With a reasonable amount of effort and attention, all of a child’s nutritional needs can be met with a vegan diet. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), “Appropriately planned vegan and lactoovovegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents, and promote normal growth.” Veganism by its nature is a conscious diet. Vegan families are usually more aware than omnivores of meeting nutritional needs.
A different kind of food
Whole grains are at the base of the vegan food pyramid — children need 6-11 servings of these per day. Servings need not be huge, generally ½-1 cup. Vegan children need at least three servings of vegetables, two servings of fruit, 6-8 servings of fortified non-dairy milk, yogurt or “cheese,” and 2-3 servings of legumes, seeds or nuts each day. Because vitamins B12 and D, Omega 3s, Iron and Zinc are not abundant in plant foods, children will most likely need to supplement with multi-vitamins.
Stocking a vegan pantry
Your vegan pantry needs an ample supply of the following five whole foods groups. These form the basis of your diet. Processed vegan food adds flavor and fun to your repertoire, but should not be your go to if you intend to provide proper nutrition for your family.
- Fresh Veggies: Vegetables that are fresh, ripe, organic and in season provide peak nutrition. From alfalfa sprouts to yams, these are food staples for your vegan child.
- Fresh and Dried Fruit.
- Whole Grains: There are so many to choose! Oats, barley, polenta, quinoa, rice and whole wheat.
- Legumes: Experiment to find the ones your children enjoy. Black beans and chickpeas are favorites for most vegan children. Lentils, peas, kidney beans or black-eyed peas provide variety.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds to walnuts, flax to sunflower seeds. Vegans need protein and nutrient dense foods.
In addition to the five whole foods, there are an almost overwhelming number of processed vegan foods. Fortified nondairy milk, yogurts and “cheese,” along with green leafy vegetables, are an important source of calcium for vegan children. Nondairy products made from hempseed, oats, rice, nuts, and coconut give you many options. While soy should be included in a vegan diet, vegan families should beware and should not make them a staple due to their phytoestrogen content. Olive oil, hummus and bean dip, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, vegetable broth, vegan “meats”, miso paste, bagels, breads, crackers, cereal, maple syrup, vegan sugar, and dairy free dark chocolate are some healthy vegan processed foods. The best of these have few ingredients and high nutritional value.
Vegan through the ages
The vegan diet will look different at the various stages of a child’s life. Infants and young vegan children can consume types of vegan milk supplemented with protein powder as an alternative to whole milk. This combination provides all essential vitamins, calcium and nutrients in a supremely digestible form. The fat content is not equal to whole milk, and vegan parents need to provide fatty foods like avocado, margarine, oil and nut butter to make up for this difference.
As your vegan child grows, her nutritional needs will change, but following the guidelines above will provide enough nutrition to help her thrive.
Living a vegan lifestyle
Of course, choosing to follow this lifestyle can be problematic in our omnivorous society. The following methods help empower vegan children and families:
- Nourish pride in your vegan child by reminding them that their diet promotes compassion for themselves, animals, and the earth.
- Maintain connections! Be sure to take part in community and family activities. If possible, find activities that are not centered on food.
- Be informed and wise, but not pushy about your diet. Employ tolerance and acceptance.
- Always provide delicious and beautiful vegan food for your child when they “leave the nest.” Bring awesome vegan dishes to community food events.
CATEGORIES: Vegan, Vegetarian, Vegan Diet, Parenting Tips, Plant-based Diet, Vegan Children