Updated: Apr 9
Raising two plant-based kids wasn’t easy, but it was worth it! The story starts with Zara, my first born, who started off being asthmatic and suffering from milk protein allergies and eczema. She would rash around her mouth after breastfeeding and had traces of blood in her diaper. The first ER visit for her asthma was a scary one, but that got us on the path we are now. I quickly started making the association between cow’s milk, dairy products and her symptoms, since they coincided perfectly. Then Kassi is born in 2014, and has the same issues. Again my wife cuts out all dairy from her diet to be able to pursue breastfeeding, something she held close to her heart for multiple reasons.
Simultaneously, I was also going through medical issues myself. I detail those in my second blog post. Put all of that together, and my last episode of facial swelling was the final draw. I then discovered the whole food plant-based diet and all its amazing benefits.
When I started transitioning, Zara had been eating animal products for 2-3 years, but Kassi was still breastfed. Zara was a little bit tougher to convince, but Kassi took on the diet change like a champ. She ate anything and everything we put on her plate, without fuss. Zara was more picky, and we had to figure out how to add more plants and hide them in the meals she already knew. We started slow with more fruit smoothies. Then we added seeds to them, then soy milk, then almond milk, then vegetables. None of them batted an eye. Before they knew it, they were consuming nutrient power houses everyday in the form of smoothies, banana nice cream and frozen smoothie popsicles. So far so good.
Lentils were our next challenge. We added them to ground beef, then slowly increased the lentils while decreasing the beef. Before they knew it (just joking, this transition took at least a year), their shepherd’s pie was vegan. Since this was their favourite meal, we then started blending riced cauliflower in with the potatoes. At first, they asked if something changed in their favorite recipe, but believed us when we said no. Now their shepherd’s pie is half cauliflower, half potatoes, corn and lentils. But they still use ketchup, and lots of it. That’s the price we we’re willing to pay to get more veggies in their tummies.
It’s not always rainbows and butterflies. They have tasted McDonald’s French fries before and crave these more than our sweet potato fries. The air fryer we purchased did help quite a bit, but again the ketchup helped more. We used a point system for the longest time, reinforcing any positive meal behaviours they exhibited. Although they would rather eat fast food than vegetable and lentil soups, we always were able to manage with a little convincing or bribing. We still let them have unhealthy foods here and there, but use them as rewards instead of habits. They sometimes drink chocolate soy milk, instead of cow’s milk. We water their fruit juices down. We hide spinach and cauliflower in their smoothies. We hide nutritional yeast in sauces, and sometimes in their mac’n cheese. Experiment for yourself. No one knows your kids better than you, and I’m sure you already have a few tricks up your sleeve!
In our house, we have one important rule concerning snacks. At all times, day or night, there’s no limit on fruits and veggies! They’re always “all you can eat”. I will never refuse a nutritious whole food snack. They love all fruits and most veggies, and can eat as much they want of these foods. We have taught them that the colours in whole foods are the vitamins, and that all meals and snacks should consist of at least 3 colours, and that trick is working great for them. They understand that hamburgers are made of cows and are proud to say they don’t contribute to their suffering.
Although they eat whole plant foods 99% of the time, we do not refuse to let them experience the joy that comes with eating ice cream, pizza or birthday cake. They know that harming animals for food isn’t necessary for health and that plants are healthier. For breakfast, they eat oatmeal with cinnamon, seeds, whole grain granola and fruits. Then fruits and veggies during mid-morning snacks. They regularly eat veggie burgers and plant-based hot dogs. They still eat fries and drink juice, but rarely. After years on a plant-based diet, they rarely crave or ask for junk food, although candy and chocolate is permitted. Vegan versions of snacks are now readily available, and companies like “Made Good” make great plant-based versions of granola bites, chocolate brownies and cookies.
Even if I make it look super easy, it wasn’t. Transitioning them to an almost completely plant-based diet was a long process, and one that shouldn’t be rushed. If they fought back, we gave them more time, we went slower. If they hated a plant-based meal, we probably give them too much too fast. Our goal was slowly increasing the number of plant-based snacks and meals they ate, until the majority were. It took years, but now they eat almost anything. Smoothies were a life saver, as was ketchup! There’s no rush, and we justified going slow by telling ourselves that they were miles ahead of where we were at their age. I ate nowhere near the amount of fruits, veggies and whole grains that they consume, and that’s how I justify letting them explore foods we ate while growing up, even if healthier foods would be better. Their asthma has been silent for years, their eczema has disappeared and so far, we have nothing but positive things to say about taking our kids along with us on this lifestyle journey. Don’t be too extreme with them. When they go at their friend’s house, they eat whatever is offered to them, knowing that they’ll go right back to plant-based eating when they get back home, and for now, that deal seems to work.
We won over Kassi by letting her make most of our meals with us. She measures and pours most ingredients, and really contributes to the process. She really enjoys tasting her creations and we are convinced that her time in the kitchen makes her appreciate the meals we eat.
So start slow, take it easy, hide nutrients in smoothies, or research other clever ways to hide veggies in meals they already eat. Use a positive reinforcement point system and reward them for positive eating behaviours. Don’t be too hard on them, and when it gets too challenging, remember to slow down, take a step back and that ketchup can fix almost anything!
Check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com and look for the “How To” section in the menu. There, you’ll find tips and tricks that helped me on my journey towards a plant-predominant diet. Everything there is completely free, no catches! If you're looking for quick, easy and healthy plant-based recipes, check out plantbaseddrjules.com and download my free recipe eBook!
Look for me on the socials, @plantbased_dr_jules on Instagram and go like my Facebook Page, Plant-based Dr. Jules. If you’re looking for some fitness motivation and are curious to see what a plant-based athlete can accomplish, follow me, @maritimeninja, on my fitness account on Instagram or check out my fitness group on Facebook, called Maritime Ninja Warrior. Me and my wife Melissa have recently qualified for the Las Vegas Ninja Warrior World Championships that will be held in July 2022, and you can follow our journey on IG!
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Keep taking care of yourselves and each other! If you’re looking for easy and kid friendly recipes, check out my free recipe eBook at plantbaseddrjules.com
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