I read a few articles today about healthy eating attitudes and kids being fussy eaters so was inspired to write a post talking about our attitude to healthy eating. I have no training in nutrition, this is just based on my experience of being a mother. I have another post here with tips to get kids to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Our food philosophy
A love of healthy food is an important gift that we can give our kids. I love that my kids love healthy food and have started a great habit that will hopefully be with them for life. In our house I like to think that we eat healthily most of the time without being too strict about it. I feel like being vegan makes it easier for us to eat healthily since our diet naturally contains loads of fruit and vegetables. I think a vegan diet can be really healthy and provide many benefits.
Finding a balance
We have a simple and realistic approach to food. We try to eat mostly homemade food, not overly processed, a lot of veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and not too much added sugar or salt.
We don’t want to be too strict about food, so don’t mind eating a certain amount of processed foods like store-bought bread and plant milks.
We also eat things like sweets, crisps, vegan ice-cream and takeaways, but in moderation. Our three year old, Rian, gets to eat stuff like this sometimes, especially when he visits his grandparents. We don’t want to teach the kids that certain foods are good or bad, but that food is to give us energy, make us feel healthy, and to enjoy!
When Rian was younger I used to feel like I was giving him something unhealthy if I gave him store-bought bread with store-bought houmous, but nowadays I’m more relaxed and think that’s a nutritious snack with plenty of protein, fibre and iron. After going through the fussier toddler years, I am just happy when Rian eats something fairly healthy. We are also glad that even though he’s being raised on a vegan diet, he can feel like he eats the same kinds of food as other kids, and isn’t singled out as being different. He can eat vegan chocolate, burgers, pizza, cake, and all kinds of vegan alternatives. We try to give him these foods in moderation or to make healthier versions of them.
Cooking homemade food
I’m lucky enough to be able to cook homemade food every day, which often is more nutritious than ready-made food. I’m a stay at home mother and so don’t have much spare time, but since I have to make food for the kids anyway, it gives me an opportunity to cook homemade food that I might not have if I was out of the house. I prioritise cooking since I feel like it’s very important (and I love food).
Some parents might prioritise other things like reading more books, doing more art or spending more time in nature, which are just as important for children, even if they eat a few more ready meals. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, since we are all trying to do our best for our kids and find the right balance.
I also happen to love cooking, so it can often be relaxing and fun for me and a chance to be creative. It’s not always easy to find time for it though, and not always relaxing if I have kids shouting for food while I try to get ten things done at once. I do what I can and try to make homemade food for at least one meal a day, even if it’s just pasta with a quick homemade sauce. We also eat a lot of convenient “ready-made” healthy foods like fruit and natural soya yoghurt.
I think if a child eats a fairly healthy balanced diet then they will get all the nutrients they need. I don’t count every gram of protein, iron and calcium to make sure they get enough. I just offer healthy fairly balanced meals, and I think if you eat healthily then you’ll manage to get everything you need. Occasionally I will log our meals into an app that measures the nutritional content and it always says we get enough of everything. So I try not to worry about it too much. And kids can go through fussy stages, but they survive, and hopefully improve over time.
I do give my kids supplements and take them myself “just in case”. Vegans and many other people can need to take vitamin B12 supplements so I would advise that for all vegans. Other than that we probably get enough of most nutrients, but just to be safe, I give Rian a multivitamin for children. I take a multivitamin for breastfeeding as many breastfeeding parents are advised to, whether vegan or not. I don’t need to give Oran any supplements yet since he is breastfeeding on demand and gets everything he needs from that (apart from vitamin D which it’s advised to supplement for breastfed babies if you live somewhere that’s not very sunny). We also drink plant milks that are fortified with vitamins and calcium and use nutritional yeast with added vitamin B12 sometimes.
I was able to breastfeed my kids which is great for them. It’s definitely a super food and I’m so happy to be able to provide it for them. It’s a reassurance to know that they get so many nutrients from it and takes away some stress if they’re going through a fussy phase. Of course kids that are formula-fed can be really healthy too and breast milk and/or formula will provide all the nutrients they need for at least the first 12 months. It’s great that breast milk continues to provide loads of nutrients throughout the second year and beyond, if you choose to continue breastfeeding, as well as antibodies and much more.
Avoiding fussy eating
My kids are both great eaters and aren’t too fussy. Rian went through a phase of being a little fussy as a toddler, as many toddlers do, but still overall he ate pretty well and has gotten better now. Oran will eat anything I give him so far and has a great appetite.
I know a lot of kids can be fussy eaters, and there could be many reasons, but some people think it might be a learned behaviour. I don’t have all the answers for getting kids to eat healthily but I think some things helped with my kids.
While I was pregnant, I ate a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and flavours like different spices. Some people think that this exposes the foetus to different flavours and may make them less likely to be a fussy eater. I also breastfed, which exposes the baby to different flavours in the milk depending on what the parent eats (whereas formula always tastes the same).
I introduced solid foods to my kids at 6 months and we did baby led weaning. Some people think that baby led weaning can help to avoid fussy eating. I don’t know if that’s true but both of my babies would eat anything I offered them. I offered them a wide variety of flavours and loads of different fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, etc. I tried not to put pressure on them to eat if they didn’t want something or didn’t seem hungry, but let them choose what to eat and how much.
When Rian went through a fussy phase and wouldn’t eat certain foods, I didn’t stress about it, but kept offering the food occasionally. If my kids don’t eat their meals, then I don’t give them less nutritious foods just to fill them up. I simply take the food away and offer it again later. It may sound cruel but I figure they won’t let themselves go hungry for long. I also don’t let them fill up on less nutritious snacks before mealtimes or it really affects their appetite.
We also make sure to eat healthy foods together as a family at meals times to set a good example. The kids get the same food that we eat most of the time. And we try not to say things like “broccoli is gross” or “Rian doesn’t like tahini” as it might give the kids the idea that they don’t like certain foods.
Rian doesn’t have a perfect diet and won’t always eat everything I offer him, but overall I think his diet is great. Oran eats a very healthy diet and we make sure to give him mostly very nutritious food at this age since he’s still so young.
There is a lot of different information out there about what foods are healthy or not, as well as advertising and even propaganda, and it can be really hard to know what to feed your kids. In general vegan parents seem to do a lot of research and are well-informed about nutrition and I think that’s very important.
There are lots of websites, forums and Facebook groups for vegan parents which are great for information about nutrition, ideas and recipes that kids love. I have loads of recipes here on my blog that are all kid-approved and all pretty nutritious.