Tips for Raising Healthy Vegan Children

Raising Vegan Children

Is it possible to raise a child following a vegan diet and still meet the child’s nutritional needs? Definitely! Parents or caregivers raising a vegan child need to be aware of ways to ensure that the child’s nutritional needs are being met. With education and effort, raising a child on a vegan diet can be successful and healthy.

Below are some tips for different ages.

Raising Vegan Infants 

Breastfeeding is ideal for vegan infants.

However, commercial soy formula can be used if necessary.

Solid food introduction would follow the same progression as non-vegan infants, with mashed or pureed tofu, pureed and strained legumes, and soy yogurt replacing meat. At about seven to ten months, soy cheese, cubed tofu and bite-size pieces of vegetable burgers can be introduced. Commercial full-fat fortified soy, almond, rice, or hemp milk can be used as the primary beverage for a vegan child beginning at one year of age.

Energy and nutrient-rich foods, such as legume spreads, mashed avocado, and tofu should be provided when a vegan infant is being weaned. Also, dietary fat should not be restricted in children under two years of age.

Dietary supplement recommendations are typically the same as for non-vegan infants. Infants should be assessed to make sure that they are receiving enough vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc, and if not, a supplement may be needed.

Raising Vegan Children and Adolescents

Frequent meals and snacks help vegan children and adolescents meet nutrient and energy needs. It's also important to include some refined foods, such as cereals, and foods higher in unsaturated fats, like avocados, nuts, olives, seeds, and certain oils. Two or three sources of vegetable proteins or nuts are needed per day to ensure adequate protein and iron.

Do not give whole nuts to children under five years old. Grind nuts finely or make a smooth nut butter to use.

Choosing a vegan diet can be a healthy option; however, here are some key nutrients to watch and sources of each:

  • Calcium: Spinach, collard greens, great northern and navy beans, kale, fortified soy milk, fortified orange juice, sesame seeds, tahini, broccoli, almonds, carrots—cow's milk isn't the only source of calcium!
  • Vitamin D: Fortified tofu and soy milk, mushrooms, breakfast cereals, fortified orange juice, and sunlight are all strong sources of vitamin D.
  • Vitamin B-12: This one is mostly found in animal sources, so a supplement is an option. Other than a supplement, nutritional yeast is the best source of vitamin B-12 for a vegan. Other food sources would be foods fortified with vitamin B-12, such as fortified soy milk, fortified cereals, and some meat substitutes.
  • Iron: Dark green vegetables, fortified breads and cereals, dried fruit (for example, apricots, dates, and figs), beans, lentils, fortified breakfast cereal, tofu, and hummus can help meet your daily needs. Note that Vitamin C improves the body’s ability to absorb iron, so provide vitamin C from fruit and/or vegetables with each meal.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Flax seed, flax seed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, navy beans, pine nuts, leafy greens are packed with this fatty acid.
  • Zinc: Legumes, nuts, whole grains, and spinach will help give your child their fill.

Knowing how to meet your child’s nutritional needs when following a vegan diet while educating your child along the way is the key to success. When you need help, ask for help. Your child’s pediatrician or a registered dietitian can help you child grow big and strong on a vegan diet.