One thing women in our KHR program frequently ask is how to make their kids and spouses eat more plant-based meals. I smile, knowing how word "make" weighs a lot. And I should know something about this. I grew up being known in my family as a picky eater. My mom tirelessly tried to force, blackmail, and even threaten me if I don't eat. She would even go as far as chasing me around the yard and park with food. Besides being the picky eater, I was also known as a very stubborn child, I would rather be spanked than eat cooked cabbage, green beans, peppers, or any other healthy vegetable. You simply could not make me open my mouth.
After a screaming episode of trying to force me to eat, my mom would feel bad and make me my special meals, especially when I was sick. And I was sick a lot. Three 15- to 30-day hospitalizations by the age of 6 for pneumonia, mold, childhood diseases, frequent migraines, and infections. I was more in bed than in school. She literally prepared two meals each time. One for the family and one for me. All I ate all day long was bread and Nutella or prosciutto-cream cheese sandwiches for breakfast, and a variety of meat and potatoes for lunch and dinner. Occasionally, I would eat tomatoes and cucumbers and some fruits. But, basically very little plant-based food.
So how did I go from a heavy meat and animal product lover to a plant-based only chef? As a young girl and adult, I suffered from severe migraines, that would leave me bedridden for days. At the age of 24, I found myself getting an MRI to determine if I have a brain tumor. Laying down motionless for 40 min in that claustrophobic MRI tube, that resembled a casket, made me reflect on my life. Newly married, in grad school, I had much to look forward to. I did not want to die. I had this enormous desire to change my lifestyle and all those years of being known as a child of poor health.
My neurologist called me in to discuss my brain scan. He told me that I had a beautiful brain, not a trace of tumor or any disease, the only thing that puzzled him, was a relatively big hole in one of my hemispheres. And yes, it was more than apparent, a big black spot on my rights side of the brain. He said, usually when there is a hole in the brain, it's often accompanied by its twin, another, symmetric hole in the other hemisphere. But, he had no explanation for this big gaping hole.
When I told the news to my brother, he laughed and said: "Sister, you did not need to spend time and money to find out that you are missing some brain, I could have told you that long ago!" From that point on, I'd decided to quit drinking soft drinks, gallons of coffee and start eating more vegetables. I began to read books and articles on health and fitness and started my journey to a better health.
And although I ate fairly healthy, my journey to a whole plant-based diet did not start until my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the hopes to help her better prepare for her surgery and months of treatments, I dove into the sea of information on cancer and how to both prevent it and fight it. I used the curious, skeptical side of me that I developed during my research years as a graduate student to find evidence leading to cures. I remember being calm and telling my mom that we will fight her cancer together.
One of the research books that cancer survivors kept telling me about was “The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health” by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., and Thomas M. Campbell, MD. The book was the culmination of a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, and explores the relationship between diet and the risk of developing the common chronic diseases and is challenging much of American dietary dogma.
The documentary, Food Choices that was made as a result of that research has left an impact not only on me but on my entire family. Since then, we have switched to an over 95 percent plant-based diet. I highly recommend it.
Since I watched that movie with my husband and teenage son, all three of us became more open to a plant-based diet. Two years later my husband and I are still adhering to plant-based only diet and my older son is mostly vegetarian. The younger son has been more resistant to new healthier options, but over time, he too has made many positive changes. It's only due to our patience, and following these 12 tips I created, that made his transition to a healthier eating easier.
12 TIPS ON INTRODUCING NEW PLANT-BASED FOOD TO YOUR KIDS/FAMILY
Participation. Have kids participate in choosing the new vegetable or a plant-based recipe. When they are part of the process, they are more likely to help make it and eat it.
Serve on an empty belly. Serve the new food when your kids are really hungry. Usually, after they have played outside for a while.
Present new food first. While you are finishing up “the main” dish, introduce a new vegetable or take out a tray of freshly cut up vegetables with a dip (my kids like ranch), and place it on a table or kitchen counter. If they are really “starving” they will reach for something.
No snacks before dinner. And don’t let them snack on other food if they don’t eat the dinner. This only teaches them to ignore the healthy main course, so let them eat the less healthy snack after.
What you do and do not control. You can control what, where and when you serve the food, and they get to control whether or not they eat it. If you try to blackmail or control them, it can backfire with eating disorders and dislike for family meals. So, don’t try to control others or impose your new lifestyle on them.
Lead by example. Make sure they see you being comfortable eating the food you are introducing.
Variety. Have you heard of the famous old Martha Stewart slogan for her Kmart linens, “Choose your favorite color from my favorite colors.” Apply the same motto to the new food. By choosing a variety of vegetables, there are more likely to find one they like. And praise them for it, don’t look at the ten other ones they have not tried.
Visibility. This is important when it comes to introducing the new food. Keep fruits and nuts easily visible in your kitchen for kids to snack on when hungry. They are more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables if they are right in front of them.
Frequency. When the new food is presented often enough, family members get used to seeing it and are more likely to try it.
Combine new with old. Always serve the new food with at least two old familiar ones. That way kids don’t resent the new food, and can still find comfort in eating their familiar ones.
Never force or blackmail. This is counterproductive. You don’t want them to dread it the next time they see it because they remember you being upset. In my family, we try at least one bite of the new food to show respect for the cook.
Role Play. Have them pretend they are chefs and you need their opinion how something tastes. For example, experiment with a variety of plant-based milk, such as almond, coconut, and cashew.