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How to Make Vegan Meals Delicious for Kids

06/28/2011 at 02:00 PM ET
Courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing

For over 25 years, Ann Gentry has striven to educate others about the importance of a vegan diet.

The mom-of-two (and former personal chef of Danny DeVito) truly believes you are what you eat.

But she also understands how difficult it can be to make fresh meals on a budget or how to get finicky mini eaters to try new dishes.

To give cash- and time-strapped parents a leg up in the kitchen, she addresses these concerns in her new book, Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone, which features loads of her delicious and easy-to-make vegan recipes.

Just embarking on a vegan diet for your family? Check out Gentry’s tips below:

Don’t over-explain. You don’t have to spell out that it’s vegan. Just offer it as a delicious choice or something new to try. I know ‘new’ with children can be tricky, but it really helps to set the example by eating quality healthy foods in front of and with them.

Variety is key! Always make dishes that are different colors, flavors and textures. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-proteins are by nature colorful and offer many flavorful texture so it’s really easy.

Always serve one consistent dish. I switch between serving a bowl of brown rice or crackers with a bean dip as a fallback dish for picky eaters. Even though they’re plain and simple, they taste great and are just as nutritious and more complicated dishes.

Change things up. The best way to introduce your child to a vegan diet is to tweak the recipes of their fave dishes with healthier ingredients. Some examples include maple sugar or organic cane sugar instead of white sugar, non-dairy cheeses like Daiya instead of cow’s cheese and sea salt instead of table salt.

Get them involved. Whether they set the table or help make the meal, getting kids involved is a great way to make them invested in what they eat. It also helps educate them on healthy choices. Just make sure to make it fun.

Set the example. Showing how much you enjoy eating healthy foods helps guide your kids to better choices later in life.

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Showing 30 comments

kl on

Vegan diets are absolutely NOT healthy!!! Especially for children, who need lots of cholesterol for healthy brain development. Read the Vegetarian Myth!!

Stella Bella on

I’m curious to check this book out.

Jen DC on

The great thing is, you don’t actually have to BE vegan to use a vegan cookbook. I’m sure it has some great hot weather soups in there…

Alyssa on

Actually, they can be very healthy for some people. As long as you’re taking proper vitamin supplements if you’re not getting enough nutrients, you’ll be fine.

dcg on

@kl, are you kidding?! children need lots of cholesterol for healthy brain development? You are wrong about that. High cholesterol=unhealthy.

Cecelia on

KL, please educate yourself before you attempt to comment on a subject you are not familiar with.

Gena on

Children do indeed need cholestrol but their livers make an ample supply. What they do need that can sometimes be missing from a vegan diet are complete proteins and high quality fats for all sorts of development. Making sure kids vegan diets are well-balanced and include things like nuts and beans with rice or other whole grains can ensure that kids get the proper nutrients they need to grow strong and smart without eating meat.

Rose-2 on

@dcg: While KL is wrong that vegan diets are unhealthy (healthy fats can be found in vegan diets as well) she is correct that children’s brains need cholesterol in order to develop. She didn’t say they need tons of it, but they do need some. Not all cholesterol is bad – that’s a myth.

Susan on

Try looking at the majority of Indians who eat a vegan diet. They aren’t really suffering in brain power. And if there is scientific proof that you need cholesterol or fat to develop – try french fries – vegan food and hits both criteria.

kimmie on

Vegans contradict themselves: take vitamins as you’re not getting enough nutritients in the diet. Why not eat normally then to start with…

mary on

My daughter 6 although she is not a vegan she is a vegetarian. Thus far she has not put together the fact the eggs are a part of the chickens. So she will eat eggs, and drink milk. I hope to keep it this way as long as I can. I do get her blood tested every other month and thus far she is perfect in iron, calcium and others. My daughter wants to save the animals and will not eat meat. I have tried but she is strong willed and passionate about saving them and I have learned to work around her since her siblings, her father and I are carnivors. I will by this book. Hopefully it will broaden my cooking to something more than tofu, boca, tofu hotdogs.

