Plant-Based Kids: A Healthy, Compassionate Approach
Interested in raising your kids on a plant-based diet, but not sure where to start? With more families going vegan, plant-based eating is becoming a popular choice for health-conscious and ethically-minded parents. Though daunting at first, with a bit of knowledge, you can feel confident that your plant-powered kiddo will thrive. Let’s explore the ins and outs of plant-based eating for children.
Plant-Based vs Vegan
First things first – what’s the difference between “plant-based” and “vegan”? Think of plant-based as an umbrella term. A plant-based diet focuses on maximizing fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans. Animal products are minimized or avoided. The goal is to eat mostly or entirely plant foods, but some flexibility is allowed – a splash of milk in coffee or a piece of birthday cake is no biggie. Vegan diets take things further, eliminating all animal products including dairy, eggs and honey.
Other terms you might hear that can come under the umbrella of plant based include:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians – eat dairy & eggs but no meat or seafood
- Lacto-vegetarians – eat dairy but no eggs, meat or seafood
- Ovo-vegetarians – eat eggs but do not eat any other animal products
- Pescartarians – eat fish & shellfish but no meat
- Flexitarians – occasionally eat meat or fish
Today when we talk about a plant-based diet we are referring to eating mostly fruits, veggies, wholegrains & beans with the occasional exception of a small bit of dairy, eggs or meat.
The Benefits of a Plant-Based Lifestyle
For your Families Health
Learning about animal welfare can be scary and a lot of the language around that is harsh and to the point, but for children this can be scary and make them nervous to learn more. Tailor your language to be more positive when discussing animal wellbeing. Talk about the positives of being vegan, such as how you are saving animals or you get to try lots of new tasty vegan foods.
For the Planet
There is no one size fits all approach to talking to children about veganism. Every kid is different and that means the conversation will be different for each child. If you have a more sensitive child, keep the conversations as light-hearted as possible and focused on positive actions you can take. If your child is super inquisitive and loves science, you could go to museums and focus on climate change or the positive impacts veganism has.
For the Animals
Sit-down conversations are not the only way to explain veganism to your children. Especially for young ones, they may lose interest or have difficulty grasping complex topics. Incorporating your plant-based, animal loving lifestyle into their daily activities through books, art, and activities is a great way to have kids engage and start conversations.
Plant-Based Nutrition for Kids
A common concern when switching up your kids’ diet is that they may miss out on essential nutrients, but as with any diet, with a bit of planning it is possible to raise healthy plant-based kids. Pay attention to how much protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D and B12 your child is getting. Add in a daily multivitamin to help fill any nutritional gaps.
Some important nutrients to be mindful of incorporating include:
- Protein: Choose plant proteins like beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy products (tofu, edamame, tempeh), nuts, seeds and whole grains.
- Calcium: Green leafy vegetables, fortified plant milks and juices, tofu, calcium-set plant milks, figs, sesame seeds.
- Omega-3s: Walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, algae oil supplements.
- Iron: Lentils, chickpeas, spinach, fortified cereals and grains, pumpkin seeds, cashews, raisins. Include vitamin C foods to enhance iron absorption.
- Vitamin D: Fortified plant milks and juices – also important to get adequate sun exposure.
- Vitamin B12: Nutritional yeast, fortified foods, B12 supplements.
- Zinc: Whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, nutritional yeast.
Here are some great resources from plant-based nutritionists to help guide you on your plant-based journey
When switching to a new diet or eliminating certain foods from your child’s diet it is essential to speak to a registered health professional to ensure your kid gets all of their essential nutrients!
How to Transition To A Plant Based Diet
Get organized- Switching to a new diet can seem overwhelming at first. Trying meal prepping on weekends helps ensure you’ve got healthy plant-based snacks ready when hunger strikes. Keep your pantry stocked with whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa and oats. Frozen fruits and veggies make nutritious sides that are ready in a flash.
Start slow – try going meatless 1-2 days a week and build from there. This allows time to find tasty plant-based recipes your family enjoys.
Involve the kids – take them grocery shopping and let them pick out new fruits, veggies, and other plant foods to try. Kids are more likely to enjoy foods they help select.
Make plant-based versions of favorites – vegan nuggets, burgers, mac and cheese, etc. This helps satisfy cravings for familiar comfort foods.
Seek kid-friendly recipes – check out cookbooks and blogs focused on plant-based families for recipe ideas the whole family will love.
Stick with it – change takes time! With consistency and patience, plant-based eating will become the new normal for your family.
With a little creativity, plant-based meals can be fun and delicious for kids of all ages. Don’t forget to lead by example – when kids see parents eating and enjoying plant foods it becomes the norm. Model compassion for animals along with care for the planet. Bring kids into the kitchen to cook together. With time and patience, plant-based eating will become a healthy habit they’ll carry through life.
We have two wonderful books for children which aim to help them on their journey to understand animal welfare and farming – 100% of our proceeds go towards animal rights organizations (yes, we do this for love, not money!)
The second in a trilogy of beautifully illustrated children’s books, this story about the compelling journey of a young chicken named Cluck, told by a sage parrot.