7 Tips for Kid-Friendly Plant-Based Eating in Hawai‘i

How one mom in Honolulu introduced meatless meals to her husband and son.


Duke is proud of the musubi meal he created with plant-based ingredients! Photo: Laura Dornbush


We’ve all heard the new buzzword in the nutrition world: plant-based. I’m always striving for a healthy lifestyle, and as a mom, I want the same for my family. So after reading about the benefits of this eating approach and watching The Game Changers documentary, my husband and I set a goal to incorporate more plant-based meals into our menu plan.


Our Foodie Profiles:

  • Duke, 3, loves granola bars and buttered pasta. Hesitant at trying new foods, he sticks to what he knows. He would rather play than eat.
  • Adam, Dad, a foodie who values quality. Part Italian, he’d eat pasta every night if his wife would let him. An avid BBQ master who finds grilling relaxing.
  • Laura, Mom, lives for ice cream and Chardonnay. Fanaticizes while reading fancy cookbooks, but in reality, just cooks the fastest recipe she can get on the table.


At the onset of this challenge, we were hesitant that we’d still feel hungry after a meal consisting of only plants. I also worried that I’d have to make a separate meal for my toddler, which I don’t have the time or energy for. My first grocery shopping excursion was also a tad intimidating. Some vegetarian ingredients have always weirded me out.


I mean, what the heck are tempeh and seitan?


What the heck is seitan? Photo: Laura Dornbush


The first month, we set a goal to try a plant-based meal for dinner once a week and called it “Meatless Monday.” But as the weeks passed, we found ourselves gravitating toward plant-based options more and more. We looked for plant-based options at restaurants (before restaurants , and now we eat plant-based dinners every weeknight. We allow ourselves to “cheat” on the weekends and special occasions, because what Texas-raised girl could ever give up steak and brisket?


After 90 days of incorporating a plant-based diet, our family has experienced a lot of benefits. Duke is more open to trying vegetables (even artichoke!) and has come to love beans. My husband has lost weight and enjoys the challenge of shopping for and cooking new recipes. And I feel less sluggish after meals and love the savings we are seeing on our grocery store receipts. At this point, I don’t think we’ll ever adopt a strict vegan diet, but we’re loving our flexible plant-based lifestyle.


Our Tips For Plant-Based Eating:


1. Start slow. There is no need to shock your family by going cold-turkey vegan (corny pun intended). Even incorporating one plant-based meal into your weekly menu is a great start. Also try little swaps like switching from cow’s milk to almond milk or butter to olive oil.


2. Focus on favorite foods. To ease into plant-based eating, we experimented with our family’s most beloved dish: pasta. We were all surprised at how rich and creamy this avocado spaghetti turned out. Zucchini noodles have also found a regular place at our dinner table. I was elated when my veggie-adverse son had fun slurping down zoodles fixed with olive oil and a little parmesan cheese (I know, not totally plant-based, but it was a huge win for us!).


3. Incorporate a variety of textures. The first plant-based recipes I encountered were all salads and soups. I knew my family would burn out quickly on lettuce and broth, so we’ve mixed it up by varying our cooking methods. For example, we’ll grill Beyond Burgers outside for a smokey, charred sandwich one night, set-and-forget a luscious mushroom stew in the Instant Pot the next night, and then turn-up the heat on our stove-top wok with a crunchy veggie stir-fry the third night.


4. Taste the world. Another way to incorporate some excitement and variety is to plan theme nights with global cuisines. For example, Monday: Thai curry, Tuesday: tacos (duh), Wednesday: pasta, Thursday: Indian lentil dal, Friday: Wrap your own sushi. We’ve taken it to the next level by pairing the corresponding music and beverage (adult or virgin) to make it feel like a party.


Photo: Laura Dornbush


5. Get comfortable. If your kids are intimidated by new vegetables and salads, bring it closer to home with cozy food that they are familiar with. This vegetarian Portuguese bean soup was comforting with just enough spice for my husband, but not too much heat for Duke. I loved that I could make it ahead of time, so we just had to heat it up after evening swim lessons.


6. Invite kids into the kitchen. Keiki take pride in helping in the kitchen and (bonus!) they are more likely to try the dish if they have a hand in making it. Duke loved manning the musubi press, squishing rice and wrapping nori on our tofu musubi. Toddler tip: anything they can push, press or mash will be a hit, like how Duke peeled and mashed the bananas for our vegan banana bread.


Photo: Laura Dornbush


7. Don’t forget about dessert. While our family will never give up classic ice cream, we have learned through this process that being healthy is all about balance. We loved the smooth, thick texture of chocolate avocado pudding, but I have to admit there was a weird aftertaste. Luckily, that didn’t stop my chocoholic son from spooning it down.


Photo: Laura Dornbush


Local Plant-Based Resources: