And remember, becoming vegan (or vegetarian) does not have to be an all-or-nothing deal. It doesn't mean you need to go from burgers and fries to steamed kale and quinoa overnight. Delicious vegan recipes are everywhere these days. Bring some to a family function, or try them out for dinner with the kids. You will be amazed at how tasty and healthy a vegan diet can be -- and how a gradual transition will make the process much more doable. If you're interested in switching to a vegan diet as a family, but you don't know where to begin, read on for answers to some of the most common questions about going vegan with your kids.
Where do you get your protein and calcium?
Vegans get asked this so often it’s actually become a bit of a joke. The truth is, all plant-based foods have protein, although some are definitely higher in it than others. Kids can get their protein from tofu, edamame, beans (chickpeas are especially kid-friendly), quinoa, and nuts. Veggies like spinach and kale also pack a protein punch.
Drinking milk has long been touted as the magic calcium source for all ages, but studies have actually shown that too much milk can leach calcium from the body. Vegan sources include calcium-fortified orange juice, cooked beans, nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds), dark leafy greens, and sea vegetables. Instead of drinking cow’s milk, my kids drink a combination of soy, almond, rice, flax, and hemp milk. The tastes of these milk substitutes vary wildly from brand to brand so definitely try out a few.
My kids are cheese addicts. Help!
Most vegans will agree that cheese is one of the hardest things to give up (ice cream is usually the other). Luckily for everyone, there are growing numbers of yummy vegan cheeses on the market today. We love Daiya for making pizzas and quesadillas. Other popular brands include Teese, Sheese, and Follow Your Heart. We also like to make our own cashew and macadamia nut cheeses.
Nutritional yeast is another popular cheese substitute. You can make a cheesy sauce with it or simply sprinkle it on top of pastas or popcorn. Look for brands fortified with B12.
My kids don’t really like veggies. What do I do now?
Well, there’s never a better time to make veggies a part of their life than now! I truly believe that all kids will eat SOME veggies. Very few will eat every kind that you eat, and if they do, consider yourself lucky. But most kids will have to develop a few favorites over time. Some veggies are more kid-friendly than others: carrots have a sweet taste and can be prepared a million ways from pureed soups to crunchy dipping sticks, and spinach is easily added into smoothies or sauces without changing the taste.
But don’t limit yourself to what you think they might like — have them try everything, even veggies you aren’t that familiar with. They may surprise you! My son doesn’t care much for sweet potatoes, another kid-friendly vegetable, but he will literally gnaw on a raw head of broccoli if he sees it in the fridge. I’ve also found that serving my kids food from different cultures is a great way for them to try new things. The novelty of the spices and cooking methods helps! Kids also like to be part of the process. Have them help with gardening and harvesting veggies or by preparing the meal alongside you. Doing so is a great way to get them interested in trying new veggies.
Some great resources for recipes and vegan nutrition in general include the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website, vegan cookbooks such as The Kind Diet and Veganomicon, and even searching vegan and non-vegan bloggers’ sites for veggie recipes. You will quickly become adept at “veganizing” recipes, such as swapping tofu for a favorite chicken recipe or using vegan butter or cream substitutes to make your favorite cake.
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