There was a time when, if you told people you were planning to raise your vegan child from the beginning, you would meet with raised eyebrows or even indignant comments. How would your child get enough protein and nutrients? Wouldn’t they have shortcomings?
(Annnnd that’s why we do not always share our plans for raising children with others, do we?)
These days, with the growing popularity of plant-based diets, it is much more acceptable to raise your child on a diet free of animal products.
In fact, according to a 2016 position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Properly planned vegetarian diets (including a vegan diet) can be healthy and nutritious for people of all ages – including babies and children.
However, it is important to know that raising a vegan child comes with some risks and may not be suitable for all children. Here you have everything you need to know about raising your child on a vegan diet as a child, younger and wider.
When it comes to babies and veganism, safety seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. Is it really good for a baby from 0 to 12 months to never eat meat, milk, fish or eggs?
For most children, yes! “In general, it is safe and healthy to offer a plant-based diet [for this age range], “Confirms pediatric dietology Amy Chow, RD.
Of course, in the first few months of your baby, they will only need one type of food: breast milk or formula. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the introduction of solids around the age of 6 months.) While there are some soy-based vegetable formulas, they can be difficult to find.
The good news, however, is that breastfeeding is consistent with a vegan lifestyle. Although breast milk is technically an “animal” product because it is human milk made for human babies, it poses no ethical conflict.
Even when inserting solids, keeping animal products out of the crib should not be a problem for your baby’s health and safety. However, meal planning will probably not be as simple as it would be for omnivores.
For all diets, it is important to consider three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. But for vegan babies, the right amounts of protein and fat are especially critical.
“Protein is usually supplemented through a vegan diet, but only if animal proteins are adequately replaced with plant-based proteins (eg beans, peas, lentils, tofu, walnut butter / seeds),” says Chow.
Use caution by feeding your baby low-protein vegan milk alternatives such as almond, coconut or rice milk. “These are not recommended for infants and young children, as they will fill their little belly without much food.”
Getting enough fat also supports the baby’s growing bodies and brain. When introducing solids, Chow suggests sticking to healthy sources of plant-based fats, such as vegetable oil, walnut and seed butter, hemp hearts, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and avocados.
Unfortunately, foods that provide DHA omega-3 fatty acids (the type that contribute to the nervous and cognitive development of babies) come mainly from animals.
Once your baby is removed from breastfeeding or a DHA-enriched formula, talk to your doctor about the possibility of a DHA supplement.
The disturbing nutrients in a vegan diet are, of course, those that come in smaller amounts in plants than in animal foods. These include (but are not limited to) vitamin B12, iodine, iron, and calcium.
Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient found in meat, eggs and dairy products. Many fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and soy milk, are fortified with B12, so be sure to offer plenty of these to your baby.
As for iodine, although seafood, eggs and dairy products are among the best sources, you can find it in some cereals and grains. However, this is a nutrient you may need to supplement in your baby’s diet, in part because most of our dietary supply comes from fortified salt.
“Plant-based diets may be low in iodine, and because added salt is generally not recommended for babies under 12 months, vegan babies may be at risk for iodine deficiency,” says Chow.
And there is a good reason why you will often see iron as an important mineral for growing babies. “Iron needs for babies are highest from 7 to 12 months due to rapid growth,” Chow explains.
However, non-hemp iron from plant sources has low bioavailability (has less active effect on the body). And the higher the amount of fiber from a vegan diet – especially, some ingredients found in cereals and beans – can actually reduce that active effect even more.
Chow shares some helpful strategies: “Combine non-heme iron (e.g. lentils, peas, beans, ground seeds, seed butter, tofu) with a source of vitamin C, use a cast iron skillet for cooking, and offer whole grains. for children fortified with iron .. “
Last but not least, we would all certainly point to cow’s milk as a high source of calcium – but since it comes from a cow, you will definitely need an alternative to your baby’s vegan diet your. Look for other foods rich in calcium, such as soy milk, tofu, almond butter, sesame butter, and leafy greens.
Although many Americans are deficient in dietary fiber, a vegan diet can actually provide also lots of your baby’s small GI tract fibers.
This can not only cause gas, diarrhea and additional discomfort, but can have other, less obvious consequences. “Too much fiber can lead to poor absorption of important nutrients like iron, zinc and calcium,” says Chow.
So what should a vegan parent do when introducing high-fiber foods like cereals, soy, vegetables and beans? Try the following:
- gradually increase the fiber in your baby’s diet
- provide plenty of fluids by adding fiber
- soak and drain beans, grains, nuts and seeds to improve solubility and reduce nutrient binding
In an ideal world, anyone caring for your baby would understand what belongs and what does not belong in your child’s vegan diet – and would have an idea with the idea. The real world, of course, is not perfect.
It is possible for you to face resistance or ignorance from caregivers about the choices you have made to eat your baby. No matter how much you give instructions on what your child can eat, you may end up having some difficult conversations with caregivers.
You may also need to be prepared for the fact that, outside of your care, your child will eventually consume some animal products (even if by accident).
As much as possible, do the emotional work of making peace with what you can not control, knowing that an unintentional bite of cheese or hamburger will not destroy your child for veganism forever.
As for adults, there are some circumstances when it is not the best choice for children to follow a vegan diet.
Children who are overly selective eaters or have difficulty feeding may be at higher risk of nutritional inadequacy, Chow says. In fact, any health or medical condition that impairs your child’s ability to eat or digest food may be reason enough to give up a vegan diet.
If your child has this type of health problem, talk to your pediatrician about whether it is wise to keep animal products off the menu.
Premature babies can also benefit from the growth-promoting proteins and fats that animal products provide, so your doctor may recommend a more varied diet until your baby gains weight.
Chow also notes that a vegan diet poses a health concern for babies at high risk of food allergies. “It is recommended to introduce priority allergens early to reduce the risk of developing allergies,” she says. “In a vegan diet, the baby will not be exposed to eggs, milk, fish, seafood – which are part of the main allergens.”
Plus, we’ll be honest: If your child has multiple food allergies, such as nuts, seeds or soy, it can be a rather epic challenge to make a vegan diet work.
If you have strong feelings about issues such as animal cruelty or environmental health, it is natural to want to raise a child who is aware of these concerns.
On the other hand, since veganism may not be appropriate for certain babies or children — at least for a while — it is best to consult your pediatrician before deciding to feed a vegan diet with your meal.
If you decide, after consulting your doctor, that pet-free is the way for your whole family, you may be advised to work with a pediatric dietitian. They can help you make a plan for a healthy approach to veganism from infancy onwards.
Don’t have a referral? Check the register of practitioners of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in your area.
A vegan child should not be a contradiction in terms of him, even from the first days of your child’s life. By taking proper precautions, it is possible to bring your toddler on a diet free of animal products. Your vegetarian baby can grow up just as healthy and strong as any carnivore.