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10 Easy Ways To Transition Your Family To A Vegetarian Diet

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10 Easy Ways To Transition Your Family To A Vegetarian Diet

Veggie Mama's Doreen Virtue and Jenny Ross Share Their Tips
Doreen Virtue
Doreen Virtue More by this author
Sep 26, 2016 at 01:00 PM

I wrote my new cookbook, Veggie Mama, with Jenny Ross because we both firmly believe in the idea that as parents, you can fully own and inspire your family's plant-based food choices. 

When my two sons were young teenagers, I was guided to switch them (and myself) to an organic plant-based diet. This was in 1996, before Whole Foods and similar health-food superstores were prevalent.

Although Charles and Grant were energetic teenagers with strong wills (and friends who ate junk food), the switch to a plant-based diet was harmonious and effortless. I credit the following actions for the smooth transition to healthful eating for my sons:

1.    Focus on adding

Add something new each week that is 100 percent vegan, clean, and whole that is similar to something else your family enjoys. If they love broccoli with creamy sauce, for example, simply switch out the cream for an avocado or tahini sauce, and add that in somewhere in their meal plan for the week.

My book, Veggie Mama, is full of 100+ family-friendly vegan recipes

2.    Ask your children to help you research recipes

And then ask them to help you make them. Kids of all ages are proud of the foods they enjoy making. My co-author, Jenny Ross has learned through the home-school classes that she teaches that the kids in attendance will try foods in class that would normally daunt them because they are surrounded by peers and also because they had a hand in preparing them.

3.    Lead with encouragement

Studies show that kids who are required to try something, even if it’s for a reward, are less likely to enjoy the foods they are forced to try. Lead instead from a space of encouragement, offering a wider variety of healthy foods often, and don’t give up! You may have to present an item multiple times before your child will trust it enough to take a bite.


4.      Benefits-oriented discussions

Before making the switch, my family had meetings to discuss the reasons for the switch. We talked about the health benefits of avoiding pesticides and animal cruelty. The focus upon benefits helped Charles and Grant look for the positive aspects, instead of focusing upon the foods they were “giving up.”

5. Show the family benefits of switching to an organic, non-GMO, plant-based diet

You can watch YouTube videos with your family,many of which are cartoons meant to help children understand the basis of eating organic vegetables and fruits. Children also love to watch the TED and TEDx videos that feature other children giving speeches about organics.


6. Emphasis upon flavor

Family members may initially resist a plant-based diet if they believe it will consist of boring salads and plain vegetables. The good news is that you can make virtually any traditional recipe into a plant-based version. In many cases, the plant-based version tastes superior to the traditional recipe! Or your family may not even be able to tell the difference.


7. Easy does it 

We gradually transitioned away from meat by moving to a plant-based diet supplemented with wild-caught fish (which is much healthier for the planet and our bodies than farm-raised fish). If your family is accustomed to eating red meat, you might switch at first to chicken-or turkey-based dishes, then to fish-based ones, and then wean off of animal products altogether. Fortunately, there are so many delicious meat substitutes available now. Just make sure that if you use soy products, they are certified non-GMO (which is largely proclaimed on the product’s label). The next transition is away from cooked products into more raw plant-based meals.

8. Self-monitoring

You can motivate children to eat healthier by teaching them to monitor how they feel after they eat or drink. For example, I would ask my sons to tune in to their physical feelings while they were making smoothies together. Then I would ask them to notice how they felt while drinking their smoothies, and afterward. Of course they felt wonderful, because healthful smoothies are natural energy and mood boosters. Now that my sons are grown adults, they still choose to drink healthful smoothies and eat healthfully.

9. Rewards for healthful choices

When I switched my sons to organic plant-based meals, I also taught them to read labels of foods and beverages before consuming them. I taught them how to identify and avoid any foods or drinks containing preservatives, additives, and other chemicals. I then rewarded them with one dollar for each day that they stayed away from eating or drinking anything containing chemicals. They proudly would tell me their stories of reading labels, and I was happy to spend $30 a month on each of them for this valuable life lesson. To this day, as adults, they continue to read labels and are conscious shoppers and consumers.

10. Healthful pantry and refrigerator

I remember being a guest expert on the Ricki Lake television show when the topic was children who wanted to eat healthier and lose weight. The show featured a panel of mothers and their overweight preteen kids. Each of the children complained to their mothers that their refrigerators and cupboards contained only fattening junk food. One girl began crying, saying that she really wanted to eat vegetables, but there weren’t any in the house. The mother promised to start buying produce.

I found that when I precut organic produce and then placed the pieces in colanders or bowls on eye-level shelves in the refrigerator, my sons would happily reach for apples, carrots, and other healthful snacks.If you have a strong-willed child who resists giving up junk food, he or she may have formed a physical or psychological addiction to the ingredients, which usually stems from allergies and sensitivities. Also, some children and adults resist change and don’t like to be told what to do. Power struggles rarely work. However, it is your home, and you have the right to eliminate junk food from your cupboards and refrigerator. Making it inconvenient for your child to obtain junk food does help.

Even if your family contains resistant or picky eaters, you can learn to incorporate Veggie Mama foods simply by focusing on adding some of the great recipes from our book to your table. Our hope is that your kids will be able to come together in this process and learn to fall in love with the amazing gifts of plant-based foods as they form a foundation for the optimal health of your family.



About Author
Doreen Virtue
Doreen Virtue Doreen Virtue graduated from Chapman University with two degrees in counseling psychology. A former psychotherapist, Doreen now gives online workshops on topics rela Continue reading