Healthy Vegan Kids
NATALIE SHEMESH | REGISTERED DIETITIAN
Can Children be Vegan? Absolutely!
According to the American Dietetic Association, "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."
When we refer to an "appropriately planned" vegan diet, we are speaking of a diet that includes all the vegan food groups: vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Since not all children typically consume the entire variety the vegan diet has to offer, it's important to make a smart transition. Instead of just eliminating animal products from the daily menu, first add new foods, then remove the problematic ones. It may get frustrating from time to time, and it's important to be patient and keep offering your kids new foods, even if they've declared in the past that they don't like them.
It's good to know that the more accustomed children are to eating healthy from a young age, the better the chances they will grow to be adults who enjoy healthy food. Not only that, but in our experience, children who are vegan from infancy are usually more open to trying new flavors and food textures.
Legumes are a key ingredient for children as well as adults. They are an important source of protein, iron and zinc, all vital for growth. If your children aren't used to eating legumes, it's important to allow them to get used to them before eliminating meat and other animal products from their daily menu, so as not to let an unbalanced diet affect their growth process. It's a good idea to start with legumes that are easier to digest, such as lentils, tofu, peas and mung beans, and then move on to more complex legumes. To make things even easier on small digestive systems, we recommend sprouting, or at least soaking legumes before cooking.
It's important to incorporate healthy sources of calcium into a child's daily menu: tofu, soy milk, white beans, broccoli, tahini, green beans and oranges are all good examples. Speaking of soy milk, it's way more nutritious than other types of plant-based milk, which usually contain only a small amount of protein (check the box at the supermarket and see for yourself).
We recommend incorporating healthy fats into your child's daily diet, such as olive oil, avocados, tahini and nut butters. This is particularly important for young children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, and so on, particularly if the child is not a big eater in general.
What about supplements? All vegans should take a B12 supplement, kids included - it's recommended to give them one every 2-3 days starting at 6 months. In addition, vitamin D supplement is recommended for all babies (regardless of their diet) from birth for at least 1 year, and in some countries, it is also recommended to supplement iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. For specifics to your child and your country, we recommend consulting a dietitian or pediatrician.
For small children who are not big eaters, it's a good idea to let them fill up on foods that are rich in protein, minerals and calories. Save fresh vegetables for snacks or for after large meals.
And what about picky eaters? There are many ways to incorporate legumes, nut butters and tofu into dishes for particularly suspecting children. Try lentil burgers or breaded tofu sticks, use lentil or chickpea flour in different baked goods, or even try mashing some white beans in with your mashed potatoes. You can find more ideas here: http://
You can also ask here in the group, of course, and our mentors will be happy to give you more tips and ideas.
We also recommend, as many parents prefer, to consult with a vegan dietitian to help children transition to veganism in a smooth, healthy way. We definitely encourage seeking professional help.