The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty and challenges for parents, and in many respects what to feed our children may be the least of our concerns at the present time. But supporting our children in their enthusiasm for eating nourishing, immune-boosting, plant-based foods is always a smart investment in their health and their future, and it’s simply a good thing to do. In fact, it’s more important now than ever!
One thing that every parent quickly learns is that the spread of germs and illness is rife wherever children come together — from daycare and pre-school through the college years. We need to do our best to ensure that their immune systems are as healthy as they can be. Eating a well-rounded plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been shown to promote immunity, and the vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants are essential for our health — starting at a very young age.
Not long ago, Karla Dumas, a licensed dietician and a colleague of mine at the Humane Society of the United States, made me aware of the fact that most Americans are not getting enough potassium, fiber and vitamin E, all found abundantly in plant-based foods. This really suggests that the conventional American diet based on high percentages of meat and animal products puts our children on precisely the wrong path to proper nutrition and lifelong health.
We also should consider the unsustainable, inhumane and risky nature of intensive animal agriculture. This is not the easiest subject, and while many parents know how to talk about tough issues with their children, there are also many great organizations working in humane education that can help with some tips on age-appropriate strategies. In general, and through my own experience as a mother, I am confident that kids today are interested in their own health and the health of our planet, and that they are able to engage in these kinds of conversations.
A recent survey conducted by OnePoll suggests that over half of Americans are currently trying to incorporate more plant-based meals into their daily lives. In addition to the familiar fruits, veggies, beans and nuts, however, there are also a lot of protein-packed, plant-based meat alternatives on the market. These products, which can be found at virtually every grocery store, have the taste and texture of animal-based meat but without the downside implications of the traditional meat-based diet. Sales of these plant-based proteins have been skyrocketing, too! A Nielsen report found that during the first several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, plant-based meat sales rose by 264%.
Plant-based meats are perfect for lunch or dinner on busy days and nights because they’re so easy to prepare. And high school and college students — like my daughter — can easily whip these products up for their own meals without much help from their parents.
At the HSUS, we do our best to make family cooking at home easy by offering nutritious, kid-friendly recipes available for free at humanesociety.org/recipes. The HSUS is also working hard to ensure that kids have more access to appetizing plant-based meals in their school cafeterias. In support of that goal, we provide plant-based culinary trainings to major food service companies and other parties involved in the planning and preparation of school cafeteria menus.
My daughter is away at her first year of college now, and so I no longer have the same degree of involvement in what she is eating as I did only a few months ago. But I still feel responsible for her well-being and always will. I empathize with other families trying to make the healthiest and environmentally friendly choices that they can, and I’m encouraged by the evidence that more Americans are doing so.
Kitty Block is the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States