Maverick was recently munching away on bananas and peanut butter when he asked Yasmine, “Mama, is this wee-gan?” Yasmine paused, “Wee-gan? Oh, vegan!” Maverick beamed, “Mama, I’m wee-gan!” It was news to us—and apparently a result of Maverick’s friendship with a preschool buddy, Tyler, who is vegan.
Though we’re not raising our children with a raw or exclusively plant-based diet, we certainly believe in the benefits and are always looking for ways to weave these superfoods into our families’ diets, so when we learned that Tyler’s mama, Tanja Johnston, a plant-based nutritionist specializing in private health coaching , offered kids “un-cooking” classes, we jumped at the chance to learn more.
When Tanja had Tyler almost four years ago, many of her clients were adults facing grave illnesses. She still works with these clients to change their diets, supporting healing and combatting the aggressive nature of their diseases, but as a parent, she recognized an opportunity to expand her vast knowledge to Tyler’s friends and their parents. “It is easier to form a child than fix an adult,” she explains. So, she began teaching kids from age three to teens, and she learned that the best way to open a young person’s eyes was to guide them towards becoming what she calls “Intuitive Nutritionists.”
She now offers classes like “Raw Yummies in My Tummies” for young kids, where children not only explore foods, they observe how their bodies respond to them. With teenagers, Tanja works to change their perception of food. “Skewed body images, over-eating for pleasure or not eating for self-punishment is a wide-reaching problem,” she says. “When working with just whole foods, there is no low-fat Avocado version, or a low-carb Banana. When giving only whole food choices, the kids create balanced meals almost intuitively.”
Maverick and Lila love ice cream, so Tanja recently created a “Sprinkly Ice Cream Factory Soiree” for a group of mamas and kiddos. The kids gathered round a table, their eyes taking in the goods… bananas, shredded coconut, avocado, kale, carrots and beets. And then the magic began. The children worked together to make tasty, creamy treats using every last vegetable along the way. Beet juice turned coconut into festive sprinkles. Kids who might otherwise recoil at any vegetable were fascinated by green ice cream or carrot based Halloween ice cream. The best part: There was no smoke or mirrors. The kids saw exactly what was going into each concoction and they all tried everything while we Mamas took mental notes as Tanja spouted off nutritional information.
Smiles all around, the little ones lapped up their ice cream sans dairy, sweeteners, or anything artificial. By the end, they had eaten a bountiful salad of nutrients, one yummy scoop at a time. Wanna slip some kale into your child’s next treat? Here’s a sampling of recipes our kids loved.
Halloween Ice Cream:
3 frozen bananas or mangos
1 large raw carrot
3 frozen bananas
1/4 ripe avocado
A handful of kale
Blend ingredients together. If you have the mighty Vitamix, power on! But any handmixer, blender, or food processor with a powered blade will turn fibrous plant-based foods into a creamy substance. When using less powerful equipment, let the bananas defrost a bit before blending. Using "baby" vegetables will lessen the load on the machine and break down the stringy fibrous parts of the plant. There’s no rigid ingredient combo here, so have fun with your kids, experimenting with textures, colors and tastes.
With seven children ranging in age from ten months to seventeen years between them, sisters and bloggers Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Soraya Delawari Dancsecs are experts at parenting in L.A. They take a break from PTA board meetings, cooking, and producing films to blog at CityThink each Thursday.