How to Raise Healthy Vegetarian and Vegan Children

Last updated on October 4th, 2017 at 11:03 pm

How Can I Raise A Healthy Vegetarian or Vegan Child?

If you’re bringing up your child on a diet without meat (vegetarian) or without any food from an animal (vegan), they’ll need two or three portions of vegetable proteins or nuts every day to make sure they get enough protein and iron.

Don’t give whole nuts to children under five years old as they could choke. Grind nuts finely or use a smooth nut butter.

Read Food allergies for important information about peanut allergy.

Weaning your vegetarian baby

The advice on introducing solids at about six months is the same for vegetarian babies as for non-vegetarian babies. However, as your child gets older, there’s a risk that a vegetarian or vegan diet may be low in iron and energy and too high in fibre.

You can make sure your child gets enough iron by giving them:

  • fortified breakfast cereal
  • dark green vegetables
  • bread
  • beans and lentils
  • dried fruit, such as apricots, figs and prunes

Vitamin C in fruit and vegetables helps the body to absorb iron, so include these at every mealtime.

You can help ensure that your child gets all the nutrients they need by giving them smaller and more frequent main meals, with one or two snacks in between, and making sure they eat a good variety of foods. You’ll also need to make sure they get enough calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

The Department of Health recommends that all children aged six months to five years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

It’s also recommended that babies who are being breastfed are given a daily vitamin D supplement from birth.

Babies who are having more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day shouldn’t be given vitamin supplements because formula is fortified with certain nutrients and no other supplementation is required.

Read more about vitamins for babies and toddlers.

Vegan diets for children

If you’re breastfeeding and you’re on a vegan diet, it’s important that you take a vitamin D supplement. You may also need extra vitamin B12.

Take care when giving children a vegan diet. Young children need a good variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth.

A vegan diet can be bulky and high in fibre. This can mean that children get full up before they’ve taken in enough calories. Because of this, they may need extra supplements. Ask a dietitian or doctor for advice before introducing your child to solids.

Energy

Young children need lots of energy to grow and develop. Give vegan children high-calorie foods, such as hummus, bananas and smooth nut and seed butters (such as tahini and cashew or peanut butter). They still need starchy foods. However, don’t give only wholegrain and wholemeal versions to children under five years old because they’re high in fibre. For extra energy, you could add vegetable oils or vegan fat spreads to foods.

Protein

Pulses and food made from pulses are a good source of protein for vegan children. Nut and seed butters also contain protein. Always use smooth versions for babies and children under five years old. Breastfeeding until your child is two or more, or giving them soya-based formula milk if they are vegan, will help ensure they get enough protein.

Ask your GP for advice before using soya-based formula.

Calcium

Fortified soya drinks often have added calcium. Some foods are also fortified with calcium, so check the label.

Vitamin B12

Fortified breakfast cereals and some yeast extracts contain vitamin B12. Your child may also need a supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Some omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain vegetable oils, such as linseed, flaxseed, walnut and rapeseed oils. However, these are chemically different from the long chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish. Evidence suggests that these short-chain fatty acids may not offer the same protection against heart disease as those found in oily fish.

Editor’s Note: from PedSafe Expert, Pediatrician Dr Joe:  The question “how can I raise a healthy vegetarian or vegan child is a challenging one”.  Technically speaking, UK and US recommendations for vitamin supplementations are fairly similar.  However, having read this article you’ll note that there is a significant responsibility passed onto the parents to know the exact content of every food in their childrens’ diets and look for any specific deficiencies based on all vitamins and minerals. This is a Herculean task as there is a plethora of information and disinformation out there that must be evaluated by parents.  Therefore I would ask parents to seriously consider their reasons for adopting a diet like this for their children, and to discuss all food choices and diet changes with their pediatrician to ensure their child is maintaining a proper nutritional balance.





About the Author

NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) is the UK’s biggest health website. It provides a comprehensive health information service to help put you in control of your healthcare.

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