Marie on

KL-Get schooled, I am a 15 year vegan & doing quite well with it, thank you. My baby is also quite strong & extremely smart. Kimmie, many “non-vegans” don’t eat well & need vitamins, as well. It all depends why you are vegan…..

jessicad on

I personally can’t eat a “normal” diet including all meats because it grosses me out. I wish I could, it would make cooking and eating out much easier, but the thought of ingesting animals just doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not a person who will say something to those who do though, that’s my decision and how I think of meat, not for me to judge:) I’ll definitely buy this book!

Jen DC on

Babies’ brains do need cholesterol for healthy development… and it can be found (guess where?!?) in breast milk. So even if Mom’s vegan and gets NO CHOLESTEROL through her diet, her body will still produce enough (in her liver and intestines) sufficient for baby’s brain development. (Hm – another breast milk surprise to me!)

@ KL: The Vegetarian Myth was written by an ill former vegan who blamed veganism for her issues. She uses WIKIPEDIA as a source – sorry, I dropped the book like a hot potato after seeing that. I can’t take an author seriously when Wiki is a significant source of their information and support for their theories.

Gena is absolutely correct. There are sufficient complete proteins from vegetable sources – IF you eat a varied diet. Quinoa is a vegetable source of a full protein. The old standby – beans and rice – make a complete protein and you don’t even have to eat them together. Soy products, amaranth = complete proteins. If you are not vegan, then obviously yogurt, cheese, eggs and milk all contain complete proteins.

You can do it and it gets easier the longer you do it. Plus you get to eat crazy things no one has ever heard of! I’m a former vegan from Alabama and my family nearly had kittens when I stopped eating any animal products and told me – to my face – that they were going to “watch me die” from the lack. Obviously, I made it…

craigie on

Why would I want to feed my family recipes from Danny Devito’s personal chef? Seriously, have you seen him? Doesn’t really strike me as a healthy eater.

M! on

craigie – Her recipes must be really good to keep Danny goin back for more more more ;p

M on

The only unhealthy thing is feeding kids dead animals, eggs, and milk meant for BABY cows not baby humans. A vegan diet is healthiest and the most natural.

I have been a vegan for most of my life and I do not take supplements. I couldn’t be healthier. I don’t have children, but when I do, I plan on raising them 100% vegan. There are plenty of vegan babies in my family, and they are all healthy.

Try doing research before opening your ignorant mouths. Its funny that so many meat eaters bash vegans when over 50% of children are overweight, and many of them obese. I’ve never met a fat vegan child.

So all the meat eaters can continue pointing fingers and judging, but the truth is that vegan children on average are healthier than meat eating children. The obesity/overweight statistics do not lie.

Kate on

To “M”: I enjoy that you talk about about judging and then judge “all the meat eaters”. It makes me laugh and annoys me all at once! I think people here (and most blogs/comment pages) need to realize that there are many ways to raise a healthy child.

I went on this page to see comments about this book/chef not bitter and self righteousness. I’m going to check this book out because even though I am one of those “meat eaters” I do incorporate vegetarian and vegan dishes… now back to my Big Mac!

M on

Kate:

Its not judging when its true. You can’t argue with facts. Vegan children are healthier.

Besides, meat eaters are always the ones bashing vegans. I would have never made those comments if my lifestyle had never been bashed. Its natural to get defensive when ignorant individuals make stupid comments about a subject they know nothing about.

Alyssa on

Children aren’t obese because they eat animal products. They’re obese because of fast food, junk food, and parents who don’t control or care about what they’re kids eat. Don’t start the whole “you’re unhealthy because you eat innocent animals”. You CAN be an omnivore and be healthy. Healthy meat is the kind that hasn’t been injected with every hormone known to man-kind and is fed a healthy diet; more people should be eating that kind. I eat meat on a daily basis. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I do eat meat and I am healthy according to my doctor. Don’t blame meat and animal products for people being unhealthy.

Kate on

“M”: If you want to look at statics then fine you “win” but the numbers work in your favor. You are talking a small percentage of the population that has their children eat a vegan diet compared to the overall popuation. And I’m willing to bet that those that are raising their childen with a vegan diet are better educated and have a higher income base. Unfortunately the majority of the population don’t have the ability or knowledge of raising their children up on a healthy lifestyle-much less a vegan one.

