Raising vegan kids – what you need to know
There are many benefits to raising your kids on wholesome plant-based foods. It sets up a child for a lifetime of healthy habits. Many people are surprised to learn that the disease process that causes so many chronic diseases in adults start in childhood. You can help your child prevent many diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several forms of cancer. At the same time, you are teaching your child to care for the animals and the earth through their food choices.
Teaching your child to enjoy fruits and vegetables will result in a diet that tends to be higher in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. This will help your child to prevent a host of diseases in almost every part of their body from their gastrointestinal tract to their brain to their joints later in life. They will also benefit from avoiding animal products such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs, thus avoiding the saturated fat and cholesterol that animal products are loaded with. In addition, they’ll be avoiding many toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that tend to accumulate in the flesh and milk of animals throughout their lifetimes, which increases the risk of many diseases in people who consume animal products.
However, it’s important to ensure that your child doesn’t resort to vegan junk food too often. While vegan foods, by containing no animal products, avoid the problems of animal foods, but they will miss the opportunity to gain from the fiber and nutrients that wholesome plant-foods include. So focus their diet on whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds as often as possible to get the best possible nutrition, and ensure that they include foods that are high in calcium and iron (especially for girls once they’ve reached puberty). Since some children can be picky eaters, a one-a-day multivitamin that includes vitamin B12 and D, will help ensure that they cover all the bases even while exerting their independence and making poor choices from time to time.
As children are growing quickly, and need a lot of energy to run around, they will tend to consume a lot of calories, so giving them higher fat plant foods, such as beans, nuts and avocados can help to maintain the calories they need. They may fill up quickly with high fiber foods, so frequent snacks are a good idea. Top picks for protein foods include tofu, edamame, tempeh, beans and lentils. Soy milk is a particularly good source of easily consumed protein, compared to other plant-based milks.
Peer pressure can be a challenge during the school years, so teach your children the reasons why plant-foods are better for their health, for the animals and for the planet, pack a healthy lunch to ensure that most of their nutrition is the best possible, but accept that perfection is not possible! Children will swap food with others, or want to try less healthy foods they see other kids eating. Being overly restrictive can set them up for resistance and less healthy habits.
You can be reassured by this statement from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition 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.JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS. December 2016 Volume 116 Number 12
The best way to teach children what to eat is to model good eating habits yourself. As long as they see you eating lots of wholesome plant-based foods, and showing your enjoyment of cooking and eating, your children will likely learn good habits too, and you’ll have set them up for life.