How can you plan a healthy vegan diet for your kids? Is a plant-based diet safe for children? What kinds of vegan meals for kids should you plan? The dietitians at Plant-Based Juniors and I chat in order to answer all of your top questions about how to plan a healthy plant-based diet for kids and more!
I get so many questions about the safety of plant-based, including vegetarian and vegan diets, for kids. Many parents are interested in eating a more plant-based diet, but they are not sure if they should be bringing that eating style to the whole family. However, research shows you can give your kids the best start in life with a healthy, nutritionally balanced, plant-based diet. In fact, there are documented health benefits for plant-based diets among children, including greater intake of nutrients, lower risk of childhood obesity, and reduced risk of chronic health conditions that get a start in childhood. Indeed, plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan diet patterns are on the rise across the country. And more people are including their children in their healthy plant-based eating goals. But how do you make sure you are planning a diet that is completely healthful and nutritionally balanced so that your children, including infants and toddlers, meet all of their nutrient needs for healthy development? After all, this is a time in which their brains, organs, muscles, and bones are developing.
That’s exactly why I asked plant-based childhood dietitian experts, Alex Caspero, MA, RD and Whitney English, MS, RD of Plant-Based Juniors, to share their top tips for planning the best plant-based diet and vegan meals for kids. I sat down with Alex Caspero and Whitney English to give you their best tips for fueling your child’s diet well with plants. Learn more about Plant-Based Juniors below, and check out my live video chat with Alex and Whitney here. Read my blog where I answer your top 5 questions on plant-based eating for kids here.
Sharon’s Question: Do you find that more parents are interested in feeding their children plant-based diets? Why?
Alex and Whitney Answer: Yes, most surveys show a growing interest in adopting plant-based meals and this spills over into the family meal as well. I find that even parents who don’t consider themselves fully vegetarian or vegan are interested in raising their children with more plant-based meals. A common theme that we hear from our parents is that they don’t want their children to be as picky as they are when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Therefore, introducing whole food plant-based foods at an early age can help set children up for success—regardless of what else is on the plate.
Sharon’s Question: What types of plant-based dietary patterns are popular among parents today?
Alex and Whitney Answer: The same dietary patterns that are popular for adults we see for kids. Our parents range from omnivore to fully vegan and we try and educate around health benefits for all of these dietary patterns and how to best adapt them to kids.
Sharon’s Question: What are the benefits of these diet patterns for kids?
Alex and Whitney Answer: Most of us are familiar with the health benefits of a plant-based diet for adults, and many of them are true for kids. Children eating a plant-based diet typically have lower intakes of cholesterol and fat, have higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, and fiber, are leaner and have lower cholesterol levels.
Sharon’s Question: What are some of the challenges of feeding your child a plant-based diet?
Alex and Whitney Answer: The biggest misconception on feeding children a plant-based diet is that their needs are the same as the parents, which is not true. Plant-based kids have different nutrition requirements; they aren’t just needing smaller versions of adult foods. That’s the number one thing that we focus on at Plant-Based Juniors; showing parents how to adapt a plant-based diet to fit pediatric (and pregnancy) needs.
Socially, there may be the same challenges as an adult would fact—but that’s completely up to the children’s environment and what they are exposed to. The good news is that there are so many plant-based packaged foods on the market these days that make it easy to send with kids for play-dates, school, etc. Even traditional ‘kid foods’ have meat-free and dairy-free alternatives; most grocery stores stock vegetarian chicken nuggets, vegan cheese, vegan pizza, etc.
Sharon’s Question: What are some of the best strategies parents can use to feed their children a healthful, plant-based diet that meets all of their needs?
Alex and Whitney Answer: Just like with omnivore diets; meeting kid’s nutritional needs takes planning. That’s true no matter what is on the plate. A diet filled with fast food and sweets isn’t going to meet nutritional needs, even if they are eating meat and dairy.
That being said; we promote our PB3 plate for Plant-Based Juniors kids as it’s an easier way to make sure you are meeting most of the nutrient needs. The PB3 plate includes a serving of fruits + vegetables; nuts, seeds + legumes; and grains + starches at most meals and snacks. We also emphasize fats as young children require 35-40% of their calories from fat and fortified soy meal as a milk alternative.
Sharon’s Question: What supplements should parents provide to their kids?
Alex and Whitney Answer: If the child is fully or mostly vegan, then B12 should be provided either through fortified foods or supplements. We also recommend a vegan source of DHA/EPA and Vitamin D to most children as these can be harder to get in the diet, unless they are eating fortified foods and/or have adequate sunlight exposure for Vitamin D.
Sharon’s Question: What are some of your favorite resources for plant-based eating for kids?
Alex and Whitney Answer: Our Instagram page, Plant-Based Juniors covers the latest research around plant-based eating for kids, recipes, meal ideas, specific nutrient requirements and more. Additionally, our First Bites ebook is the definitive primer on baby-led weaning for the plant-based baby.
Plant-Based Juniors is founded by Alexandra Caspero and Whitney English. Alexandra Caspero MA, RD, CLT, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with over 10 years’ experience counseling on plant-based diets, weight management and sports nutrition. Her award-winning website, Delish Knowledge, makes whole-food, plant-based eating deliciously simple. Whitney English Tabaie, MS, RDN, CPT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and journalist with over ten years reporting in the health and wellness space. Her website, Whitney E. RD provides readers with evidence-based, easily digestible information on popular nutrition topics and healthy original recipes.
For more information on plant-based eating for children, check out some of my favorite blogs:
Find some of my favorite, healthy plant-based (vegan) kid-friendly recipes here:
Beet White Bean Hummus
Vegan Blueberry Muffins with Millet Flour
Golden Beet Vegan Meatballs
Green Pistachio Smoothie
BEST Classic Hummus
Peach of a Zucchini Carrot Smoothie
Strawberry Coconut Energy Bites
Vegan Bolognese with Lentils and Walnuts
Easy Cauliflower Chickpea Tacos
BEST One-Pot Vegan Mac and Cheese