In light of World Vegan Month, I am answering the 10 most commonly asked questions about raising kids on a vegan diet.
What does it mean to be vegan?
Vegans don’t consume animal products, this includes meat, fish, dairy products, eggs and honey.
Is it possible to raise kids on a vegan diet?
A child can be on a vegan diet safely, but it should be done in consultation with the child’s paediatrician. A nutritionist may also be involved. Childhood is a critical time for growth and development, and it is very important that adequate amounts of critical vitamins and minerals are taken in the child’s diet at specific times in development.
Is it healthy to raise kids on a vegan diet?
A vegan diet can be healthy for children, however it needs careful consideration and detailed planning, to ensure your child gets all the nutrients needed.
What are the important things I need to consider if I want to raise my child on a vegan diet?
If you are raising your children on a vegan diet, you need to keep an eye on their calorie, protein and vitamin/mineral intakes, specifically iron, calcium and vitamin B12
Is my child getting enough calories?
Young children need lots of energy to grow and develop. Vegetarian and vegan foods can be higher in fibre and lower in calories than a diet that includes meat.
When it comes to starchy foods, in addition to wholegrain and wholemeal versions, your child needs some lower-fibre foods, such as white bread and rice, until they are 5 years old.
This is because wholegrains are high in fibre and can fill your child up before they have taken in enough calories and nutrients.
If you’re concerned your child is not getting enough energy, offer them higher-calorie foods, such as hummus, bananas, nuts and nut butters.
Is your child getting enough protein?
Your child needs 1 or 2 portions of protein-rich food every day to make sure they get enough.
Plant foods that contain protein include:
beans and lentils, and foods made from them – such as tofu, hummus and soya mince, seeds, nuts and nut butters.
Do I need to supplement any vitamins/minerals if my child is on a vegan diet?
If your child is on a vegan diet, it is important to keep a close eye on their micronutrient intakes.
You can make sure your child gets enough iron by giving them:
wholegrains, such as wholemeal bread and brown rice
beans and lentils
dried fruit, such as apricots, figs and prunes – offer these with meals, rather than as a snack between meals, to help prevent tooth decay
Whole milk and full-fat dairy products are a good source of calcium, which is important for bones and teeth.
Whole cows’ milk can be used for cooking from 6 months and offered as a drink from 1 year old.
Some foods are also fortified with calcium, so check the labels.
You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya drinks, from the age of 1 as part of a balanced diet. Rice milk isn’t suitable for children under 5 years because it may contain high levels of naturally occurring arsenic.
Other sources of calcium include bread, leafy green vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra – and almond nut butter.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods including eggs, cheese and milk.
If your baby or child follows a vegan diet, they will need to eat foods fortified with B12 or take a supplement that contains it.
Foods that may be fortified with vitamin B12 include baby and breakfast cereals, soya yoghurts, and non-dairy milks such as soya, oat and almond.
Vitamin B12 is also found in yeast extract, which is suitable for vegans – choose a brand with no added salt for your baby.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an important nutrient for a child’s brain development. Best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish, but if your child is on a vegan diet, you can opt for the following alternatives:
flaxseed (linseed) oil
soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu
What do I do if one of my kids decided to go vegan?
Try to understand why they decide to go vegan and support them in their cause. They might decide after a week (or as little as a day) that veganism isn’t there thing, but they gave it a go and made their own decisions.
Don’t get me wrong, I know, the first thing that springs to your mind is probably the added burden of cooking additional meals for your child. But when you start looking into this, I am sure you will find a way that works for the whole family, without cooking additional meals. In many cases, you can add a portion of plant based protein instead of meat or switch to vegan alternatives for dairy and egg products.
Where do I go for more advice?
If you are considering a vegan diet for your child, please speak to your GP or paediatrician.