PEI

What to feed the kids under Canada's new food guide

What are some foods that follow Canada's new food guide that kids will like? What is a plant-based protein, and how do you even cook tofu properly?

'It can be really helpful to stick with what you know but make it plant-based'

Glenda Landry's grandchildren enjoy her General Tso's tofu recipe. (Submitted by Glenda Landry)

What are some foods that follow Canada's new food guide that kids will like? What is a plant-based protein, and how do you even cook tofu properly? 

These are some of the questions that parents and child-care providers may be dealing with after Canada's Food Guide changed drastically in January. The new one ditches the old food groups and recommended servings, and instead recommends eating "plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often."

CBC asked you for your ideas via Facebook, as well as registered community dietitian Roxanne Laughlin who works with public health and family nutrition.

'No tips or tricks'

"I make vegan food for my grandchildren all the time but, I just call it food," said Glenda Landry, who is a vegan, a chef and an avid home cook. 

Roxanne Laughlin's black bean soup. (Submitted by Roxanne Laughlin)

"I make everything from scratch, no processed vegan food. Soup, burgers, salads, but the one they adore the most is my tofu dish. These children are 10 and 11 years old so they definitely know the difference between meat protein and plant protein. No tips or tricks, I just cook them food and they eat it."

"I am a vegetarian so we get the veggie meatballs and veggie 'chicken' nuggets," commented Rose Barbour. "Both are delicious and taste similar to the meat option."

Tofu is actually not as scary as it sounds.— Roxanne Laughlin

Hilary Wood organizes local vegan events and says there are veggie versions of pretty much anything.

"To start, it can be really helpful to stick with what you know but make it plant-based! If a typical meal for your kid is spaghetti with meatballs, all you have to do is Google 'spaghetti with meatballs vegan/vegetarian recipe,'" she said.

"Making the switch can seem extremely daunting, but there's no need to rush yourself and try to change your whole kitchen overnight. Do it one meal at a time, one day at a time."

Environmentalist Sharon Labchuk cooked vegan meals for her children, and said their favourites were tofu chocolate pudding, coconut milk tofu curry, and Tibetan lentil soup from a recipe in the Moosewood cookbook — it is easy to find online.

What is a plant-based protein anyway?

"A lot of this is what we have been recommending all along," said Laughlin, especially the "new healthy plate" that emphasizes half the plate being fruits and vegetables, a quarter grains and a quarter proteins. "What it does do is make it a little more concrete." 

Canada's new food guide places a stronger emphasis on fruits and vegetables and encourages more whole grain foods and plant-based proteins. It's directing the new school food rules in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Health Canada )

Meat and dairy don't need to be excluded, she said, but many Canadians do not eat a lot of plant-based proteins and are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. 

Plant-based proteins are:

  • Legumes.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Tofu and soy beverages.

Legumes "is kind of a fancy word for beans, peas and lentils," said Laughlin. Beans come in many types: black, white, kidney, etc., peas include chick peas and split peas and lentils come in many colours and sizes. 

Nuts include peanuts, almonds, cashews and nut butters, and seeds include sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more. 

Tofu comes in different levels of thickness and firmness and even flavoured varieties. 

'They can spit it out'

Canada is the largest producer of lentils in the world but Canadians' consumption is low, Laughlin points out. Along with dried beans they are a great alternative to meat because they cost drastically less and have a long shelf-life. 

'We know that it takes multiple exposures to foods to get kids comfortable with it,' says P.E.I. dietitian Roxanne Laughlin. (Submitted by Roxanne Laughlin)

"Tofu is actually not as scary as it sounds," said Laughlin. "I do cook with it, my husband actually eats it and enjoys it." Tofu takes on the flavour of whatever you cook with it, she said. 

Laughlin suggests:

  • Tofu in stir fry.
  • Substitute lentils for part of the meat in recipes. 
  • Add white beans to chicken soup.
  • Chick peas and beans in tacos or on a salad. 

She suggests mixing tofu cut in smaller pieces in a stir fry with vegetables "to introduce it to yourself and to the family." 

She advises parents take some of their usual, familiar recipes and start by substituting a portion of the meat with beans or lentils, and then increase. 

"If you're doing spaghetti night and you're doing a meat pasta sauce, add some lentils to that — they cook up fairly easily," Laughlin said. "Red lentils are much smaller and so they cook up and soften very easily and they're not overly noticeable — they also don't have strong flavour."  

Same thing for lasagna, cabbage rolls or any kind of red sauce — lentils are a meaty, fibre-rich substitute "which can really help somebody transition" and cut the saturated fat found in meats. 

Add white kidney beans to a chicken noodle soup for kids to try, she said. "If they don't like it they can spit it out and maybe the next time they will take it. We know that it takes multiple exposures to foods to get kids comfortable with it." 

Other kid-friendly suggestions: adding peanuts or peanut butter to soups for protein, hearty traditional ham and split pea soup, blended soups where kids won't notice the texture of beans or lentils.

The best websites

For snacks, Laughlin said try making your own hummus or home-made trail mix with whole-grain cereal and nuts and seeds. 

Laughlin enjoys this soup incorporating chick peas, spinach and halloumi cheese. (Submitted by Roxanne Laughlin)

Some of Laughlin's favourite resources are Lentils.ca, which shows you how to cook lentils (it's very easy) and lentil recipes from easy to complex — it even has recipes in seasonal collections including Mediterranean, comfort food, Tex-Mex, holiday food and more.

Pulses.org has lots of recipes Laughlin uses for dry peas, beans, lentils and chick peas.

Canada's Food Guide itself has recipes cooked up in collaboration with the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

And halfyourplate.ca has tons of beautiful and fun-looking recipes to try with fruits and vegetables, as well as tips on shopping for them in season, Laughlin said.

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About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca

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