Raising pint-sized plant-eaters is not always easy work, as we navigate between good nutrition and those notoriously picky palates. But lucky for us, there’s quite a few exceptional vegetal foods that boast a beautiful nutrient profile and also happen to taste great, too. If you can incorporate these flavors when your munchkins are still wee, you’ll aim their tastes towards a future of wholesome selections. But even older children can be coaxed into making healthy choices. I mean come on, what kid doesn’t want a “magic green monster elixir”?
The truth is that there’s plenty of delicious, nutrient dense plant-based powerhouses out there. Between dark leafy greens, fermented foods, sprouts, and sea vegetables, this list was pretty difficult to whittle down. Maybe that’s a follow-up article for the future. But for now, here’s the top 5 superstars that play on my baby’s plate:
1. Green Juice. Juicing can seem overwhelming at first, but don’t let it intimidate you. Fresh juice is plant blood, the pure life force pulled from the cells and parted from the fiber. It’s an instant shot of maximum nutrition that’s easily assimilated with minimal digestion. Juice packs a punch with chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. It’s especially great for kids because it’s quick to consume and fun to prepare. The little one’s just love to juice! And you’ll be surprised at what they’re willing to try once they’ve helped to feed it into the juicer. Make sure you lighten the sugar load by sticking to things like leafy greens, celery, and cucumbers, with just a little sweet fruit for flavor.
2. Green Smoothies. Smoothies are similar to juice but serve a very different purpose, and definitely deserve their own distinction. Like juices, smoothies are the perfect vehicle for nourishing greens and other nutrients. But unlike juice, a smoothie is made of whole foods that retain the cellulose and fiber. This makes smoothies an actual meal. With a base of banana for creaminess and a handful of greens for health, the creative options are almost endless. Citrus, berries, tropicals, sprouts, nut butters, and of course, lots of greens! Smoothes are also an opportunity to slip in extra supplements, like sunflower lecithin for choline, hemp seeds for protein and omega-3s, or amazing algae like spirulina and chlorella. But even without the superfoods, smoothies are rich in micronutrients, amino acids, and slow-burning carbs for sustained energy. Great for children? Check, check, and check!
3. Coconut Yogurt. Coconut could very well be called nature’s baby food. Little growing brains need a steady source of high-quality, healthy fats. Remember, the human brain is basically a big lump of lard. So building it right requires proper dietary fat intake. And coconut has an impressive lipid profile, with rare medium-chains called lauric and capric acid. These two unique and healthful fats just happen to be an important component of human breastmilk. See? Perfect baby food.
When coconut is cultured as yogurt, it also delivers a load of probiotics, those good belly bugs that keep our digestion, and therefore our constitution, strong. You can buy premade coconut yogurt from the store, but it probably contains additives like sugar, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. Learn how to make your own healthier version at home, here.
4. Nettle Leaf Infusion. An infusion is an extra-strong tea made from fresh or dried herbs. Gorgeous dark green nettle infusion provides an abundance of minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, and that oh-so-hard-to-find iodine. Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable intellectual disability in children worldwide. Nettles are also rich in vitamins A, C, and K, bioflavanoids, and another elusive essential nutrient, choline. Nettle infusion is slightly sweet and distinctly grassy, but goes down great. Most children enjoy the taste. If your kids aren’t into it, you can always brew it along with another, yummier, tea. Nettle is a strong herb and shouldn’t be overdone. Try is as a supplement once or twice a week in the ol’ sippy cup.
5. Blackstrap Molasses. In our house we get to eat dessert every day. But we don’t eat it after dinner – we gobble it down after breakfast! See, in our house, dessert is a spoonful of Blackstrap molasses. And hey, at least while he’s young, that totally works for our son. He thinks he’s the luckiest guy in the land!
Molasses has a very strong flavor and may take some getting used to. It can taste metallic and for lack of a better word, “mineral-y”. Because it is! Blackstrap molasses contains a huge dose of iron and calcium. This makes it one of the best plant sources for these two important elements. It also contains copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and other trace minerals. Once you’re used to the flavor, the strangeness fades away and it becomes a spoonful of sticky sweet deliciousness. My son adores his daily molasses treat, and I love that his iron levels are nice and high whenever we check them. So spoil your munchkins and institute a new “daily dessert” rule. Replace the cookies with Blackstrap, and everybody wins!
Kids thrive on a primarily plant-based diet, and adding “power foods” like these can help guarantee that they’ll grow into their optimal potential. Cheers to good health and to happy children!
Sayward Rebhal is a scientist, writer, mover, and maker who lives on an urban micro-homestead in Portland, Oregon. As a new mom, Sayward spends her days keeping haüs and raising her pint-sized plant-eater, cooking up kitchen witchery and digging in her garden, and somehow finding time to write amidst the madness. Sayward blogs at Bonzai Aphrodite and has just completed the soon-to-be-released Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide, due out in summer 2011.