Updated: Oct 8, 2021
Have you considered raising your children on a plant based diet?
If you have considered raising your children vegan, but you're unsure of how to start, or if it in fact is a healthy diet, this article can help guide you on raising healthy vegan kids.
There are a lot of misconceptions and doubt placed on vegan diets and this is usually why so many choose not to try it. However, the important thing to remember is that any diet (or life in general for that matter), requires balance and healthy habits. The key word here is 'balance'.
A Vegan diet has been proven to be astoundingly healthy and in many cases healthier than diets that contain animal products.
"A vegan diet supplemented with vitamin B12 provides excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence. Children who consume nutritious vegan diets not only grow up to be strong and healthy, but they also lower the risk of developing obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes."
- Neal Barnard, MD (Four Ways Vegan Diets Can Benefit Kids)
When switching to a vegan diet and raising vegan children, it's important to do your research first to ensure that you are making the best decisions when cooking or purchasing food. Being aware and conscious about what you are buying is the best practice.
Learning about veganism and all of its benefits -towards our planet, animals and health- before having kids came as a godsend to me. I immediately knew that this was the lifestyle I wanted for my children. Even if later on in life they choose otherwise, I know that I have given them the best foundation that I can.
Here Are 5 Tips For Building A Healthy Foundation
1. Start by observing your pantry to see which items you can improve.
Peek into your pantry and read all of the ingredient labels on your items. Start by switching out as many highly processed foods (foods containing lots of sugar, oil, unhealthy additives, food coloring, sodium and preservatives) as you can for 'whole foods' instead. Whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, are foods that are not processed or minimally processed. Next, remove items that also contain animal products such as: dairy, eggs, gelatin, seafood or any other animal by products.
Have a 'Peek Into My Pantry' in The Youthful Vegan free downloadable magazine 'From Plants To Plates' https://www.theyouthfulvegan.com/magazine
I pack my pantry with an assortment of grains, nuts, dried fruit, and peas for creating wholesome and balanced meals. All of these ingredients contain many health benefits that can assist with building and supporting a healthy body.
2. Choose nutrient dense vegetables and fruits to stock your kitchen.
This is very important because it ensures that you can easily and quickly access healthy ingredients for the base of your meals. Some of the healthiest vegetables you can add to your dishes are: Spinach, Carrots, Kale, Broccoli, Beets, Green peas, Sweet Potatoes, Winter Melons, Purple Cabbage and Tofu. Fruits such as: Bananas, Guava, Papaya, Berries, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Avocado and Pomegranate are also very high in nutrients and antioxidants.
Check out 'My Top 5 For A Thriving Kitchen' https://www.theyouthfulvegan.com/post/my-top-5-for-a-thriving-kitchen for more tips.
3. Create a healthy balance.
Balance is the key to a healthy diet and lifestyle. We focus on nutrition and wellness, while having fun with our food and indulging from time to time. A healthy vegan diet does not mean you need to sacrifice having delicious and satisfying food.
Instead you can recreate your favourite dishes by using wholesome and nourishing ingredients to substitute the unhealthy stuff. This can be achieved by selecting whole foods, healthy fats, and natural sweeteners as much as possible. Homemade meals and snacks are always best because, you can control and consciously choose the ingredients added to your dishes.
Tip: Try to avoid prepackaged baby or children's snacks and foods as much as possible, (unless there are made from wholesome and good quality ingredients). The reason for this: most of these items contain lots of sugar, oil and preservatives. This is why READING INGREDIENT LABELS before purchasing is so important. You may be shocked to see what are in some of these products.
I avoided processed sugar and highly processed foods in Gaia and Arius' diet until they were 2 years old. I knew that if they tasted processed sugar they would not want the natural versions any longer. This also included natural juices and smoothies, because although there are natural, I knew if they got used to sweet drinks, they will no longer want to drink water. I even met a few moms who confirmed this for me. They said that after introducing their child to smoothies, it became a challenge to get them to drink water.
As they grow older you can choose to be more lenient, but it's still best to limit their sugar and processed food intake on a regular basis.
As Gaia got older and became aware of packaged snacks- and I mean the unhealthy, sugary snacks with artificial flavours and food colouring- at the grocery stores and kids parties, it was difficult at times to steer her away. But I always take the time to explain to her what the product contains and how a lot of companies market these items to be attractive for kids, when in fact there are not good for us at all. Gaia is very understanding of this and I do allow her to choose some of these items from time to time.
Here's a tip for balancing your kids snacking:
When making snacks for your little ones, try incorporating all natural, nutritious ingredients such as: dates, raisins, prunes, bananas, oats, oat flour, unsweetened nut butters, unsweetened non dairy milks, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, coconut oil, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Many of these are delicious, versatile and naturally sweet- ideal for substituting processed sugars. This doesn't mean that you should restrict your kids, or yourself from having the freedom to indulge in between. Instead, you can create a healthy balance between the two.
For more tips check out my recipe blog for easy-to-make nutritious snacks and desserts
4. Be consistent
A healthy balanced diet should be consistent in your young one's life. Stocking your kitchen, pantry, and fridge with a variety of nutritious vegetables, fruits, grains etc. is the best way to continuously expose them to these ingredients. When your little ones taste buds have grown accustomed to enjoy these types of foods, they will almost always choose them over others.
I must admit that over the years, Gaia and Arius have gotten picky with a few ingredients, and I know that many of you have the same issue with trying to get your kids to eat certain vegetables or fruits. This made me experiment with creative methods to get some of these foods on their plate. I have lots of recipes, especially for 'picky- eaters' on my blog.
5. Educate them about their food and why you chose a vegan lifestyle.
A healthy vegan diet is proven to be beneficial for everyone in all aspects of life. It promotes strong bodies and immune systems, as well as love and respect towards our planet and all living creatures.
Children have an innate connection and are usually curious about animals and the earth. They generally love and want to care for them. These qualities should be embraced, promoted and nurtured. Have you ever found it odd that we teach children to love animals, but at the same time we feed them animal products? In most cases when kids are able to make the connection of what's on their plate with that animal, they will choose not to eat it.
I constantly speak to my kids about their food and the importance of what they consume. I give them nutrition facts and explain to them how our choices can impact the planet, animals, and our health. I also get them involved with creating our meals and snacks. This helps to familiarize them with ingredients and makes the eating process more enjoyable.
"It's not about eating one or two 'magical' plant foods, its about a diet centered around all plant foods because they are ALL superfoods."