Kid-Approved Plant-Based Latino Meals
Updated: Oct 3, 2022
If you're confused about what a plant-based diet means, you are not alone!
Plant-based is precisely what the name says, MORE plants!
Plant-based eating focuses on foods that come from plants, fruits & veggies, as well as nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats like olive oils while minimizing animal products. But again, this does not mean you can never eat fish or eggs. A plant-based eating approach is NOT a DIET, nor does it mean you need to eliminate foods (which is why I love it). It's not an all-or-nothing approach; it's just a way of eating more plants!
Research tells us that people who eat more plants (fruits and vegetables), as vegetarians, tend to live longer. They also have less risk of heart attacks, diabetes, or hypertension. The Mediterranean diet, which has a foundation of plants and is loaded with nuts and fish, has also been studied widely and is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer.
Below, I discuss how you and your family can enjoy traditional plant-based Latin foods and what you need to consider when serving a plant-based or meatless Monday meal to kids.
Plant-based Latino meals? Si por favor!
Growing up in the border town of Chihuahua, Mexico, I grew up eating fantastic beef dishes that, to this day, I adore. Many people would associate traditional Latin dishes with animal products, including pork, chicken, beef, eggs, cheese, and more. (Aka, cochinita pibil, vaca frita, pernil, and so many others.)
The beauty of LatinX and Hispanic foods is that they are so varied and include fantastic plant-based foods which are naturally high in protein. Like all types of beans: black beans, refried beans, frijoles charros, Arroz con gandules, lentils, and more. I'm also a fan of nuts and pistachios as a plant-based proteins. Check out my previous post on pistachio chimichurri which is excellent for plant-based protein and topping in salads, veggies, and more!
Other great plant-based proteins I love to include in kids' meals are:
Are plant-based meals safe for kids?
A plant-rich eating pattern is safe and a fantastic way to encourage more plants in the family. Whether you are doing it for environmental reasons, you want to cut back on animal products, or you try new recipes, it is great for all the family!
However, if you remove an entire food group or are thinking of becoming (or already are) vegan or vegetarian, I will always encourage you to see a pediatric dietitian (I know a great one! ;) to ensure your kid is not missing essential nutrients and ensure an adequate meal plan is established.
Some nutrients of concern include calcium, iron, and vitamin b12. But with proper planning and education, kids can meet essential nutrients to establish growth and development.
How much protein do kids need?
A common concern I hear from parents is regarding protein in kids. Like many Latinos, a meal wasn't complete if there wasn't some "Carne" or protein, right? For many Latinos, the idea of only including "plants" seems foreign because they fear kids are not getting what they need, especially in terms of protein.
The reality is kids don't need as much protein as you think. On average, a 2-4-year-old requires around 12-15 grams of protein, equivalent to 1 glass of milk (7grams) and 1/2 cup of beans (7grams). School-age kids ages 4-9 need around 19 grams of protein, and teenagers around 34grams. It's also not uncommon for kids to have a harder time accepting chicken or meat due to its texture. The good news is that protein can be found in many other foods besides meat and chicken, like nuts, seeds, peanut butter, yogurt, egg, and beans.
How to serve a plant-based meal to kids? (Latino Style)
In my practice, I see many types of families, from vegan to fish-loving to ones that don't do dairy and others who love meat and dairy. There is no ONE perfect way to feed kids. My goal is to empower families and provide them with support and education to make meals balanced and positive. Here are some tips if you want to incorporate more plants or even have a meatless meal. Check out my video for more inspiration:
Start with the plant-based protein (Friijoles/Beans/quinoa/peas/tofu)
Add the grains (Yes! You can eat White Rice)
Don't forget the veggies or plants. Give a tiny portion if your child is still learning)
Include a fruit high in Vitamin C (This will help with Iron absorption)
Key things to consider when serving a 🌱 plant-based meal for kids:
If you are worried you might not be providing a balanced meal, here are some pointers to consider:
🔸Make sure to include a plant-based source of protein.
🔸 Don't be afraid of fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Kids are still growing and need proper calories.
🔸Add a grain-YES YOU CAN HAVE WHITE RICE. If you like it and it's part of your culture, there is no need to feel guilty or give it up. You can include whole grains in other dishes that are not rice, like crackers, bread, oatmeal, etc. 😉.
🔸Include a veggie. It can be as simple as a tomato or a carrot or as fancy as an artichoke.
Remember, kids, are still learning to like veggies.
🔸Add a fruit high in vitamin C to help absorb iron. Sometimes I give 💯 orange juice to make sure I optimize the meal
🔸 Keep an eye on calcium, especially if you are not consuming dairy. Ensure your plant-based milk provides enough calcium, vitamin D, and b12. Include other calcium-rich foods like salmon, spinach,
Plant-based family meals don't need to be complicated or fancy!
Plant-Based eating is a great way to encourage more plants in our everyday life, which we can all agree is a good thing! Going plant-based does not mean eliminating anything; it just emphasizes and promotes consuming more plants!
Celebrate those frijoles as the main dish, add some guacamole and make it a meal!🤩 Or, if you're a fan of nopales (cactus), check out this video to see how I prepare them!
Here are some other plant-based kid-approved ideas you might like!
by Marina Chaparro, RDN, CDE, MPH
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