What I’ve learned from… getting toddlers to eat their veggies
Michèle Nadeau, executive director of YWCA Moncton
How people eat is none of my business. I did start to think, though, that there was more that the YWCA as an organization could be doing to lessen our carbon footprint—and that if we wanted to say that we care about children, we had to care if they have a planet in the future. And then the new Canada’s Food Guide [promoting plant-based diets] came out last year and I was thrilled: It seemed like the perfect opportunity to plant seeds with parents about going plant-based at the daycare.
I really believe in including people in the decision-making process: nothing about us, without us. We started by removing milk from the beverage list. Before we made any more significant dietary changes, we had an open house with a big kitchen party so that parents could taste what their children would eat. We had three different soups, a chickpea pot pie, vegan mac and cheese, energy balls made with different grains and nut butters, fresh vegetables with hummus, tons of muffins. We answered every question. We told parents who were concerned about picky eaters that they could pack a lunch for their kids. I’ve been plant- based for eight years and studied holistic vegan nutrition, so I assured them the menu would have all the proteins kids need.
We also changed how our educators interact with the kids during meal times. Now, we sit down with the children and encourage them to smell and touch the meals, to talk about what’s in there, where vegetables come from, how the food gets made. Children are all about exploring, so we’ve made it a really sensory experience. But we did go gradually and have foods that were familiar to them—their palates were already used to certain tastes, textures and flavours, so we wanted to mimic that as much as possible. After milk, we removed cheese. Then we moved on to meat. With shepherd’s pie, we took out the ground beef and added lentils, and nobody noticed. Same thing with spaghetti sauce. We weren’t trying to be tricky, we just didn’t want to say, “Brand new menu!” and have nobody eat. Drastic change can cause a strong reaction that is hard to move beyond. And our chef tries to offer other plant-based options, because sometimes the kids won’t like one particular thing but will try something else.
Our footprint isn’t perfect: My heart breaks every garbage day, when I see how much single-use plastic we go through. I’ve challenged myself to bring mesh bags when I buy produce. I want the kids to be aware of their impact on the environment, but I don’t want to lead from a position of fear or stress. Change does take time—we’ve only been fully plant-based since last October—but we’re really patient with them and we don’t give up.