Top 20 Family-Friendly Ways to Shift Towards Plant-Based Eating (and Why!)
One of the biggest nutrition trends over the past couple of year is eating more plant-based, and fortunately, this trend is here to stay. If fact, it’s becoming more of a cultural shift, now being incorporated into national eating guidelines, such as the Canada’s Food Guide. And the food industry is jumping on board too, which is fantastic news. Baby Gourmet is a pioneer in this arena, consistently creating nutritious plant-based products for babies and toddlers such as its chickpea and lentil toddler snacks.
As a registered dietitian, this makes me very happy as there are SO MANY NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS to including more plants in our diets. Including more plants fills our diets with more vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. It also subsequently tends to lower saturated and trans-fat, added sugar and processing ingredients (because… less processed foods!) This is a good thing!
Specifically, plant-based protein is something that North Americans are striving to get more of. Things like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tofu! Along with all of the nutritional benefits mentioned above, plant-based protein sources tend to be gentler on the environment, more economical, and quick and easy to prepare (which this mom of three appreciates). I’m not suggesting that we eliminate animal protein from our lives and become vegan (unless you wish to), but most of us DO need to add more plants to our diets.
My favourite source of plant-based protein is – hands down – lentils. They’re easy to throw on top of salad, into baked goods, or to use as a substitute for ground beef in soups and sauces. I will often use half ground beef and half lentils in things like taco mix, spaghetti sauce and even homemade hamburgers! They also make a great addition to smoothies and baked goods like muffins (as you’ll see below). They’re neutral tasting, so kids (and adults) don’t really notice them, but they add loads of nutrition, and are incredibly versatile.
Here are my top 20 ways (as a busy mom!), to shift towards a plant-based diet:
Rely less on ultra-processed food: Start cooking from scratch more often – even just start with one meal a day! Using less ready-made, processed foods not only boosts nutrition, adds flavour and hones cooking skills, but it also eliminates a lot of those nutrient-void ingredients that we don’t need.
Make a fruit and veggie smoothie everyday: There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t make a smoothie (either for breakfast or lunch). Smoothies are great because you can pack in SO MUCH nutrition and kids love them. I include frozen fruits, fresh greens, hemp hearts, almond milk, and sometimes even lentils and/or silken tofu for a boost in protein.
Transition to purchase plant-based baby/toddler snacks: As mentioned above, now that plant-based nutrition is more commonplace, there are more products on the shelf that align. Look at the ingredients list and choose toddler snacks that don’t contain only rice (which so many do!), but rather nutritious plant-based ingredients like chickpeas, lentils, beans, quinoa fruits and veggies. Check out Baby Gourmet’s line up of plant-based snacks!
Buy pre-washed, pre-cut veggies: If it’s an option for you, there’s no shame in cutting a corner and purchasing pre-cut, pre-washed veggies (things like veggie trays, baby carrots, bags of spinach, pre-made salads etc.) to make your life easier.
Try frozen fruits and veggies: There’s a bit of a myth out there that frozen fruits and veggies aren’t as nutritious as fresh. It’s definitely a myth! In fact, frozen can be more nutritious than fresh because the fruits and veggies are frozen at peak ripeness. I add frozen fruit to smoothies and oatmeal, whereas frozen veggies are great for stir-fries, casseroles and frittatas. Frozen peas are a great kid-friendly snack too!
Substitute half meat for lentils: One of my go-to plant-based nutrition strategies is to substitute half the meat in common ground meat recipes like spaghetti, tacos, burritos etc. with drained and rinsed canned lentils. My kids don’t notice a difference, but lentils add a nice texture and neutral flavour, not to mention a whole lot of nutrition!
Add tofu to smoothies: Silken (soft) tofu (which has a fairly neutral flavour) adds smoothness and thickness to smoothies, as well as protein and fibre.
Try one plant-based or meatless meal per week: Making it a goal to have one meatless meal a week is generally a realistic one for most families. Grab a vegetarian cookbook or look online for some yummy options and test them out!
Cook dried lentils or beans once a week and use all week: Having beans and lentils ready to go, to throw into salads, into egg dishes, or just as a nutritious finger food for your little one can be a lifesaver. I often cook dried beans and lentils on a Sunday and use them all week! Lentils are easy to cook up – you simply rinse and cook over the stovetop. With beans, you usually need to soak before you cook them.
Serve a veggie platter before dinner: This is one of my top tips for getting kids to eat more veggies. Serve raw veggies, paired with their favourite dips, before dinnertime. When veggies aren’t competing with the other foods at the table (starchy foods or protein-rich foods), they usually get munched up! A little bowl of frozen green peas or some veggie soup before dinner work great too.
Make sure to include at least one fruit and veggies in your child's lunch: I use the “rule of 5” for packing school lunches, and always make sure to include one (if not more) fruits and veggies in my kids lunch kits. I usually pack cut-up fruit (such as apples, pears or melon) and include a fruit and veggie pouch or apple sauce. Then I add some sort of veggie, whether it’s cut up raw veggies, veggie soup, or leftover roasted veggies.
Serve two veggies at dinner: One raw and one cooked!
Make veggie soup: There’s nothing more comforting – especially during these cold winter months – than a cup or bowl of veggie soup. My faves are butternut squash soup, or carrot ginger!
Sprinkle hemp on everything: I’m always stocked up on hemp hearts in my house – they’re the perfect plant-based ingredient that you can pretty much throw into everything (smoothies, salads, on top of roasted veggies, soups, etc.) to boost nutrition. They’re not only high in protein, but also high in magnesium, fibre, zinc, iron and omega-3 fats!
Swirl peanut or almond butter into oatmeal: Most of us know now that it’s safe (and recommended) to introduce peanuts and other highly allergenic foods early on (at around 6 months of age). What better way than to swirl a little bit of peanut butter into oatmeal or iron-fortified infant cereal, to add flavour and creaminess.
Make chai pudding: Chia pudding is the perfect sweet (but nutritious) dessert or snack for little ones (and anyone really!). Chia seeds are loaded with nutrition, including protein, fibre, omega-3s, calcium and more! Here’s a great baby-friendly chia pudding recipe.
Leave the meat out of your chili recipe: Chili recipes don’t have to include meat. Using kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas and/or lentils add plenty of protein, texture and nutrition. Or, make this a gradual change by trying Tip #6 and use half the meat with one of the above options!
Use fruit and veggie pouches in unique ways: Fruit and veggie pouches are super convenient when you’re on the go or just need an easy snack for your baby or toddler. But did you know that you can use them for baking, as a nutritious dip for finger foods, or as an ingredient in a baby-friendly smoothie? Yep! Here are my top 5 unique ways to use pouches.
Make a nutritious dip out of legumes: There’s nothing more fun than dipping! Make your own hummus or bean dip (here’s a great recipe!) to pair with veggies, pita or just have on its own.
Branch out with your whole grains: Try something new and cook quinoa instead of rice, or try wheat berries, barley, amaranth, teff, bulgur or millet. These are all super nutritious and have unique flavours and textures. Baby Gourmet has an ancient grain blend infant cereal that includes many of these as well!