It's not easy to make healthy, quick, and affordable meals day after day, which is why so many people turn to fast food when the kids are hungry and time and the budget are both tight. Instead of wishing that kids would eat healthy mostly plant-based meals, Arielle Kestenbaum, a Registered Dietitian and certified nutritionist, launched Fare Meals by Arielle, a resource designed to help parents of young kids feed their families nutrient-dense meals on a budget.

Arielle was inspired to create Fare Meals when she worked for an organization that brings healthy plant-based meals into school children in New York City, called the Coalition for Healthy School Food. Her assignment was to teach plant-based cooking to pre-schoolers.

"When the 4-year-olds heard about the vegetables and fruits and dishes they had never tried before some of them were hesitant," Arielle told The Beet. "But after they tried the foods they loved them and I thought, how can I get their parents to feed these meals to the kids? Plant-based food doesn't have to be expensive, or too involved to cook up, so I created Fare Meals so show how easy it is to make food that is healthy and delicious on a budget."

Every meal on the site has a system of 1 spatula for the fewest ingredients and fastest prep and cook time to 3 spatulas for the slightly more involved time commitment, but everything stays well under 30 minutes. She also coded the price of ingredients the same way using dollar signs. So far the site is launching with a dozen recipes and more food facts -- but the young founder explains that "I was planning to launch later but then the COVID-19 pandemic started to change the way we think about health and food and I realized people needed this now."

Each approached the foods with trepidation. They had never heard of some of the vegetables we were introducing, she said. So she set out to help moms and dads prepare and cook healthy meals and make it the new "fast food."

A new site, Fare Meals by Arielle

Kestenbaum, 28 is a big propoinent of plant-based eating and wanted to bring her passion to kids who need it most: Those in disadvantaged communities where vegetables and fruits are not readily available, but where healthy eating for kids can mean the difference between a lifetime of health or illness. Plant-based diets have been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, as well as obesity and certain cancers. There is a misperception that healthy food, and vegetables and fruits specifically,  costs more, and Fare Meals was created as a resource to show consumers and specifically parents like those of the kids Arielle taught, that healthy meals can be affordable and easy to make.

How do you get a picky eater to try new foods: You get them involved in cooking

"A lot of the kids I taught at first didn't want to try the food, but I am a big believer in always getting the kids involved in the kitchen. So we would make salsa, which they loved, and cabbage salad, and the parents asked how did you get the kids to eat this?" The trick, she said, was getting them to make the food. Then they wanted to try it and get their friends to try it too.

"I asked what they eat at home and basically they mostly ate pizza. But they learned a lot about new vegetables, and they were adventurous. They were a lot more receptive than I thought they would be. There is a lot of research to support this--that getting kids to help cook will also get picky eaters to try new things. It's hard, because it makes a mess in the kitchen and it takes longer. But it is great because the kids are home now during COVID-19 and the schools are close, so now is the perfect time to get them involved."

Arielle saw what the kids were eating and knew that we could do better

When she spent a year with the young pre-schoolers and saw what the kids were eating she knew she could make it better. The kids from the plant-based cooking class would go home and ask their parents for what they had eaten and the parents asked Arielle for the recipes, and Fare Meal was born.  She was planning on launching Fare Meals in the late spring, but when COVID-19 she pushed things up to be able to help families whose students no longer could count on school lunch to be there for them.

"I think it's a resource that is really needed," she explained. "The meals are pretty easy. The ones that take five to ten minutes are represented by 1 spatula and the slightly longer prep time is 2 spatulas and then more than 15 minutes are 3 spatulas."

She hopes to work with local markets to help families get the ingredients they need to create healthy inexpensive and easy meals to combat the idea that healthy has to be expensive. The long-term goal, she said, is to put fast food chains out of business, or at least offer a viable alternative for parents with little time to cook and a tight budget for groceries.

"I want to help as many people as I can, especially during this coronavirus crisis, and to ensure families have access to healthy recipes that are easy, healthy, and affordable."

"This is a step in that direction, just showing people that they can make really easy but healthy meals at home. The other thing that's important is that these meals focus on being nutrient-dense, so taking foods people love and elevating the nutrition profile."

Now she is teaching her own son the same values as he learns to eat a variety of plant-based foods. "I have this book I got from this person at the Coalition and it's called Rah Rah Radishes. And my son is 18 months old and he knows what a rutabaga is and if an 18-month-old can learn these words and love this book then any kid can.

If you want to help Fare Meals by Arielle grow, she is donating $5 to City Harvest for every new follow their Instagram gets during the first 12 days of June (she just extended it through Friday, June 12th). We say nothing not to like about that.