When introducing a vegan lifestyle and diet into a child’s life, whether it be from day one or a bit later in their life, there are usually many challenges parents face. How do you know you’ve made the best decisions for your child’s health? Stay with us because we have explored the most important aspects of veganism for children and practical tips on which vegan foods to cover!
Which foods should children be eating?
By now you are probably familiar with the downsides of animal products. Saturated fats found in them lead to clogged blood vessels, lack of starchy carbohydrates, shortage of vitamins C, E, and too much animal protein. All of this is actually a huge threat and risk that leads to heart disease, many types of cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, obesity, diabetes, and a pretty unlimited list of other diseases.
However, a varied and plant-based diet, a school lunch box full of fresh fruits and veggies, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and beans is the optimal choice for your child’s health protection and promotion. Vegan diets, when done correctly, are packed with protein, essential fats, starchy carbohydrates, fibre, antioxidant minerals, and vitamins.
To simplify this very complex-looking challenge, let’s take a look at what kids should consume in a day.
Fruits and vegetables (for example fresh fruits, dried fruits, green or root veggies, salad veggies)
Whole grains and cereals (for example cooked brown rice, couscous, breakfast cereal, wholewheat pasta, wholemeal bread)
Seeds, nuts, or pulses (for example chickpeas, beans, lentils, peas, mock meats, tofu, burgers, sausages)
Healthy oils (for example virgin olive oil, flaxseed/hempseed/walnut oil, plant-based margarine, rapeseed oil)
Vitamin B12, Vitamin D (only available through multivitamin supplements)
Omega-3 fats (for example chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseed oil, walnut, supplements)
These categories are tailored for children of every age, the only variable is the portion sizes.
Let’s talk about protein
The biggest argument against veganism is typically the concern for a lack of protein. Why is everyone so serious about it?
Well, we need protein for growing and repairing muscles, bones, different types of tissue, our immune system, enzyme and hormone formation and function, the transmission of nerve signals, and many other reactions important for optimal health.
So how are vegans supposed to receive and consume protein? There are many vegan sources of protein, which are by themselves enough to meet kids’ protein requirements, without the necessity for supplements! These include chickpeas, lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, edamame, pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bread, oats, seitan, mock meats, and a few other options.
When served in appropriate sizes, these protein sources leave children lacking nothing!
What supplements does a vegan diet require?
If we look at the different lists science and nutrition have provided concerning our daily vitamin intake, it can seem a bit overwhelming. Adding veganism to this makes you think it might just be too difficult to manage.
However, all health organizations and experts have agreed there are only a few simple things that need to be supplemented in a vegan child’s diet. Yes, you can take that sigh of relief now.
For a vegan diet, it is nearly impossible to obtain vitamin B12 and vitamin D purely from foods. That’s why supplements are crucial in these areas!
Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria that are found in water and soil. For people eating animal products, this is easy to obtain considering this vitamin is fed to animals. For those following a vegan diet, things aren’t that simple. Most of today’s foods are washed clean from any of that bacteria that could carry vitamin B12 in our bodies. Not even vitamin B12 fortified foods are enough to give us the amounts we need.
This is why supplements are the best way to ensure we receive enough vitamin B12. Thankfully, vitamin B12 is easily available in most multivitamin packs, and probably the yummiest method of consumption for kids would be through multivitamin gummies.
Vitamin D is next, and this one is known as the “sunshine vitamin”. This is because it is mainly obtained from the sunrays hitting our skin. In the past decades, scientific discoveries have been made and they all point out the harm the rough sun can do to our skin. If we want to stay safe, sunscreen is essential. So, the consumption of vitamin D is then limited. Supplements of vitamin D can be found in multivitamin packs as well, but there are also products that allow the individual intake of vitamin D.
Some parents are also worried about their children receiving enough iron when introducing a vegan diet. In today’s day and age, there is no end to the list of products containing iron supplements, and this one paired with vitamin C is a big hit in terms of flavour, chewiness, and being sugar-free!
When raising vegan kids
Helping your kids truly enjoy and embrace this healthy and optimized diet and lifestyle is a parent’s dream. We’ve found a few helpful tips on some changes you could introduce to make this achievable!
You could try involving your kids in meal prep and meal making. Asking them what they’d like to have that week and including them in the cooking has proven to be effective. Make some familiar foods - a delicious mac and cheese turned vegan ensures they still enjoy the typical flavours and types of meals. This also requires you not to be afraid of meat and cheese alternatives! Another tip is smoothies. Throwing in a bunch of healthy greens but sweetening the taste with fruits is a great way to consume many vitamins and nutrients. Having snacks and fruit bowls on hand at all times is an easy way to ensure your kids reach for them!
Most importantly, try not to make veganism seem restrictive and like a super difficult set of rules to follow. It should feel natural, delicious, and satisfying in order to reap all the benefits from this lifestyle.
There are many essential food groups that need to be covered in a vegan diet. These are usually easily accessible for everyone, and the things we can’t receive through food are best covered in supplements!