Have you been thinking about the food options you want to provide to your kids for them to grow strong and healthy? Lately, many parents are contemplating the option of a vegan diet, not just for themselves, but also for their kids. However, a vegan diet can be a healthy diet for active, growing children only if planned appropriately.
To ensure that kids are getting the adequate nutrient amounts to grow and develop, incorporate a dietary variety and diversity, particularly in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and meat analogues. Important nutrient intakes to keep an eye on include the following:
- Caloric intake: Vegan diets are relatively low in caloric density. To make sure your child is getting the amount of calories needed to meet his energy needs, provide sources of concentrated calories such as avocadoes, nuts, seeds and their butters, whole grain bread, pasta, and cereal.
- Vitamin B12: Plant foods are not reliable sources of vitamin B12. Your child will need to take supplements or eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 such as cereal, non-dairy milk, meat substitutes or nutritional yeast.
- Calcium and Vitamin D: Appropriate calcium and vitamin D consumption is needed in order to build and maintain strong bones. In addition, Vitamin D is crucial for maintaining a strong immune response. Sources of calcium sources include legumes, figs, almonds, blackstrap molasses, broccoli and calcium fortified soymilk, rice milk, and orange juice. Vitamin D is present in fortified milk, but the body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight (10-15 min of warm summer sun on face and forearms).
- Iron: Iron from fruits and vegetables is not readily absorbed. Choose foods that are fortified with iron such as cereals, bread, rice, or pasta and consider a vitamin supplement that contains iron.
- Protein: Vegan children need 10-20% more protein, and 20-30% for children 4-6 years old (about 1.1.-1.6 g of protein per kg of body weight). This is mostly to compensate for the reduced digestibility of plant protein. Include an assorted combination of well-cooked legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables to meet your kid’s protein and amino acid needs.
- Zinc: Zinc is essential for immune function and wound healing. Zinc availability from plant sources is greatly reduced due to the fiber and phytate that interfere with zinc absorption. Adding yeast-fermented whole grain breads, legumes, tofu, and nuts significantly improve zinc intake.
There are many nutritious & fun vegan foods kids can enjoy. For example: sliced fresh fruit, baby carrots and celery sticks, rice cakes with nut butters, iron-fortified cereal with rice milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D, veggie pizza, whole grain PB&J sandwich and whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce to name a few.
When choosing a vegan diet for your child, focus on optimal growth, development, and better health; and visit your Pediatrician and Registered Dietician regularly to make sure your child is getting the nutrients he or she needs, and in adequate amounts.