Recipe to cure frustration: Vegan cook shows how to crush Canada's Food Guide for picky eaters
You might be able to get your kids to eat — and even enjoy — a vegan diet with tofu and fresh vegetables
My relationship with cooking has become more complex since I had children. Is it normal to season your meals with salty tears of frustration?
As more people have joined my family unit, there's always more tastes for which to account. Someone doesn't like corn, or peppers or squash or whole wheat.
And that's just my husband.
Now add three kids each with their own particular tastes, and sometimes mealtimes can make me want to throw kitchen utensils at the wall.
Once, I found three months' worth of discarded school lunches (and three months' worth of flies) crammed into my oldest's unused bedroom drawer. Not for the first time, I wished she was a better eater, or at least better at deception.
When the new Canada Food Guide came out, I thought, 'Oh great, more recommendations I have no interest in or ability to follow."
It makes me feel good to know I'm not alone in this. More than half of Canadians in a recent survey say they probably or definitely won't be consulting the guide in making their meals.
We are already a vegetarian family, but not necessarily the healthiest vegetarians. A big part of me wants to become a better cook, to ditch prepackaged foods entirely and help my kids become better, healthier eaters for life.
So I turned to Regina's Danielle Gauthier for her tips as the owner of vegan plant-food based company Plant Food Kitchen.
Gauthier counts herself a big fan of the food guide's recommendations to incorporate more plant-based protein, and fresh fruit and vegetables, into diets.
"I think everybody went 'Finally, people are starting to get it,'" she said, explaining that for many vegans, cutting meat and dairy is more than just a lifestyle or moral choice — it's also a choice to reduce their impact on the environment.
"Whatever reason you want to go vegan, I'm all for it — if it's global, moral, whatever."
Gauthier agrees to show me and two of my kids how to make these food choices palatable.
She gives me a few tips on what to do about those foods your kids just won't try, including mincing them or blending them, and trying them in different combinations, like adding kale or spinach to your regular fruit smoothies.
"Have them try it, and try it in a different way, and if you can put it in certain things, soups and stews, do it."
Gauthier shows me a few dishes, including a lentil-quinoa-walnut blend that I'm shocked to see my kids eat without complaint.
"I even got your daughter to try lentils, and she said that was her least-favourite thing," said Gauthier, politely refraining from pointing out I'm either a liar about my kids' pickiness, or just an incompetent cook.
"That's great. We just served it in a different way."
She suggests a few other recipes, including a tofu nugget as a replacement for salty or overprocessed store-bought nuggets. She coats the tofu nuggets in bread crumbs and makes them crispy using an air fryer.
After the kids ooh and aah over this dish, I take a bite and decide an air fryer might just be my next birthday present to myself.
Gauthier points out you don't have to radically change kids' whole diets to meet the new recommendations either.
That means when you're in Saskatchewan, you cook for Saskatchewan, she said.
"If you lived in L.A., you're eating roots and seeds and grass and whatever," she said.
In Saskatchewan, though, "I want my mashed potatoes, I want my perogies, I want all of that — and your kids are going to be used to eating that as well."
So she suggests making small changes, like swapping out white bread, pasta and rice for whole-wheat options. You can also add a new dish or two — such as a tofu chocolate pudding — to the mix each night and invite kids to sample them.
"Get your kids in the kitchen. I think it's really important," she adds. "Some of my fondest memories are with my mom in the kitchen."
I decide to put Gauthier's tips into action, involving the kids in the cooking on a weekday night. It was more chaotic than usual, but surprisingly fun. We incorporated foods that each of them liked to make a whole-wheat lasagna stew, with lentils and fresh vegetables.
The whole meal cost around $6 to make and all three kids ate it — even though my kitchen looked like a blood-spattered scene from CSI by the end.
I was feeling a glow of satisfaction and competence as a super mom.
That's when my husband came over to the stove and said, "What's for dinner? Stew?"
He took a bite with a face like he'd just tasted curdled milk, and said with a voice dripping with sarcasm, "It's lovely, dear."
Luckily, he moves quickly, so my kitchen had no further reason to look like a scene from CSI. But in this cooking game, you take what you can get — and to have four out of five eaters proves there may be hope for me yet.