Curious about plant-based eating for kids? Learn all about the most important considerations for kids on a plant-based diet.
If you’re fueling your kid’s diet with plants, you probably have lots of questions on how to appropriately plan your child’s meals in order to meet all of their nutrient needs for healthy growth and development. And you are not alone! More and more parents are living the plant-based lifestyle at home with their families, so naturally they have a range of questions on how to make the most of this healthy eating style. That’s why I’m answering some of the most common questions I receive on plant-based eating for kids and how to plan a healthy, balanced diet.
Top 5 Questions on Plant-Based Eating for Kids
1. What Does a Plant-Based Diet Mean? Technically, a plant-based diet means a diet that focuses primarily on plants. To some, this means a small amount of animal foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products in the diet, with the majority of the diet based on plants, such as beans, soy foods, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. However, today many people define a plant-based diet as 100% plant-based—essentially, vegan. The choice is yours on how plant-based you would like your family’s diet to be. No matter what, it’s important to focus on eating more plants, and fewer animal foods.
2. If My Child Eats a Plant-Based Diet Are There Benefits? Yes! Studies show that kids who eat plant-based diets gain more health-protective nutrients in their diet, such as fiber, certain and minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action). It’s no wonder that plant-based kids tend to have lower risks of obesity and chronic diseases later in life. Plus, studies show that by eating a plant-based diet you can seriously reduce your environmental footprint over your entire lifetime. That’s because it’s more much efficient to grow plants and eat them, rather than to grow plants, feed them to animals, then eat the animals.
3. Are There Any Development Issues for Kids Related to Eating a Plant-Based Diet? While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics acknowledges that a well-planned, plant-based diet (vegetarian and vegan) can be nutritionally appropriate for people of all ages—including children—the emphasis is on “well-planned”. This essentially means that it’s possible to meet your nutrient needs via a plant-based diet, but it’s important to do the planning to ensure your child has a good supply of all of the nutrients needed to promote healthy development. This includes adequate intakes of essential protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins, and minerals in the diet.
4. How Do You Plan a Well-Balanced, Plant-Based Diet for Children? It’s important to get good supplies of all of the major food groups in your young child’s diet as he or she moves from solely breast or infant formula to solid foods. They need to get the following foods in their diets to meet their needs (the texture and types of foods differ depending on age; check out this helpful guide for more information):
- Protein: Plant protein sources include tofu, soymilk, beans, lentils, peanut butter, and almond butter.
- Grains: Grains, such as wheat, rice, quinoa, barley, and oats, provide important sources of energy (carbohydrates), fiber, vitamins (B6, E, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, and folate), minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and potassium), and even some protein and phytochemicals.
- Vegetables: A variety of vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, greens, beets, squash, and peas provide healthy carbs, fiber, vitamins (A, B6, C, K, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), minerals (iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, copper, and selenium), a bevy of phytochemicals, and even some protein.
- Fruits: A bounty of fruits , such as berries, peaches, bananas, and pears, offer natural sweetness, plus healthy carbs, fiber, vitamins (A, B6, C, E, K, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), minerals (calcium, potassium, manganese, and copper), and a cache of phytochemicals.
- Healthy Fats: Make sure that healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and plant oils, are part of the diet in order to meet needs for essential fatty acids.
- Supplements: It’s important to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin B12—available only in animal foods—in the diet through supplements. Other nutrients that may need supplementation include vitamin D and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Speak to your health care provider about options.
5. How Do I Get Enough Plant Protein in My Child’s Diet? Believe it or not, you can get enough protein in your child’s diet with plants. Younger palates (6-8 months of age) can include soymilk, well-cooked, pureed tofu, beans, or lentils. At 8-12 months, kids can start increasing textures of foods to include mashed tofu and beans, as well as nut butters. When children are 1-3, they can start enjoying a variety of legumes (beans, lentils, peas), tofu, tempeh, and grains.
For more inspiration on healthy eating for kids, check out the following:
Live Chat: Plant-Based Eating for Kids with Alex Caspero and Whitney English
Build Your Child’s Love for Veggies!
Helping Kids Express Gratitude for Healthful Foods
Power Up Kids’ Eating Habits
5 Tips to Get Kids to Eat Veggies