With the recent rise in veganism, some parents are choosing to raise their children on a vegan diet. If you’re planning to feed your children a vegan diet, you might be wondering whether there are any special precautions you need to take to make sure they enjoy good health. Keep reading to find out how to raise a healthy vegan child.
Vegan diet safe for all ages
A well-planned vegan diet can meet the nutritional needs of the whole family. It is perfectly possible to raise healthy, compassionate children on vegan diets. According to advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, plant-based diets are suitable for children.
The NHS states: ‘Babies and young children on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need to grow and develop from a well-planned, varied and balanced diet’.
There’s no reason to avoid a vegan diet simply because of your child’s age. A healthy plant-based diet will introduce your child to many fresh vegetables, leafy greens, and other healthy foods.
Do vegan kids need to take supplements?
Yes, all children should take supplements, whether they eat a vegan diet or not. Vitamin D deficiency is on the increase among children. A deficiency can cause rickets and bone disease. Therefore, it is recommended that all children take a daily vitamin D supplement to ensure they are getting enough of this vital vitamin. You can read more about this here.
It’s also essential for vegan kids to take a daily vitamin B12 supplement. The easiest way is to find a vegan supplement, designed for kids, that includes all the vitamins and minerals your child needs. Be sure to pay close attention to the amounts of vitamin D and vitamin B12 the supplement contains.
What foods should be included in the diet of a vegan child?
While you’re getting to grips with being a vegan family, it’s essential to spend time planning what your kids will eat. It’s worth knowing exactly how much of each nutrient an individual child requires and preparing vegan meals accordingly. Of course, your children aren’t going to eat everything you put on their plates, but you can check whether you’re offering the right mix of plant-based foods.
It’s also worth remembering that many kids in the 80s grew up on fish fingers, chips, and peas, and most of them are still alive and kicking. The average 80s parent wasn’t worrying about nutritional intake or dietary requirements (though you’d never believe it now they’re grandparents…).
Here are some food types it’s important to include in a plant-based diet for kids:
Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and tofu are iron-rich plant foods that should regularly feature in your child’s vegan diet. Cashew nuts, ground seeds, dried fruit, and leafy green vegetables are other good sources of iron.
Any vegan will be familiar with the ‘Where do you get your protein?’ question. Many people think protein sources are few and far between in a vegan diet. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to meet protein requirements while eating a plant-based diet. Grains, tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds are excellent protein sources. Be sure to include a mix of these in your child’s diet.
Your child should eat dietary sources of essential Omega 3 fatty acids such as ground chia seeds, ground linseed, ground hempseed, and ground walnuts.
Much to your grandma’s disbelief, a vegan diet can contain enough calcium to meet your growing child’s needs. Fortified soy milk and other dairy alternatives contain calcium. Broccoli and kale are other good sources of dietary calcium.
Healthy fats are essential for brain development, especially in the early years. Nuts, seeds, avocado, and vegetable oils are good sources of dietary fat in vegan diets.
Fortified foods will help your child enjoy a diet rich in B vitamins, iron, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. Fortified vegan foods include fortified soy milk, fortified vegan yoghurts, fortified bread, and fortified cereals.
Is it ethical to raise a vegan child?
Yes, what could be more ethical than raising vegan kids to make compassionate choices and minimize their environmental impact? Of course, your children will be free to make choices about their diet when they are old enough to do so but, for now, feeding them a vegan diet is absolutely fine. You are making a positive choice for your child and the planet in choosing to eat a plant-based diet.
As awareness of climate change continues to grow, more families choose to opt for plant-based meals throughout the week. Although not everybody is making the jump to a fully vegan lifestyle just yet, your children are unlikely to be ostracized because of their diet. It’s easier than ever to find vegan food – even in fast food joints and fancy restaurants.
As a parent, part of your role is to teach your children how to exist in the world. It’s no bad thing to teach them to make compassionate choices as they navigate life. With many children worrying about climate change and the future, eating a plant-based diet is now seen as a positive choice to make.
Vegan kids at school
If your child is the only vegan kid at school, you’ll want to speak with the school about veganism before your child starts. Some schools are excellent and provide vegan school lunches; others might be further behind the times. Approach the school positively and find ways you can help rather than being critical. If teachers haven’t had vegan students before, they might not know much about veganism.
Give the class teacher a selection of vegan sweets, so your child doesn’t miss out on birthday sweets and sweet prizes the other children receive. Ask the teacher whether there’s anything else you should provide.
It might also help to give teachers your contact details so they can give you advanced warning of other times you might want to take food to school for your child – for example, vegan marshmallows to roast over the fire at forest school or pancake batter for pancake day. Make sure the teachers know you’re happy to provide any extras and that all they need to do is forewarn you.
Vegan kids at birthday parties
As a mum with a decade of experience at kids’ birthday parties (pity me), I can confirm that things have come a long way in the past ten years. Veganism is now more mainstream than ever and most supermarkets stock vegan cupcakes, so birthday party stress is a thing of the past.
When your child receives an invitation to a party, RSVP, and mention that you’ll bring some food for your vegan child to eat so, the host doesn’t need to worry. If the party is at a soft play center or other business, the staff will most likely be happy to sort out vegan food for your child.
Always have a packet of vegan sweets to switch for party prizes or party bag snacks. Don’t assume the host will understand the ins and outs of veganism, even if they’ve offered to provide food. It’s always worth taking an emergency bag of food swaps just in case.
Dealing with concerned friends and family members
Veganism is still seen as a relatively new thing, especially to those who might be a little stuck in their ways. Some grandparents who wouldn’t think twice about feeding a toddler fast food might suddenly be concerned about nutrition when there’s a vegan baby involved.
You might get comments from well-intentioned friends and family (and from people with no good intentions, in all honesty). The critical thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your parenting choices.
You will always get comments about your choices as a parent, whether they’re comments about making a rod for your own back, criticisms about being a full-time working mother, or snipes about the food you feed your baby.
If you want to respond to comments, you can. You could explain that a vegan diet can meet your child’s needs, that there are plenty of healthy vegan children already in the world, and that you have done your research because your baby’s health is very important to you (duh).
Finding other vegan families
It’s important to raise kids to question the status quo, consider their impact on the planet and make compassionate choices. One way to help your child enjoy veganism is for them to make like-minded friends. Reach out to other vegan parents in the hope of creating lasting bonds.
Look online for local vegan meetups or organize one of your own, with a focus on kids. The vegan community is growing bigger all the time so you’re bound to find other kids your child can be friends with.
Why not organize a meet-up for local vegan families? You could ask everyone to bring food to share to keep costs low; all you need to do is find a venue.
Make veganism a positive part of your kids’ life – something they can feel proud of and something they will want to continue through to adulthood.