If you have been on a vegan diet for some time now, chances are your little one has picked up on your habit of eating a plant-based diet. In following their parent’s footsteps, they may no longer be eating some of the past favorites such as chicken nuggets and pizza
As exhilarated as you are in hearing that your child wanting to take on the animal-free eating lifestyle, you still worry, “How is my child going to get all their nutrients?” Naturally, this concern is legitimate. They are young and need all the nutrients to grow and develop their bones and muscles, and the main concern is around “If my kids are vegan, will they consume the necessary nutrients they require to grow and thrive?”
The answer in its simplest form is; yes. Your army of pitter patters is more than capable of growing into strong adolescents and teenagers without the help of a carnivore diet. However, parents must take into consideration that there are additional factors that they would have to keep in mind when transitioning their children into a plant-based diet.
What is Veganism?
Before we dive into how you can incorporate vegan foods into your child’s diet, let us first understand what is being vegan all about.
Just to clarify things right off the bat, a vegan diet is not to be confused with the vegetarian diet. Although we understand it can seem similar to many since it prohibits the consumption of meat, the two are still vastly different.
A vegetarian diet consists of eating everything except meat, chicken and in some cases, even fish, and allows the consumption of other animal products such as yogurt, cheese, milk, honey, butter, and ghee.
A vegan diet, however, involves no consumption of animal products of any kind. This means people who follow the vegan diet are restricted from eating meat, chicken, eggs, fish, honey, butter, yogurt, milk, cheese, and honey.
The Burning Question: Is The Vegan Diet Healthy For Kids?
A child wanting to embrace and practice the vegan lifestyle is admirable, but let’s not forget just how important it is for them to make healthy food choices that will fuel their bodies and brains while growing up. The key here is to yes promote the vegan diet, but ensure that the food choices are plant-based, whole foods.
Parents who want to encourage their children to take up on a plant-based lifestyle must ensure they provide a wide spectrum of foods to choose from to feed their bodies with a healthy dose of dense nutrition.
The pros are many with the vegan diet. From cutting down of meat which induces a build-up of unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol, to reducing acidity which is prominently found in animal products.
When embarking on a plant-based journey, here are some of the most important set of nutrients your child needs to be provided to ensure healthy bone and muscle growth.
Fats and Fatty Acids
It is fascinating to know that children who eat a plant-based diet consume 30 to 31.5% less fat than their omnivore and lacto-vegetarian friends who heavily rely on animal fats. With this being said, vegan children have limited access to essential omega-3 fatty acids which are predominantly found in fish, eggs and different kinds of seafood.
So how can you provide your children with a healthy dosage of healthy fats? With animal fats out of the picture, parents may want to introduce plenty of other fat sources, such as avocado’s, nuts and legumes, to ensure their children’s dietary needs of healthy fats.
Ah, animal protein – the food group that is completely cut out of a vegan’s food pyramid. With the vegan diet involving the eating of everything but animal products, it is natural for the human body to seek plant-based protein alternatives to make sure the body receives a fair amount of protein to prevent muscle loss.
Contrary to what people may think, you don’t need animal protein to get protein. All plants have protein in them. Some of the foods that your kids can eat, that are high in protein are: nuts, nut butter, seeds, beans, lentils and whole grains. Eating these types of foods throughout the day will fuel their bodies without the need to depend on animal proteins. A good lunch example can be of a wholesome peanut butter sandwich – not only an all-time favorite for young kids, but whole wheat bread with a couple scoops of peanut butter will help provide your kids with the protein that their bodies require. Slice up some fruits to go along with the sandwich and your kids will have the salty and sweet meal that they will crave.
You would think that with the elimination of animal protein, children would suffer anemia and other iron deficiencies, right? Wrong. Studies have documented that children who follow the vegan way of eating require 1.8 times more the iron intake as compared to children who eat an omnivore diet (https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/iron.php)
Vitamin C, found largely in fruits and vegetables, compensate for the iron lost through cutting out animal products. Such foods which consist of fiber and phytates allow the easy absorption of iron – such foods include iron-fortified cereals and energy bars, dried beans, peas, leafy greens, grain products and an array of supplements that can be incorporated in your child’s diet.
Another cause for concern for parents whose children are gravitating towards the vegan diet is the limitation of calcium intake. With calcium-enriched products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese out of the picture, vegan children do not consume the Standard American Diet (SAD) food sources for calcium.
However, children who consume a healthy vegan diet can get high levels of calcium from other calcium-enriched foods such as collard greens, tofu, and fruit juices.
With all this information, my kids are NOT 100% vegan. They’re probably about 80% vegan, 15% vegetarian and 5% meat eaters. This was a conscious decision that my wife and I made to ensure that our kids are exposed to all different types of foods and to ensure we’re not precluding them from joining in with all the social activities centered around food – like cake and ice cream at a birthday part.
The bottom line is that it will be up to you, as a caregiver, to decide what is best for your kids. Just know that the plant based diet is more than adequate to ensure your kids grow up healthy and strong!!
If you want to get some ideas on what a typical vegan diet looks like for a toddler, check out this video by Sarah Lemkus: