Happy Veganuary! Everyone is talking about going vegan once again and for good reason. It’s a healthy way to live, not just for us but also for the planet.
However, when it comes to bringing up your child on a vegan diet, careful planning is key.
Therefore, I asked my good friend Gaby, The Healthful Dietitian to summarise what you need to know. Oh and of course, share some of the best vegan recipes on the web!
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Why is everyone talking about Veganism?
Veganism has never been so popular. The number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 and it looks like vegans and vegetarians may make up a quarter of the UK population by 2025 (1).
More families than ever are trying to reduce their meat intake and eat a more plant based diet.
Why should we eat a more plant based diet?
In 2020 we are more aware than ever of the environmental impact of the meat industry.
We’re told that one of the biggest ways to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our meat intake (5).
A meat based diet produces more than double the amount of greenhouse gasses compared to the average vegan diet .
The meat industry requires more land, energy and water than farming plants , all of which impacts hugely on the health of our planet.
Even some small changes to eat less meat and more vegetables, could make a huge difference to the planet (2).
Health reasons may also encourage people towards a more plant based diet. Well planned plant based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat than meat based diets. They may also reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers (6).
Can children be healthy vegans?
Yes! Vegan diets can be healthy for children, but it can take a bit more planning (6).
There are some essential nutrients easily found in foods such as meat and fish, so vegan or vegetarian diets need to be well planned for both adults and kids (7).
Here are the key nutrients to consider and good vegan food sources.
Iron deficiency is an issue amongst some UK children. So it’s important to make sure they’re getting plenty of iron rich foods.
There are lots of fortified and plant based sources of iron, however these can be lower in iron than meat and dairy sources.
We should include sources of iron at every meal.
Vegan versions of these include;
Beans, chickpeas, lentils
Seeds and nuts
Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach and leafy greens
Fortified white bread
Breakfast cereals fortified with iron
Dried fruit such as apricots or raisins (remember these are also high sugar so are best offered as part of meals rather than a snack).
Aim to have 2-3 iron sources per day. It’s a good idea to aim to include one at each meal.
Iron requirements in children change with age. A child aged 4-6 years needs 6.1mg of iron per day. Fortified breakfast cereal can contain 1.8mg of iron per bowl, baked beans are lower at around 0.3mg in 4 teaspoons, tofu around 1mg per portion and fortified white bread around 0.6mg per slice.
To help absorb iron, make sure they have a food rich in Vitamin C at the same time.
Great sources of Vitamin C include vegetables such as peppers, broccoli or kale, fruit particularly citrus fruits and berries or a small glass of diluted fruit juice (dilute 1 part juice to 10 parts water as the natural acid in fruit juice is harmful for developing teeth).
If you are worried that this all sounds a bit complicated, we’ve done the work for you and come up with a meal planning guide in the Happy Healthy Eaters Club.
If you feel it’s challenging to get enough iron into your little one’s diet, age appropriate supplements containing iron may need to be considered but please do this in conjunction with a nutrition professional.
Iron in supplement form is poorly absorbed in the body and can have some unpleasant side effects. Often some subtle dietary tweaks are all that’s needed.
Signs of being low in iron include tiredness, pale skin and a poor immune system where your child might be picking up every cough or cold going.
Low iron in the long term can lead to poor growth and even effect intellectual and cognitive function as it’s iron that’s needed to get oxygen to the brain.
If you feel your little one has any of these symptoms, see your GP and seek out the help of a Registered Dietitian.
It’s unlikely that your little one will be deficient in protein as children’s nutritional requirement is actually relatively low, however it’s good for you to know what the plant based proteins are:
Beans, chickpeas and lentils and foods made from them such as hummus.
Soya products such as soya mince and soya bean curd (tofu).
Seeds and nuts including nut butters. Try peanut, cashew or almond. Whole nuts and peanuts shouldn’t be given to little ones under 5 (7).
Vegan meat substitutes like Quorn.
Aim to have a source of protein at each meal.
If intake is too low, children can get a type of anaemia. Vitamin B12 is easily found in meat and animal products, so on a vegan diet, you’ll need to know the plant based sources;
Marmite is a great source of B12 however it’s also salty, even the reduced salt Marmite contains half a gram of salt per serving, so really should be used sparingly for little ones.
Some other yeast extracts claim to be lower salt. However you should always compare these to the original yeast extracts such as Marmite to see how much lower they really are.
Breakfast cereals are often fortified with Vitamin B12, check the nutritional information panel on the back or side of the box.
Some dairy alternatives are also fortified with Vitamin B12.
Aim to have foods containing Vitamin B12 1-2 times per day. Fortified breakfast cereals are a great place to start.
The amount of iodine in plant foods can vary. Breastfeeding little ones up until age 2 helps maintain their iodine levels. Seaweed is high in iodine but isn’t recommended as an iodine source, as its levels vary greatly and some are too high in iodine for little ones.
Iodine enriched plant milk alternatives
A quarter to one third of a Veg-1 supplement from the Vegan Society is suitable for over 1’s.
