it instead of giving them a chance to eat it plain. On the other hand, more adventurous children love sauces. Likewise, some children don't like dishes that appear to be a jumble. They want piles of single foods, or, at least, foods that have been made in to mostly homogeneous nuggets or patties. (There's a big difference between a tofu-broccoli nugget in which everything has been ground up fairly small, then breaded to look uniform, and a tofu-broccoli stew.)
It's great to encourage a respect for animals in your daughter, but I'm afraid that anything that might equate caring about animals with liking rice milk or tofu might backfire. She may think, "I don't like rice milk, therefore, I must not care about cows." Just quietly make the animal foods disappear, without pushing ones she doesn't like. After she has a small number of vegan favorites, it's okay to say something like, "It's great that we eat this way now, because we don't hurt the animals."
Thank you Mrs Slocombe for your reply! It makes a lot of sense.
I think you've hit the nail on the head that DD likes things "plain". She will eat plain kidney beans (but sorts out the ones with cracks and puts those on my plate.) Now I realize this is why she refuses lentils or beans in a sauce. Even the veggie burgers I've made so far were not well ground so you could see that it was made of lentils, that's probably why she wouldn't try it. Now I can try a few recipes that are more "plain" looking and see what happens. I also have a feeling I ought to invest in a good food processor to help me "hide" foods. :)
Tofu, disguised as meat, might also go down well... I tend to avoid tofu since I don't really know how to cook it. Maybe I need to have a look on youtube and watch some videos.
She won't try smoothies, nut sauces, or anything ground up. Obviously this is not a "plain" food. (Strangely this rule does not count if she is adding cocoa to a glass of milk!)
Tonight she gave the "new" milk a sip when DS was obviously enjoying it. So we are getting there!
As for the philosophy, we are doing this more for environmental reasons (less strain on the earth), and for our family's health. I have a feeling my DD might be most interested in not hurting the animals tho and it makes sense to wait till we have made the change, to reflect on the reasons why. Thanks for your suggestions.
What about muffins or "pancakes"? SHe might be onto you if they taste funny, but you could try adding healthy things like pumpkin, squash, spinach to baked goods like that. You could just say they are "green" pancakes- try them for st. patrick's day and she won't think anything of it and shouldn't notice the spinach taste. If you can find ways to sneak in healthy foods then you can loosen up a bit about her eating just pasta noodles for dinner, you know? MrsSlocombe gave great advice! Ground faux meat is great and you don't necessarily have to tell her what it is- maybe when she is older you can do more explaining? Not sure how to navigate when she is out with others and you're not present, unless you don't mind if she eats meat on those occasions.
Does she like to help cook? Maybe if she is helping prepare the food she'll be more inclined to try it. Or she can help grocery shop? Give her choices, like a boca burger or meatless chicken patties, and ask which one she'd like you to buy.
We had to go gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and tomato free for medical reasons. Although we keep a few of those things in the house, it's just easier to keep a pure house so we don't have to worry about our daughter getting the wrong thing. She was 2.5 when we started the changes and it was around her 3rd birthday that all the pieces fell into place. For her it is easy. We tell her something will give her icky poops and she stays away from it.
Our 6 year old does not have to have a restricted diet, but pretty much does. It took a bit of time to get him used to the new way. Almost from day one he was asking me to buy things he used to get but didn't any more. I couldn't keep telling him, "It will give your sister icky poops." So instead I just told him, "We're not buying that today." Though sometimes I would let him buy it just so he wasn't totally deprived.
For both kids, I would make the food, serve it, and make them something simple if they didn't like it. After several non-confrontational exposures they would each choose to try something. And usually like it. If I insisted they try something they always hated it.
My son does drink cow's milk. I'd like to get him off it, but he's not interested. However when I make him smoothies, I use half almond milk and half rice milk. (We use unsweetened almond milk and he doesn't like it in the smoothies. Rice milk really sweetens it up.) If I get him a bowl of cereal, I put in half cow's milk and half rice milk.
Created an instant family (7/89 and 5/91) in 1997. Made a baby boy 12/05 adopted a baby girl 8/08. Ask me about tandem adoptive nursing. Now living as gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and tomato free vegetarians. Homeschooling and loving it.