Kids Eat Right Vegetarian and Vegan
Happy Kids Eat Right month everyone! As a plant-based nutrition expert and registered dietitian, I talk about vegetarian and vegan eating a LOT. It’s quite important that veggie and vegan kids eat right….and it’s important that ALL kids eat right. That’s why I’m discussing Kids Eat Right Vegetarian and Vegan here this month. I want you to have all the information you need for feeding healthy, happy, growing humans.
Getting Kids Excited About Vegetarian Cooking
Involving kids in the kitchen is key to their learning and the future of feeding themselves and their own families. It’s a creative time for exploring, communicating, and stepping away from screens. Plant-based cooking can be simple and fun to do together. I like to take natural ingredients like bananas, oats, chopped veggies and tofu and turn them into their own whole-foods-based tasty recipes.
Kids can help in the kitchen by measuring out ingredients, stirring and even chopping, depending on their age and with supervision. They can pick out foods at the grocery store and even help with meal planning. Often, when they feel more ownership over their food choices, they’re more likely to try new foods and experiment a bit.
How Kids Eat Right Vegetarian and Vegan
It’s the official position of the Academy of Nutriton and Dietetics that: appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.
That’s right; you don’t have to worry about your child being a vegetarian or vegan and not meeting their needs. It’s quite easy with a balanced diet and appropriate supplementation if needed. Veggies and vegans of all ages need to be eating foods like tofu/soy foods, beans and lentils and lots of whole grains, fruits and veggies. They need to be aware of meeting iron, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, choline, omega-3 and B12 needs. You can talk to your pediatrician or registered dietitian for more specifics on what kinds of supplements may be indicated based on your child’s needs.
The good news is that, though there are some nutrients of concern for veggies and vegans, there’s evidence that they get more of other nutrients like folate, B-6, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, fiber and antioxidants.
As a past Chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition dietetic practice group, I get a lot of questions about vegetarian or vegan kids. I wanted to offer you some answers to common questions and FAQs about this subject as well as some important resources from organizations and other dietitians who specialize in plant-based diets for kids. Links are embedded so you can click to learn more.
Kids Eat Right Vegetarian and Vegan
FAQS For you
- Non-dairy sources of calcium include tofu processed with calcium sulfate, green leafy vegetables including collard greens, mustard greens, and kale, as well as tahini (sesame butter), fortified soy milk, and fortified orange juice. Studies show that fortified foods are very well absorbed in the body.
- Teenage vegans have nutritional needs that are the same as any other teenager.
- Soy is safe for kids! (and adults – if you have questions, let’s talk). It’s actually shown to be beneficial for heart health, bone health and cancer prevention. Tofu is a great finger food for kids and its high in vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants.
- Vitamin C can enhance iron absorption from plant foods. When choosing iron containing plant foods like spinach, Swiss chard, oatmeal, tempeh, soymilk, almonds, pistachios, dried figs, raisins, and enriched Grapenuts or Total cereal, add in some berries, citrus, tomato or bell pepper to increase how much your child will get.
- According to the the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, plant-based diets may reduce obesity, ischemic heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure and even some forms of cancer.
- You can get enough protein, folate, iron, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, and other nutrients when you’re pregnant on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Make sure to work with your pediatrician and dietitian if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding to ensure you’re meeting all your needs – plant-based or not.
- Kids do not need to worry about getting “complete” proteins. No one does, actually. The body stores all the amino acids you eat in a variety of foods so when they’re needed, you can pull from a pool within the body. There’s no need to worry about combining plant foods to create complete proteins. The body knows what to do and as long as kids are eating a variety of produce, whole grains and beans/legumes, they’ll be doing just fine.
- Breast milk or formula is the only food needed from birth until 4-6 months. Vegetarian diets, including lacto-ovo, lacto, or vegan, can meet the needs of older infants. There are a lot of fun plant-based foods to introduce that kids can touch, feel and even practice feeding themselves at that age. These types of foods are a wonderful introduction to the joy of eating.
- A well-balanced vegetarian diet supports healthy growth and development of toddlers and preschoolers. As long as they are meeting their needs, these diets can help kids grow happy and healthy. There’s all kinds of “kid foods” and not all of it is the best for growing children. Plant-based, whole foods are nourishing and provide energy for learning and growing.
Thanks for joining me for Kids Eat Right Vegetarian and Vegan as we get ready to head back to school this fall. Remember, we should be encouraging our kids and parent to eat more plant-based foods. There are many myths abound about this subject so I hope it seems more clear now. Kids can have fun in the kitchen cooking vegetarian and vegan. The foods offer many nutrients that are important for growing kids and teens.
Let me know how you and your family are eating vegetarian or vegan!
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
Thanks for visiting! If you’re like me: obsessed with eating, wine, going out and traveling, you’re in the right place. Champagne Nutrition® LLC is a Registered Dietitian-run concierge virtual practice helping clients look and feel better. On this blog, you’ll ﬁnd cocktails, mocktails, and plant-based recipes that are easy to make quickly at home and pack for leftovers on your adventures.