The question I’m most asked at Planetarian Life: “How do I get my kids to eat Planetarian?” The answer is simple: “Don’t stress!” My six-year-old boy, Dash, and my two-year-old daughter, Nova, aren’t vegans or even vegetarians. Like most kids, they adore chicken nuggets and fish fingers, cheese sticks and yogurt, but here’s how we’re encouraging them to be Little Planetarians,
#1 Help Them Appreciate Good Food
Sure, it’s important to teach kids not to waste, why single-use plastic should be rare, or how to compost, but the most important step in raising Little Planetarians is to instill in them the love and appreciation of good food – all food. I love enjoying a ripe peach or tomato with them or helping them identify ingredients, flavors, and textures in some of their favorite dishes. On those special occasions when we serve a meal with meat or dairy, we attempt to gently impart on them an appreciation and reverence for what we’re enjoying. Last night when we were out to dinner, Dash ordered a meatball and said he was “in heaven.” He savored every mouthful.
#2 Model How You Hope They’ll Eat
Like his nana, my son loves bacon, like his dad, he adores eggs on toast, and like his mama, he inhales pizza, but most meals a week, Andy and I are eating bean burgers, veggie stir-fries, and tacos made with Lentil-Walnut Mix…and so are Dash and Nova. When we make pasta with winter squash and Brussels sprouts, we usually cut the kids some slack and give them a simpler sauce, but they’re usually curious about what’s on our plate. We encourage them to take a bite. Though it may not seem like it at times, our kids look up to us. What we eat and how we live is more important than what we serve them.
#3 Talk About Food & Climate Change
A few weeks ago, Dash saw a whole chicken—head on, one eye slightly open— in a meat case. There were MANY questions—“Why does it look like that? What’s going on with its eye?”—which we took the time to talk about.
Now that he’s old enough to read and watch documentaries, Dash also has many questions about climate change. After watching Our Planet, by Sir David Attenborough and reading about the polar bears’ plight or global warming in an Encyclopedia Brittanica, we take time to talk. I don’t spell out the doom and gloom, but we do discuss the impact of human activity on the earth. As a result, Dash now talks about foods that are “Planetarian.” He still likes his nuggets, but he’s beginning to understand the implications of food production. And that’s a great start.
#4 Suggest, Don’t Push
I generally find pushing or forcing kids to eat food nearly always backfires, so we have adapted the age-old rule, “You don’t have to eat it,” with a gentler, “but let’s try it.” When it’s a hard pass, I let it ride, which often pays off the next time when they’re more willing to take a bite. I’m often surprised by the things they’re open to! Children are no different from adults. Our tastes evolve. What we disliked a few years ago may be our next new favorite thing, so we encourage the kids to try foods again every few months. After years of trying zucchini or sweet potatoes, Dash still doesn’t like them, and that’s okay. Nova doesn’t like cauliflower or cucumber. Fine! Everybody’s entitled to a few things they just don’t want to eat.
#5 Include Them in Meal Prep and Mealtimes
I’m usually juggling weekday cooking with the mad dash out the door for school or the weeknight dinner hustle, so sometimes I can’t slow down and teach my kids, but when I do, I love inviting them into the process. You’ll frequently find Dash perched on a step stool and Nova seated on the countertop watching or helping.
We all know it’s true: children are more likely to eat what they’ve helped prepare. Plus, it helps them identify ingredients, both in their natural and cooked states. Seeing the process—start to finish—is important. Even Nova has the patience to stick with it through an entire recipe. A few weeks ago she helped my sister bake a birthday cake.
We frequently include the kids in meal decisions, and although we can’t pull off family dinner every night, one of us tries to sit with them during breakfast and dinner. My kids won’t eat everything in the Capsule Kitchen, but I know we’re on the right track when I see both my kids eating quesadillas with lentil-walnut mix or bean soups.
Every child is different, but here are some easy wins for my kids:
Sundried Tomato Pesto: Everyone loves this pesto, kids included. They inhale the entire bowl every time I make it. I like to toss peas or other quick-cooking veggies into the boiling pasta for the last couple minutes to make it a complete meal.
Bean Burgers: These are high-flavor, high-fun burgers. But the bean burger on a bun with all the fixins’ and what’s not to love? My kids will always eat one of these. I make extra and put them in the freezer for quick dinners.
Pearl Couscous Vegetable Pot: Kids love this “tiny pasta” and the creamy texture is appealing to kids and adults alike. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand or whatever you have on hand for a super-quick dinner.
Steam-Sautéed Vegetables: The only reason my kids eat vegetables is because I steam-sauté them, a method my mom taught me. Adding olive oil and salt to a skillet with veggies and a little water makes a huge difference. The oil and salt impart flavor while the water steams the vegetables. Both my kids prefer their broccoli “a little burnt.”