I know this because I work with homeless and runaway youth (including young mothers). I’m just a delousional “meat eater” that buys free range locally raised meat products (and produce) and get my children the occasional Happy Meal because their eyes light up when they open the box (sometimes I am a sucker). So you W-I-N, CONGRATS!

fuzibuni on

Veganism is a diet of elitism. In most countries you would never have enough variety of food available to sustain you without animal products. Try being vegan into your 50s and see how you feel. I know plenty of people who were hardcore veggies/vegans who had to drop it for health reasons later in life. Human beings are omnivores. We all have canine teeth and the only reason they are there is for eating meat. Deciding to be Vegan and believing it is healthier is a side affect of our modern over-consumptive society. Try being vegan in central america, africa, or china… without Whole Foods and modern grocery stores you would have a real hard time.

Jillian on

My great aunt is in her 60’s and has been a vegan for the entire time I have known her and she is the healthiest person I know. She is never sick and gets a clean bill of health at the doctor everytime. She doesn’t take supplements. It is possible to be vegan and be healthy at an older age.

Daniel on

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8357

MiB on

@fuzibuni, that’s funny, the majority of vegans that I know have low or median incomes, and I actually know several people who have become vegans in their 50’s-70’s due to high cholesterol and other health reasons, most of them with their docor’s or dietician’s blessing. Though I guess that veganism is elite in one way, it does require knowledge and consciousness about food. Also, the only thing you can’t get through an entirely plant based diet is vitamin B12, which is now readily awailable either in fortified vegan products (like soy milk) or a supplement.

MiB on

oh, and fuzibuni, many people, particularly poor people, over the world live on a mainly vegan diet where they might only eat things like meat, eggs and milk at festivities like weddings. The staple food around the world is beans (tofu is essentially a bean curd that is a staple food in south east Asia) with rice, tortillas, chapati etc. and seasonal greens, so your last argument doesn’t hold up. Though in many parts of Europe the staple food of the poor is rather lacto-ovo vegetarian with the protein sources coming from eggs and milk products like cheese and fermented milk products like sour cream or youghurt, but that has to do more with the climate allowing for easier storage.

k on

Wow- some people are awfully self righteous and downright ignorant about diets on here (as well as any blog that starts posting about food).

As a 17 year vegan, I have done more research and planning on what goes into my body as well as my daughter’s body than the majority of people out there. Please do not “school” people on what is healthy until you have done the same. I am sick and tired of people judging me for my choice of diet when they are out eating mechanically separated chicken (lunchables, many cold cuts, chicken nuggets, etc), boxed mac&cheese with more unpronounceable ingredients than I care to list, or other so called food products. And before any jumps down my throat…I didn’t say non-vegans eat that way…just some (and usually the arrogant ones quizzing me). There are many vegans that eat processed crap too.

and just so you know Kimmie, “Why not eat normally then to start with…” is highly offensive. Who are you to define normal?

I’ll never understand why so many people that chose the SAD (Standard American Diet) are so hostile towards people that choose not to. Who are we hurting?! Certainly not tax payers/health care/etc. Surgeon General states:

-In the year 2000, the total annual cost of obesity in the United States was $117 billion. While extra value meals may save us some change at the counter, they’re costing us billions of dollars in health care and lost productivity. Physical inactivity and super-sized meals are leading to a nation of oversized people.

Obesity contributes to the number-one cause of death in our nation: heart disease.
Excess weight has also led to an increase in the number of people suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Each year, diabetes costs America $132 billion.

Please research what you are feeding your children and yourself regardless of meat, vegetarian, or vegan diets.

Enlightened Vegan on

Going Vegan was hands down one of the best decisions of my life. Its better for the human body, the environment and of course reduces massive amounts of unecessary suffering for animals and humans alike.

AND according the the American Dietic Association (the worlds largest group of nutrition professinals) and now the USDA too ….

“Vegan diets are appropriate and advantageous to all stages of life, including infancy, adolescents, adults, pregnant and lactating mothers” so yeah check your facts before spouting bs. GO VEGAN!!

Irina on

:)))))))) you are sooo funny!!! The brain needs fats? :))))))
Brain needs water and sugar.. Healthy sugar! And omegas !

Irina on

Why the f*** do meat eaters care about what we choose to eat????? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE???? We dont enter your world and tell you it’s this and that! It’s OUR CHOISE! So go away! I can see the all the bloody-flash meals clouding your minds..

If only closed minds came with closed mouths…

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