Want your kids to eat more plants? Many families are moving toward a plant-forward diet, one that includes more plant foods than animal-based foods. Yet, some kids won’t touch a vegetable, and others eat them, but don’t come close to the daily recommendation of two to three servings a day.
There’s no doubt a plant-forward diet is good for one’s health and the planet. So, if you’re wondering why your family should embrace plant-forward eating, and how to get started, we’ve got you covered. First, let’s dive into definitions to set the foundation.
Plant-Based Eating vs. Plant-Forward Eating
According to a 2017 Nielsen survey, 39% of Americans are trying to eat more plants. That is, more fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Yet, confusion exists around the terminology associated with plant-forward eating. Does eating mostly plants mean you’re a vegetarian? A vegan? What’s the difference between plant-based and plant-forward diets?
If you're a parent who wants to serve up more plant-oriented meals, let’s set the record straight. Here’s a rundown of the differences:
A Plant-Based Diet is an eating pattern consisting of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, beans and fruits with few or no animal products.
A Vegetarian Diet means abstaining from the consumption of meat and possibly other animal products, like milk, for moral, religious or health reasons. The vegetarian diet is further categorized into the following:
- lacto-vegetarian diet (allows dairy products in the diet)
- lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (includes milk and eggs in the diet)
- ovo-vegetarian diet (allows eggs in the diet)
- pescatarian diet (includes fish)
- flexitarian diet (occasionally consumes meat, dairy and fish in small amounts)
A Vegan Diet is an eating pattern that pays strict adherence to an animal-free diet. Vegans avoid using products made from animals as well, such as honey and leather goods.
A Plant-Forward Diet is an eating pattern that emphasizes plant foods, such as fruit, vegetables, grains, beans and seeds over animal-based foods. However, all foods fit on the plate, but the balance favors plant foods.
As you can see, all of these diet patterns emphasize eating plants as the anchor to the diet. For families who are just starting out, a plant-forward diet is a good place to begin.
An Emphasis on Eating More Plants Has Health Benefits
There’s been quite a bit of research in adults suggesting positive impacts on heart health, weight, diabetes, and the gut when adults eat a plant-based diet. In children, we don’t have the same level of research. However, it’s generally recognized that eating more plants is desirable and healthy for kids.
Some research has found healthier body weights in children who follow a plant-based diet. But, there’s also been evidence of nutritional deficits when children follow strict vegan diets. That’s often due to the removal of meat and other animal products, which may cause nutrients gaps including calcium, vitamin D, iron and vitamin B12.
If families want to be more plant-forward, they can do so by reducing the amount of meat and animal-based products they consume, while placing more emphasis on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds in the diet. Animal-based foods in the diet, like dairy, can help ensure proper amounts of calcium, vitamin D and protein because the naturally-occurring nutrients are easily absorbed and used by the body. Also, including a small amount of meat, poultry or fish can supply a good source of iron, zinc, healthy fats and vitamin B12.
Plus, eating more plants means more fiber in the diet, feeling fuller after eating, and more regular toileting habits.
Sunnie is a Plant-Forward Lunch Kit
Our lunch kits use whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, but you’ll also see dairy foods like cheese and yogurt. We know how important it is for kids to build strong, dense bones, especially during childhood. We also appreciate the other nutrients provided by dairy foods which help kids feel full, close potential nutrient gaps, and help little brains develop. We want kids to get the health benefits of plant-forward eating, while also getting all the nutrients they need to grow well and thrive.
By Jill Castle, MS, RDN