My husband and I have recently started eating a plant-based diet. Our kids are 5, 7, 15,and 17. All except our 15 year old son have been fairly picky eaters from the beginning, and meals have always meant making modifications to make everybody happy. They are really not very good with veggies, and none of them like salads. Now that I have become aware of the poor quality and dangers of mainstream processed foods, I don't want to be feeding that stuff to my kids either. I don't know how to handle the transition. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks are pretty easy to do, but I'm stuck on how to handle dinners. I am trying lots of recipes and making delicious meals. I don't want to keep buying chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. I don't want to feed them junk and I don't want to spend my money buying that stuff anymore. The younger two I feel I have more control over, but it won't be without complaint and probably tears. Last night we had black bean burgers, sweet potato fries, carrots sticks, olives, and fruit salad. 5 y.o ate 1/4 of a burger and fruit. 7yo ate a bun with cheddar cheese in it (she has never eaten meat and cheese is her usual substitute), veggies and fruit. 15 yo ate one bite of burger then just ate the bun and some fruit, and an hour or so later cooked himself some chicken nuggets he found in the freezer. 17 yo ate just a cheese bun (typical for her - she's not a fruit or veggie eater). I feel like the teenagers are old enough to have some say-so in how they eat, and they are both very adamant that they do not want to be vegetarian. I need some help! How do I make this transition?
Kelly - Labor & Delivery RN, IBCLC, Wife of 22 years, Mom to 4
Proud Surrogate Mommy
Hmmm. That's challenging. I think you're right in saying that the teenagers are old enough to have a say in what they eat. That being said, they are also old enough to understand your concerns about eating a high quality vegetable based diet. Maybe you can incorporate them into making decisions about what to have for dinner, and perhaps give them the responsibility to plan and cook dinner a few times a week. Could you work together, talk, look through cookbooks, go shopping together and figure out some meals that were healthy, vegetarian and desirable for all concerned?
Maybe you could say that they could eat as they chose when out of the house, but that the food that you provided would be vegetarian?
Some ideas for meals that might be appealing to teenagers:
-a big salad with lots of veggies, fried tofu, hard boiled eggs (if you eat eggs), and bread
-homemade pizza and salad
-minestrone soup and bread
-chili, salad, baked potatoes or cornbread
-split pea soup with dumplings and steamed veggies
Teenagers are so challenging because they're old enough to make their own food decisions.
I think making sure that the food is tasty is the key for them. You may have to "hide" the veggies in the beginning.
If they like macaroni & cheese, here's an excellent vegan one from Veg News. I tried this recipe on my extended family (meat-eaters) and they enjoyed it. I also did a Youtube video making it and got several comments from non-vegans saying how good it is.
You can also make green smoothies-spinach (you don't taste it), strawberries, almond milk, and other fruit for their snacks.
What were some of your meals that were most successful for the whole family before? We might be able to brainstorm veg dishes with similar flavors and qualities.
Some meal ideas:
spaghetti (can add grated carrots/zucchini to marinara sauce)
ditto the veg chili with baked potatoes
homemade fried rice
veg tacos (there's a lentil veg taco filling recipe) with toppings
spinach artichoke dip, or a spinach sour cream dip is good (for snacks, or part of a meal) and good way to hide extra veggies
tomato soup & grilled cheese
I say keep it simple.
pasta w tomato sauce(either use tvp or keep it w just veggies and parm on top)
pasta w alfredo sauce
quasadillas(reg cheese or dairy free)
mac and cheese
soups of all sorts
fun sandwiches like roasted veg paninis and gourmet grilled cheese w reg fries to start(cut ur own potatoes and bake)
breakfast for dinner(pancakes,potatoes,eggs)
i think theyre prob nervous around such new food. Black bean burgers are a big change frm a reg beef burger.
I would take the transition slower. To go from a meat eating household to a vegetarian one so quickly is understandably hard on the teenagers. Especially since they don't eat a lot of veggies already. I'd work on making a vegetarian dish every night, with a meat side dish 3-4 nights a week at first, and slowly cut back over time. Side dish being a small piece of beef, chicken or fish baked, grilled or sautéed. That way the teens get their meat, and you all get a veggie main meal.
Like a PP said, I'd get them involved in the planning and making of the food. And with the veggies, try making them a couple of different ways on the same night and have taste tests to see how they like them best. For example, do they like broccoli steamed and tossed with olive oil, or olive oil and lemon juice? Do they like it roasted? Roasted, steamed or boiled asparagus? Roasted brussels sprouts or thinly sliced and sautéed?
How about making dipping sauces for the veggies? Hummus, homemade aioli, yogurt based dip? Plenty of options out there.
I like some of the simple meal ideas (especially spaghetti and the smoothie) listed so far. Still, the dinner you made sounds yummy. What's funny to me is that chicken nuggets seem so gross that it's hard to believe they are a favorite food of "picky" kids; of course, they are for many.
You could try asking the teenagers to find a vegan dinner recipe that they would like to try, and cook it together. I have noticed that people who like to cook are rarely picky eaters. Even if they got involved with non-vegan cooking (which I know is not the goal), they would probably enjoy a lot more vegetables in the end.
How do you make the transition? Gradually.
Mealtimes can be such an important bonding time for family (and all the research shows that shared meals leads to all kinds of good things like better grades, lower propensity to turn to drink and drugs, familial harmony) that to turn them into a battleground would be a real shame. We are nourished not only by the food but also the contact at mealtimes.
However, I can totally identify with your wish to bring better food to the table and for that food to be greeted with cries of delight and then consumed with relish! My teenager would live on toast and cereal if left to his own devices. My little girl would live on cheese sandwiches and anything sweet. So I have to seduce them into the healthier eating options by initially bringing them in alongside what they yearn. Grated carrot and lemon juice, banana and almond butter smoothies, cucumber marinated in lemon and ginger all seem to be acceptable now that they've become regular visitors to our table. I also make a huge salad and it's amazing what a few croutons sprinkled on top can do to add to its appeal.
Oh and another thing I use a lot, and this one works a treat with the teens too, is to begin meal preparation by making an appealing platter of raw chopped fruit and veggies, add some nuts, raisins and dried coconut, so that when they inevitably trail in, on the prowl for something to swipe before the dinner is ready, there is sits innocently awaiting their snaffling.
Good luck and I'd love to hear how it goes.
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