Raising your children vegan doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated, just like feeding any child it requires a little time and effort to ensure their nutritional needs are met so they can grow up strong and healthy.
Finding appetising and nutritional foods for children in their early years is important as this is when eating habits are set and growth rates are high. All children require a wide variety of foods and a balanced diet, but vegan children need to pay particular attention to levels of:
Vitamin B12. Not able to be produced by the body, B12 is most readily available form meat, fish and eggs. Vegans typically take B12 supplements or foods fortified with B12. B12 is essential for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system.
Vitamin D. Essential for the absorption of calcium and good bone strength. Vitamin D is able to be produced by our bodies whenever our skin is exposed to sunlight. Fifteen to twenty minutes of daily sunlight on the hands and face is recommended.
Calcium. Essential for healthy bones, teeth and proper heart function. Foods such as spinach, swiss chard, kale, rhubarb, beans, sweet potato, seeds, nuts and wholegrains are good vegan sources of calcium.
Iron. Iron is used to produce haemoglobin which carries oxygen around our body. It also helps the immune system to function well. Vegetables, cereals, beans and lentils all contain non-haem iron.
Protein. A varied selection of grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, soy and fruits give adequate amounts of protein. Protein helps in the formation of muscles, hair, nails, skin and internal organs, such as the heart, kidneys and liver.
When looking for sustained levels of the above vitamins and minerals supplementation or fortified vegan foods and beverages may be necessary, but it is best to consult a registered nutrition for advice.
Tips For Picky Eaters
Every parent knows it can sometimes be tricky getting your kids to actually eat the carefully prepared and thought out nutritious meals you have lovingly created. Here are a few tips to give you a helping hand.
- Be Sneaky. Pureed or grated foods can be easier to hide or become indistinguishable in amongst other more popular foods.
- Be Flexible. Letting children take part in preparing their own foods is a great way for them to learn about cooking and also make them more likely to eat the foods prepared.
- Be Reasonable. When serving new or disliked foods, offer them in small manageable quantities, don’t expect children to eat a adult sized portion.
- Be Consistent. Don’t be put off by instant refusals, research has shown that it may take 10 or more exposures to foods before acceptance is received.
- Be A Good Role Model. Children learn best by watching others, if they see you eating the foods they are more likely to follow suit.
The Vegetarian Resource Group. An interesting article on ‘Feeding Vegan Kids’ from the non-profit organisation The Vegetarian Resource Group, who focus on educating the public on vegetarianism and veganism in the interests of health, nutrition, ecology, ethics, and world hunger.
The Vegan Society. Information on ‘Vegan Diet For Children And In Pregnancy’ from the Vegan Society whose focus is working towards making veganism a widely recognised approach to reducing animal and human suffering.
Eat Right. Article on ‘Feeding Vegetarian And Vegan Infants And Toddlers’ from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; an organisation of food and nutrition professionals.
NZ Nutrition Foundation. A professional non-profit organisation offering food and nutritional advice to New Zealanders.
Kids Health. An article explaining the difference between vegetarian and vegan choices from the Kids Health website.
A carefully thought out plant based diet can be nutritious, tasty and provide everything you need for raising happy, healthy children, however keep in mind that any restrictions placed on food intake can make it more difficult to get all the nutrients a person’s body needs and alternative nutritional sources may be required. For more information it is best to consult a registered dietitian or health care practitioner familiar with vegan diets.
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