At VPP, much of what inspires our articles are the daily questions we receive from our lovely readers. One common question we wanted to address was this one. How to get your kids to transition to a vegan diet when they were previously eating meat and/or dairy products.
The challenge here is getting kids to embrace new foods. Both for their taste buds, and also for their sense of normalcy (so that they don’t feel “weird” in front of their peers). It’s not easy, especially for picky kids, but it can be done. And as it often happens in the vegan world, the answer comes down to food. What foods do you choose? What do you feed kids who miss their chicken nuggets and bologna sandwiches? Here are eight ways to help you shift your children to a vegan diet with minimal trauma:
  • Get them involved in the selection process. Tell them it’s OK if they don’t like one kind of vegan cheese, because there are others to try too. If they don’t like one kind of vegan yogurt, have them try another flavor or brand. Make them feel like they have a say. It’ll help them be more open-minded to the fact that there are great vegan options available.
  • Fake them out. Familiar “vegan meat” products such as Gardein chicken nuggets and sliders can be a lifesaver, especially at first. No, we’re not being paid to say this, but it just so happens that kids are quite easily fooled by these vegan products. I can tell you for a fact that every child who’s tried vegan chicken nuggets at our house has said they taste just the same as the meat kind. This is often a very easy “cheater” food for children that are used to a conventional diet, including your own possibly.
    • Oh, and that bologna sandwich? You’d be amazed at the vegan lunchmeat options available these days! Start with the ones your kids want to try first, and if they don’t like them, have them sample a different flavor or brand. And if your kids are like I was growing up, they’ll love a simple sandwich of vegan lunchmeat, nondairy mayo, and lettuce (on their favorite bread).
  • Turn up the veg volume. The more fresh vegetables (and whole fruits) your kids eat, the better. Fresh produce has a way of helping “reset” our taste buds and making us actually prefer healthier, plant-based foods. So, if your kids had a bad habit of eating processed animal products, you can speed up their taste bud transition by feeding them more of these nutrient-dense foods.
  • Make fruits and veggies fun! If you’re struggling to convince your kids to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, get creative. Fruit can transform into popsicles and smoothies (or shakes), for example. You can make healthy sweet potato (or regular) fries in the oven or an air fryer. Kale can be made into kale chips (most kids love those!). Spiralize carrots or zucchini (using a veggie spiralizer) for “carrot hair” or “zoodles.”
  • Be sneaky. So, your kids still don’t like vegetables, even though you tried to make them fun? It’s time to get sneaky! Try adding spinach to a blueberry smoothie, or sneak some cooked, pureed beet into brownies. Make chocolate pudding using avocado as a base for a boost of potassium and fiber. You can even finely grate carrots and add them to a tomato sauce for pizza or pasta.
  • Get familiar. What are your children’s favorite foods? Mac and cheese, pizza, and tacos? Great! All of these foods can be easily recreated in the vegan world (aka “veganized”). For mac and cheese, try making your own—or experiment with store-bought varieties. My daughter likes the Amy’s frozen mac and cheese or the Daiya boxed mac and cheese. Other kids prefer the Earth Balance mac and cheese, or homemade varieties. Find out which your children like best.
    • For pizza, you can try one of the frozen brands that are available, or make your own with their favorite crust and vegan cheese. And tacos are easy too! Just have lots of vegan fixings available for them to choose from. When we set up a taco bar, we have beans, vegan “taco meat,” guacamole, salsa, grated vegan cheese, chopped tomatoes and lettuce, and nondairy sour cream on hand, along with the taco shells. Who can say no to that?
    • Another way to “get familiar” is to have things on hand that they’re used to, such as ranch dip. Sure, it’s not going to be dairy-based anymore, but who doesn’t love a delicious vegan ranch for their carrot sticks? Besides what kid can tell the difference between the vegan and non-vegan varieties? Very few.
    • There are all kinds of familiar products out there just waiting to be discovered and embraced by your picky kid! Vegan chocolate sauce for their new favorite nondairy ice cream, gelatin-free marshmallows, you name it. And yes, there are some “junk food” items here, but if you’re feeding your child a healthy, whole foods diet overall, they’ll most likely be able to handle a few treats. Especially if it helps them be happy on their vegan path!
  • Keep it simple. There’s no reason you have to be too fancy, or make this a time-consuming process. Something as basic as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a good choice, and usually appeals to even the pickiest kids. Also, keep in mind that the best foods are often just simple. Healthy things like baked potatoes, fresh fruit, beans, and stir-fries. Focus on the basic, nutritious foods your children like and build from there.
  • Don’t be afraid of bread. As long as your kids are eating a variety of foods, breads are great for picky eaters! Especially if you’re giving them whole grain breads, they’ll still be supplying plenty of nutrients and fiber. Some different forms of breads we like include whole grain toast and muffins, banana bread made with whole grain flour and flaxmeal, and sprouted grain tortillas made into chips. Even pancakes are in the bread category, and if you use a whole grain flour to make them (and top with maple syrup and fruit), they’re a healthy choice that very few kids will turn down.
So hang in there, mamas and papas. You’ve made a wonderful choice to transition your family to a vegan diet, and it will get easier! The more you follow these suggestions, the more your kids will begin to love their new way of eating, and the healthier and happier you will all feel.