One of the biggest nutrition trends over the past couple of years is eating more plant-based. In fact, it’s becoming a bit of a cultural shift, now being incorporated into national eating guidelines, such as the Canada’s Food Guide. And the food industry is luckily jumping on board too. Baby Gourmet is a pioneer in this area, consistently creating nutritious plant-based products for babies and toddlers, such as its line-up of chickpea and lentil toddler finger foods.
As a registered dietitian, this makes me very happy as there are SO MANY NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS to including more plants in our diets. Including more plants fills our bodies with more vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fibre. It also subsequently tends to lower saturated and trans-fats, added sugar and processed ingredients.
Things like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tofu are all great plant-based proteins. Along with all of the nutritional benefits mentioned above, plant-based protein sources tend to be gentler on the environment, more economical, and quick and easy to prepare (which this mom of three appreciates). I’m not suggesting that we eliminate animal protein from our lives and all become vegan, but most of us should consider adding more plants to our family’s diets.
Here are top ways busy moms (like me!) can to shift towards a more plant-based diet:
Make a fruit and veggie smoothie everyday: There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t make a smoothie either for breakfast or lunch. Smoothies are great because you can pack in SO MUCH nutrition and kids love them. I include frozen fruits, fresh greens, hemp hearts, almond milk, and sometimes even lentils and/or silken tofu for a boost of protein. Throw in a Baby Gourmet fruit and veggie puree or Baby Gourmet oat cereal for variety.
Purchase plant-based baby & toddler snacks: Now that plant-based nutrition is more commonplace, there are more products on the shelf to choose from. Look at the ingredients list and choose toddler snacks that don’t contain only rice, but rather nutritious plant-based ingredients like chickpeas, lentils, beans, quinoa, fruits and veggies. Check out Baby Gourmet’s line-up of plant-based snacks!
Buy pre-washed, pre-cut veggies: If it’s an option for you, there’s no shame in cutting a corner and purchasing pre-cut, pre-washed veggies (things like veggie trays, baby carrots, bags of spinach, pre-made salads etc.) to make your life easier.
Try frozen fruits and veggies: There’s a bit of a myth out there that frozen fruits and veggies aren’t as nutritious as fresh. Frozen can be more nutritious than fresh because the fruits and veggies are frozen at peak ripeness. I add frozen fruit to smoothies and oatmeal and frozen veggies are great for stir-fries, casseroles and frittatas. Frozen peas are a great kid-friendly snack too!
Substitute half meat for lentils: One of my go-to plant-based nutrition strategies is to substitute half the meat in common ground meat recipes like spaghetti, tacos or burritos with drained and rinsed canned lentils. My kids don’t notice a difference, but lentils add a nice texture and neutral flavour, not to mention a whole lot of nutrition!
Add tofu to smoothies: Silken soft tofu has a fairly neutral flavour, adds smoothness and thickness to smoothies, as well as protein and fibre.
Cook dried lentils or beans once a week and use all week: Having beans and lentils ready to go, to throw into salads, into egg dishes, or just as a nutritious finger food for your little one can be a lifesaver. I often cook dried beans and lentils on a Sunday and use them all week! Lentils are easy to cook up; simply rinse and cook over the stovetop. With beans, you usually need to soak before you cook them.
Serve a veggie platter before dinner: This is one of my top tips for getting kids to eat more veggies. Serve raw veggies, paired with their favourite dips before dinnertime. When veggies aren’t competing with the other foods at the table, they usually get munched up! A little bowl of frozen green peas or some veggie soup before dinner works great too.
Make sure to include at least one fruit and veggies in your child's lunch: I always make sure to include one or more fruits and veggies in my kids lunch kits. I usually pack cut-up fruits such as apples, pears or melon, and include a fruit and veggie pouch or apple sauce. Then I add a veggie, whether it’s cut up raw veggies, soup or leftover roasted veggies.
Make veggie soup: There’s nothing more comforting, especially during cold winter months than a cup or bowl of veggie soup. My faves are butternut squash soup or carrot ginger.
Sprinkle hemp on everything: I’m always stocked up on hemp hearts in my house – they’re the perfect plant-based ingredient that you can pretty much throw into everything (smoothies, salads, on top of roasted veggies, soups, etc.) to boost nutrition. They’re high in protein and also high in magnesium, fibre, zinc, iron and omega-3 fats!
Swirl peanut or almond butter into oatmeal: Most of us know now that it’s safe and recommended to introduce peanuts and other highly allergenic foods early on (at around 6 months of age). What better way than to swirl a little bit of peanut butter into oatmeal or iron-fortified infant cereal, to add flavour and creaminess.
Make chia pudding: Chia pudding is the perfect sweet and nutritious dessert or snack for little ones. Chia seeds are loaded with nutrition, including protein, fibre, omega-3s, calcium and more!
Use fruit and veggie pouches in unique ways: Fruit and veggie pouches are super convenient when you’re on-the-go or just need an easy snack for your baby or toddler. But did you know that you can use them for baking, as a nutritious dip for finger foods, or as an ingredient in a baby-friendly smoothie?
Make a nutritious dip out of legumes: There’s nothing more fun than dipping! Make your own hummus or bean dip to pair with veggies, pita or just have on its own.
Branch out with your whole grains: Try something new and cook quinoa instead of rice, or try wheat berries, barley, amaranth, teff, bulgur or millet. These are all super nutritious and have unique flavours and textures.