Ask a Naturopath about Plant-based Foods and How to Make Them Kid-Friendly!

Plant Based Foods

Plant-based seems to be the new health buzzword these days. You’ve probably heard that adding plant-based foods to your diet is healthy for you and your family (bonus: for the environment too). However, as a parent, it may seem like a daunting task to convince your child to eat more fruits and veggies, and less meat and dairy products. Don’t worry—I’ve got you covered. This article will explore the researched benefits of eating plant-based foods and easy ways to incorporate them into your everyday life.

 First of all, what are plant-based foods? Simply put, it's not plant-based if it comes from an animal. Although considered an acceptable part of a vegetarian diet, dairy and eggs are not plant-based either. Plant-based foods primarily consist of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses.

Going Vegan?

You don’t have to go vegan to add more plant-based foods into your diet; making one or two days of the week plant-based can be beneficial. Plant foods are typically higher in fibre, which is great for feeding your gut bacteria and promoting healthy bowel movements. This way of eating typically results in lower rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and chronic illnesses overall.

"Consuming healthy fats are essential for energy, brain health, hormone health, skin health, cardiovascular health, and much more."

Gut Health

A study by the American Gut Project showed that people who consume 30 or more different plant foods per week had greater gut diversity than those who consumed 10 or fewer plant foods per week. Why is this important? We are learning- ing that the gut is incredibly important for modulating disease in our entire bodies. Our gut health is not only important for digestion, but for many areas of health. A study carried out by Oxford University found that cardiovascular disease, cancer, and strokes could be significantly reduced by only eating meat three times or less per week. Another interesting discovery is that agricultural antibiotics were found in the gut of people who claimed to not have taken antibiotics in the past year, suggesting that the antibiotics given to livestock can end up in our gut after meat consumption.

Environmentally speaking, the farming of meat is quite inefficient. Did you know that producing a single quarter-pound burger requires 406 gallons of water?

Protein, Fats & Carbs

Now, let’s talk about the breakdown of our macronutrients (i.e., fat, carbohydrates, and protein) in a plant-based diet. You may be worried about getting enough protein, but many plant-based foods offer excellent protein sources. Plants contain all 20 amino acids (the building blocks of protein), including essential amino acids.6 All types of plants, meat, poultry, and fish contain different and/or varying amounts of each amino acid. Protein must be digested into its individual amino acids to be used in the body.

Healthy fats can be obtained through avocados, walnuts, chia seeds, and hemp seeds, to name a few. Consuming healthy fats are essential for energy, brain health, hormone health, skin health, cardiovascular health, and much more. Most plant-based foods contain carbohydrates. Fibrous veggies, fruit, beans, brown rice, lentils, nuts, and seeds all contain complex carbohydrates. These are important energy and fibre sources.

Mighty B12

Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin that is not found in plant-based foods. If you’re choosing to eat plant-based a couple of times per week, then don’t worry about this. You should be getting your B12 from the eggs, fish, and meat that you consume during the rest of the week. If you’re planning to go vegan, then the fix is as simple as supplementing with B12 daily.

Plant-based Food Tips for Kids

Make them fun! Add colour and crispy textures (or any texture your child likes), and include fun and commonly requested foods, like pancakes, nuggets, and pasta.

Start young. Pickiness typically develops in children who are not exposed to a variety of foods early in life. Starting before age two can help prevent picky eating habits later on.7

Offer options. If your kid doesn’t want to eat kidney beans, for example, try offering chickpeas instead. Or if you’re having trouble getting your child to eat broccoli, try cauliflower or cucumbers.

Involve them in the process. Much like an adult, if a kid is in- involved in preparing or cooking a meal, they are more likely to want to consume it.

Call it what it is! If something is made of tofu or pumpkin, tell them. This will remove the expectation for it to taste like the meat or dairy counterpart, and this lets them know that plant-based can also be yummy.

Overall, most of us can agree that eating more plants is beneficial. Getting our kiddos to eat them may be a challenge, but incorporating more plants into their diet can expand their palates and encourage them to enjoy all types of foods.

Important Note

It should be noted that the health benefits of eating more plants are not realized through pro- cessed foods. This means that replacing chicken nuggets with plant-based “chicken” nuggets does not make them healthier. However, it’s quick, cheap, and easy to make a healthier homemade nugget using tofu or tempeh (I’ve got you covered with my personal recipe).

Share: