Get Children to Eat Plant-Based
People ask me what the trick is to get children to eat plant-based. As it happens, all five of mine have committed to eating whole-food, plant-based, for 2021.
The truth is, this Dad has no bag of “tricks” to get children to eat plant-based. Just a few tips I’ve learned in the process of parenting! Understanding what motivated them to make their choice requires sharing our evolution as a plant-based family.
It began with me and my decision to open an entirely plant-based restaurant – even as I still included meat, dairy, and eggs in my mostly plant-based diet.
Our Plant-Based Journey: 2018-2019
By 2017, Fruitive had been up and running for five years. And I knew I couldn’t expect my family to eat healthier foods unless I served as a good example.
So on New Year’s Day of 2018, I made the change that eventually led to all seven of us becoming totally plant-based today. I resolved to give up meat and become vegetarian.
That decision gradually snowballed:
On May 6 (my 40th birthday), I resolved to eat vegan and gave up dairy and eggs.
On Labor Day, the dietary pivot became a family affair when Katie and the kids agreed to go vegan until Thanksgiving Day.
On Thanksgiving Day, Katie cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, turkey included. I skipped the turkey. At first, the kids dug in with relish. But by the meal’s end, their enthusiasm had waned.
Over the next few days, the kids polished off the plant-based leftovers. The leftover turkey was the last to go.
The weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day had given the kids’ taste buds time to adapt to plant-based eating! They were happy to continue it at home. But, Katie and I agreed that they could eat as they pleased when they were with their friends.
Until the end of 2019, that remained our lifestyle. I was vegan; Katie and the kids occasionally ate meat or dairy.
Our Plant-Based Journey: 2020-2021
Heading into 2020, I took on the most difficult New Year’s Challenge of my life. I resolved to:
- Read 100 plant-based books in 100 days.
- Start a daily blog on plantbased.com.
- Practice MESH every day.
- Achieve 1,000 daily pushups by the end of the year.
With my support, the kids also settled on New Year’s resolutions. One delighted me by becoming vegan, but I didn’t treat it like a big deal. I know keeping resolutions is difficult, and I didn’t want to pressure him.
I managed to stick with all of my resolutions. And as the months passed, two more of the kids began eating vegan. And by the end of the year, all five made a vegan diet part of their 2021 New Year’s resolutions!
No “tricks” here! I believe three things motivated them.
First, they’d heard me read some of what I’d researched and written about plant-based eating in 2020. And I always tried to answer their diet-based questions without exaggerated claims.
But most importantly (as the old saying goes), “The proof is in the pudding.” The kids eating entirely plant-based were obviously thriving!
Even so, I didn’t celebrate openly – or even say much – when my entire family adopted my diet.
My Parenting Philosophy
Praise is the opposite of criticism. Offering either one tells my kids whether or not they have my approval.
When I want them to modify their behavior, giving or withholding my approval is a potent tool. However, relying on it too often can lower their sense of themselves.
So I seek to limit my praise or criticism to character development aspects, such as integrity, kindness, and respect.
Through the years, I’ve made clear that I love them unconditionally. As they become older and more independent, they’ll choose their own diets, politics, and religions.
They understand my perspective on all those issues. More importantly, they know if we disagree on every single one, they’ll remain my cherished and beloved children.
But more than telling them they’re unconditionally loved, I try to show them with every interaction.
Over the past few months, they’ve witnessed me speaking of relatives whose political views differ from mine. Instead of criticizing these people, I’ve stressed the necessity of loving them regardless of their beliefs.
Of finding unity, not division. And of coming together, not being torn apart, by our diversity.
As inaugural poet Amanda Gorman expressed so movingly to the entire world:
“We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
We must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
So we can reach out our arms
To one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.”
I’m a Dad raising his kids with their futures always in mind. I’m thrilled that they’ve embraced the vegan diet healthiest for them and the planet we share.
But choosing a less healthy diet in the future won’t change the way I see them.
My 5 Tips to Get Children to Eat Plant-Based
So, what are my five tips (NOT tricks) for getting children to eat plant-based whole foods?
- Communicate that your approval doesn’t depend on their dietary choices.
- Set a good example by following a healthy diet.
- Research different diets – and share what you learn in a non-judgmental way.
- Keep questionable foods off the grocery-shopping list.
and finally, express gratitude for every meal – and celebrate healthy food!