Vegans or vegetarians follow a strict vegan diet because it’s good for their health, environment, or animals.
But is this lifestyle recommendable for growing children?
What happens when a child cuts out all animal products in their diet?
Can they get enough nutrients?
Well, a vegan diet is full-on nutritional content.
Such a diet contains more fiber, minerals, and vitamins from fruits and veggies.
Nuts are a excellent source of unsaturated fat that prevents cardiovascular diseases and obesity.
Grains and Legumes, on the other hand, provide protein and carbohydrates.
But the question is, is it nutritionally complete?
Unfortunately, for growing children, it is not.
But the good news is, according to Dr. Katie Nowacki, a pediatrician dietician, a vegan diet is healthy for children but needs a few modifications.
Of course, you want to ensure that your children get all the nutrients and vitamins their growing bodies need.
Thus, we give you everything you need to know about raising your kids on a vegan diet.
Is a Vegan Diet Good for Kids?
It’s great to have kids who have their food preferences.
But as a parent, you have to ensure that their food choices will give them enough energy to play, think, and learn.
There are many advantages to a plant-based diet.
For instance, not eating meat helps cut down cholesterol and unhealthy saturated fat.
However, there are a lot of micro-nutrients that are difficult to meet in a vegan diet.
A vegan diet is safe and suitable for kids only if they get enough nutrients their body needs.
Here is a vegan nutrition guide that may help your child have a safe and healthy vegan diet.
Adults’ and kids’ calorie needs differ, especially for children under three years old.
Kids use more energy per pound of their body weight and need a lot of energy to maintain healthy growth.
Hence, kids need to consume foods high in fats, such as avocados, nuts, and nut butter.
It is possible to get this nutrient without meat, fish, or dairy products.
Whole grains, nut products, seeds, and beans have high protein content to fuel kids.
Serve your kid with a whole wheat peanut butter sandwich because it is a delicious and healthy choice.
Kids’ bones haven’t fully developed yet.
However, their bones will benefit greatly once you feed them with plant-based products rich in calcium.
Calcium is a critical nutrient for muscles and nerves and helps blood clot.
Vegan children can get more calcium from tofu, collard greens, and fortified drinks such as calcium-enriched orange juice.
Fortified cereals, leafy greens, and beans will give kids much-needed iron.
Their body will absorb even more iron if they eat foods rich in Vitamin c.
For instance, they can have bean burrito or salsa.
Vitamin B-12 is crucial for healthy blood cells and the nervous system.
The primary sources of these nutrients are meat products, so kids may not get enough.
Either way, they can have cereals, tofu or veggie meats, and soy drinks as an alternative.
Allow your kids to play outdoors in the morning under the sun for about 15 to 30 minutes per day because this is the easiest way to get enough vitamin D.
However, if kids are usually at school or you live in a place that is not always sunny, give your kids fortified orange juice and non-dairy milk.
How to Ensure Complete Nutrition Among Kids on a Vegan Diet
Keeping off animal-based products from your child’s diet is not an obstacle to their health and safety.
However, meal planning for vegan kids would not be as easy as for non-vegan or omnivore kids.
For the whole vegan community, it’s crucial to keep in mind the essential micronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
But for vegan kids, the right amount of fat and protein is critical to their growing bodies.
Proteins can be added to one’s vegan diet but only when animal proteins are adequately replaced with vegan alternatives such as tofu, peas, beans, lentils, seed butter, or nuts.
You also need to be cautious in giving them low-protein vegan milk alternatives like rice milk, coconut, and almond.
Having enough fat in a kid’s diet is also helpful in their growing bodies and brains.
Once you introduce them to solid foods, stick with plant-based fat sources like seed butter, nuts, vegetable oil, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, hemp hearts, and avocado.
How to Safely Change a Kid’s Non-vegan Diet to Vegan
If your kid is not vegan since birth, the best thing to do before changing their diet to vegan is to talk with their pediatrician or pediatrician dietician.
Talk to the doctor about the possible risks and concerns your child may encounter with a vegan diet.
They may suggest a supplement or multivitamins complement their vegan diet.
Once the kid starts vegan, prepare for your little one to experience a few challenges.
Watch for symptoms that may indicate your child’s nutritional needs are not met.
These symptoms could be energy changes or mood swings.
A food journal can also be of help when planning or tracking food consumption.
In this way, you can review the journal with the doctor to ensure that you’re not overlooking nutritional imbalances in your child’s diet.
It’s best to have your kid’s diet record of one weekend day, two weekdays, and three days.
This will inform the provider of a good picture of the child’s typical food intake.
After all, a carefully planned vegan diet is healthy for adults and kids and has long-term benefits.
Also, after your little babe is weaned from DHA-fortified formula or breastfeeding, consult a doctor for a possible DHA supplement.
How to Address Nutrition Deficiency Risks
Plant-based diets usually contain less iodine, iron, vitamin B12, and calcium.
These nutrients are primary concerns when one, not only kids, are strict with their vegan diet.
After all, animal products are the best source of these nutrients.
Iodine is primarily found in eggs, seafood, and other milk products.
But you can also find these nutrients in grains and cereals.
You may need to supplement this nutrient to your kid’s diet because most dietary supply is derived from fortified salt.
Iron is needed for growing babies because it’s essential for their rapid growth rate.
Non-heme iron from plants (i.e., beans, seed butter, ground seeds, lentils, tofu) has a low effect on the body.
It is best to combine them with plant-based products that are rich in vitamin C for high bioavailability.
Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient commonly found in eggs, meat, and dairy products.
However, there are a lot of alternatives for animal products, such as soy milk, breakfast cereals, and many other fortified foods.
These products are rich in vitamin B12, so give your kids plenty of them.
As for calcium, cow’s milk, of course, is the best source.
But since it is derived from cow, you will need an alternative to align with your kid’s vegan diet.
Fortunately, the market offers a lot of calcium-rich foods such as leafy greens, tofu, sesame butter, almond butter, and fortified soy milk.
When Should a Child Not Go Vegan?
Veganism is not for everyone.
Just like adults, there are some instances where going vegan is not a viable option for children.
For example, kids who are picky eaters are vulnerable to nutritional deficiency.
In addition, any medical or health condition triggering your child’s inability to eat or digest food is enough reason to forgo a vegan lifestyle.
Premature babies may also benefit from fats and growth-promoting proteins coming from animals.
So their pediatricians may not recommend a vegan diet.
A vegan diet likewise poses a medical concern for kids prone to allergies.
It’s recommended that they be introduced to allergens to reduce the occurrence of allergies.
Kids on a vegan diet will not be exposed to fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs which are top sources of allergens.
Moreover, if the child has multiple food allergies, such as soy, nuts, legumes, seed, or whatnot, it is even more difficult for them to stick to a vegan diet.
The Bottom Line
A vegan kid doesn’t need to be a contradiction in terms, even from the first days of a child’s life.
Following the proper precautions and a few modifications, a kid can be raised on a diet free of animal consumption.
Children raised on a diet of veggies, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, grow up less overweight and, most of all, healthier than omnivore kids.
Plant-based foods are low in fat, calories, and cholesterol free (usually the bad stuff) but high in complex carbohydrates, cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, and fiber (the good stuff).
This is good news, as you can rest assured that your veggie babe can be as strong and healthy as omnivore kids growing up.
Not to mention the fact that you save the lives of hundreds of animals every single year by cutting them off your plate.
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