Monday, July 16, 2012

the reality of raising kids vegan

"Kid friendly."

"Kid pleasing."

"Your kids are going to love it."

As a parent who is trying to find new, whole foods vegan recipes, these phrases are hot buttons. A meal that my kids will love and ask for seconds? And one that meets our plant-powered menu requirements? Yes, please.

Yet time and again, I've been disappointed by these self-professed "kid-friendly meals." Because more often than not, unless it's a cookie, one or all of my children do not, indeed, like said kid-friendly meal.

And then I begin to wonder if there is something "wrong" with my children, because, according to the cookbooks, my children should enjoy this way of eating. So if they don't enjoy it, then where are we going wrong?

But here is what I'm learning:

1. Three-quarters of my children acquired a taste for eating meat, dairy and oils, refined flours and sugars because that is what we served alongside a healthy dose of fruits, grains and veggies. I wish we had started this vegan journey from when they were infants. Perhaps it would have made things easier. But in the meantime, I need to accept that it may take some time before they acquire a true love of most things vegan.

2. My children are individuals with unique tastes. It still surprises me that four children who came from the same genetic pool could have such diverse palettes. It would be so much easier if they all liked and disliked the same things. But the reality is they don't.

3. I need to stop being taken in by the kid-friendly promises. My children (or at least one of them) will love a "kid-friendly" meal if it contains the foods they already like combined in a manner which is familiar.

4. I do not like brussel sprouts. I have never liked brussel sprouts. Well, there was that one incident when a brussel sprout tasted much like a water chestnut, but the experience has yet to be duplicated. Therefore, it's possible that my children will have certain foods which they will never learn to like.

5. I have most success with a meal if it allows my family to cater to their own tastes. For example, having a variety of toppings in the middle of the table for salad, pasta salad, baked potatoes, burritos, etc. and letting each person add as desired. Now that is family friendly!

If like me, you're also struggling to find meals which please your family's palette's here are some ideas:
  • Use the "create-your-own" strategy as much as possible. Have a sampling of fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, sauces etc. as appropriate for the meal served. I do the same for pizza night, except I put together individual pizzas catered to each person's topping requests.
  • Make a list of the foods/meals each of your children likes. Then when you're planning out a meal, it's easier to remember who likes what.
  • I find it saves mental energy in meal planning to designate a few nights a week to a specific type of food, e.g. pizza night, pasta night and my favorite, what-have-you (WHY) night - where everyone gets what they like from what's available in the fridge/panty, which means no cooking for me and fun for them!
  • Check out some of these great ideas and resources available through the Engine2 Diet blog: Like this one and this summer series.
  • One idea I'm going to try is repurposing egg cups into taste testers. When I want my children to try a new dish or sauce, I'll put it in the egg cup with the agreement that they need to try that amount. If they like it they can have more. If they don't, then I haven't wasted a plateful of food.
  • Another idea I want to try (based on something I saw in Family Fun magazine) is to make up "food critic" sheets. The idea to to let my children evaluate the foods they are trying based on taste, texture and appearance and rate the items.

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