Little ones need calcium alongside Vitamin D for strong bones and growth. Under 2’s who are still breasted will get calcium from breastmilk, over 2’s can have a milk alternative fortified with calcium.
Other great sources of calcium include:
Milk alternatives fortified with calcium
Beans, lentils and chickpeas
White bread fortified with calcium
Dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach and cabbage.
Children need 2-3 calcium rich foods or drinks per day including fortified milk. Older children over 8 years of age, need 4 servings of calcium rich foods.
With the best source being the sunlight, our UK climate can make getting enough challenging.
Nature and Nurture drops
provide the recommended dose of Vitamins A, C and D. Even better they are Vegan too!
This is a mineral that helps the immune system work properly. It’s found in breastmilk and also:
Brazil nuts (need to be ground for babies and toddlers)
Some grains such as couscous and wholewheat pasta but the amount is much smaller.
This is an essential nutrient needed for the rapid brain development. There are 3 main forms of Omega 3
and getting enough in a vegan diet can be tricky as oily fish is the best source of the form children’s growing bodies need.
There are plant based sources including:
Chia, hemp seeds or ground linseeds
Rapeseed oil (use this as your main cooking oil)
Nuts such as hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts. However remember they are a choking risk for under 5’s and so should be ground or given in the form of a nut butter (7).
The plant based form of Omega 3 needs to be converted by the body into the form that your child needs, and this conversion process is not very efficient.
Try to have something containing Omega 3 every day, alongside using rapeseed oil as your main cooking oil but your child will need a Vegan Omega 3 supplement
Nutritional yeast is also rich in Vitamin B2 but be careful as it’s also salty. You can also find Vitamin B2 in:
If you’ve read all of this and are concerned that your child might not be getting everything they need from food, I have a free vegan supplements guide you can order here.
Check out these 15 recipes to help you create a child friendly vegan meal plan:
There are some yummy vegan porridge ideas out there and this one of the great kid friendly vegan breakfast recipes. This cinnamon and pear oatmeal from Vegan Dietitian Karla Moreno-Bryce, shows you how to mix nuts and seeds into your breakfast porridge. Remember to use ground nuts and seeds for younger ones. Or for an easy overnight oats alternative, check this out this recipe
from Vegan Dietitian Kate Roberts.
A super easy breakfast recipe to serve with fruit or yoghurt. Even better, it can be stored for up to 5 days in the fridge so perfect for rushed mornings. Remember that whole nuts aren’t suitable for little ones under 5 but you can use finely chopped or ground nuts and seeds.
Another fun recipe from the Vegan Kids Dietitian, Kate Roberts. Not just for vegan kids, these are likely to be popular with the whole family.
Who said tofu can’t be for breakfast? This yummy tofu breakfast from Vegan Dietitian, Karla Moreno-Bryce, is perfect for cooler Autumn or Winter mornings.
This fun and simple breakfast idea from My Fussy Eater, is a creative vegan breakfast, perfect for pickier breakfast eaters.
Here are some of our favourite vegan kids’ lunches.
A fabulous alternative to scrambled eggs. This tasty and colourful easy vegan lunch from registered Dietitian and food blogger, Debbie Davis, is fun for all the family.
Most kids love pizza and these gluten-free easy pizza bites from Vegan Richa, have a yummy pizza flavour!
A protein packed warming vegan lunch for the whole family. This delicious recipe from Mummy Cooks, can easily be made in advance and then frozen. It can also be easily blended for babies to try.
This soup is one of our favourite recipes for vegan picky eaters. Very warming and lightly spiced, it is suitable for the whole family, even if you have a baby. I love dishes that work for everyone!
We love these vegan family meals:
This is one of our favourite vegan dinners for kids. A healthy burger recipe from children’s cookery expert Annabel Karmel, which is packed full of veggies and a big help towards the 5-a-day. Instead of using egg as binder in the burger mixture, she uses chia seeds soaked in water, which are a great source of fibre and protein.
If you’re new to tofu or are afraid it could be tasteless, this tasty tofu stir fry by Dietitian Priya Tew, is a flavour-packed option to try. Tofu is a great source of protein and a brilliant source of calcium. A portion of tofu (around 140g) has around the same amount of calcium as a small glass of milk. This recipe is very flexible so feel free to add your family’s favourite veg.
Quinoa is a great addition to a vegan diet. It is highly nutritious and an incredibly versatile ingredient to have to hand. Try this yummy family vegan dinner from Annabel Karmel.
This is a quick meal for hungry kids (and adults too) from Vegan Dietitian, Karla Moreno-Bryce. You can use frozen soya beans for convenience.
An easy one pot, pasta Vegan meal from Vegan Richa. The tofu mozzarella is a game changer!
This cashew nut based sauce is a tasty way to substitute the cheese sauce. You can add whatever veggies you have. It’s another great idea from registered Dietitian and food blogger, Debbie Davis.
Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist
Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist