Health

The Pros and Cons of Raising Your Kids Vegan

October 28th 2016

By:
Almie Rose

Is it possible to raise a healthy vegan kid while making sure he or she gets all of the nutrients a growing mind and body requires?

It's a debate the internet loves to have.

vegan kids google search results

There is a right way and a wrong way to eat vegan.

Right way, meaning nutritionally sound.

The wrong way would be to insist your baby can subsist on only fruits and nuts, as one Pennsylvania mother realized after she was charged with "endangering the welfare of a child," CBS News reported. The 11-month-old child was found to be "developmentally delayed as a result of being malnourished."

What is the healthy way to feed a vegan baby or child?

We asked two experts for their opinions: Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Melissa Halas-Liang, a registered dietitian with the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"If considering a vegan diet for your child, I strongly encourage you to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in vegetarian nutrition to guide you, as well as ensure that your child is adequately meeting his/her nutritional needs," Sheth advised. (You can find a registered dietitian at Eatright.org).

Halas-Liang agreed: "Parents should work with a registered dietitian nutritionist through early childhood to ensure their child's nutrient needs are being met."

That being said ...

Is it possible to raise a healthy child on a vegan diet?

"Yes, it is," Sheth said via email. "However, it's important to pay close attention to ensure that the diet meets your baby's needs, especially for protein, vitamin B-12 — which may need to be supplemented if child is breast-fed by vegan mom — zinc, calcium, iron, and calories."

"I think it's challenging," Halas-Liang said via email. If a vegan way of eating is new for you, it might be a bit more difficult, she added. "I've worked with vegans over the years, and most of them have gone off the diet and [started] including some animal proteins in moderation after a couple years. So if it's a new lifestyle for you, I would suggest carefully considering your long-term commitment before having your child follow it."

"It can be done and be healthy, as long as you meal plan and supplement adequately," Halas-Liang said.

Speaking of breast milk: Do vegan babies even consume breast milk?

"Vegan babies do drink breast milk, and many will continue breast-feeding through childhood," Halas-Liang said. "Nothing is more compatible and healthier for a baby then mom's own milk!"

What are the pros of raising a kid on a vegan diet?

The hashtag #vegankids has more than 100,000 posts on Instagram, so surely there are upsides to vegan diets for children. What are they?

"If well-balanced, [veganism] promotes a healthful pattern of eating," Sheth said. Children "most likely will be enjoying more fruits, vegetables, and fiber than non-vegetarians. They will most likely have a lower intake of total fat and saturated fat. They have also been seen as having a leaner body mass, compared to non-vegetarians."

Are there cons to a vegan diet for kids? What are they?

What may be healthy for one person may not be for another. A vegan diet for children "can be too restrictive and cause poor growth and development if not well-planned," Sheth warned. Such a diet could lead to deficiencies of vitamins such as B-12 and D.

 

A photo posted by TheVeganSix (@thevegansix) on

Another con to a vegan diet I hadn't even considered: Such a diet "may have the potential to mask eating disorders down the road," Sheth said.

"Infants and toddlers have higher protein needs, because they're developing and growing so quickly," Halas-Liang cautioned. "Egg, milk, cheese, and fish can provide important nutrients to a developing child. Vegan children are often at risk for consuming less than recommended amounts of key nutrients, leading to lower weight and height status."

One doesn't have to go full vegan to get health benefits, Halas-Liang said. "You can start by including one healthy plant-based meal per day. Being vegan is a personal lifestyle choice."

What does a vegan diet for a child even look like?

If you're not a culinary wizard, what would you prepare as a healthy vegan diet for a kid?

Think simple: soy milk, fruits, veggies, and hummus.

A 2-year-old vegan's breakfast could include fortified soy milk over fortified ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, with calcium-fortified orange juice, Sheth advised. (Remember: Gotta get those vitamins in!)

 

A photo posted by Dee (@accidentalvegan2016) on

Lunch could be hummus, half a small apple, some steamed carrots, and more fortified soy milk.

Dinner could be spaghetti with meatless marinara sauce and kidney beans, with steamed broccoli and one teaspoon of olive oil on the side.

A smoothie with fortified soy milk, 2 ounces of soft tofu, and a quarter cup of strawberries would make a good snack.

Because french fries are delicious, but you can't have them for every meal.