Written by third year UBC Dietetics students Stephanie Herrera and Taya Hunter.
Well-planned vegan diets that include a variety of plant-based foods, can provide adequate nutrition across the various stages of the lifespan; including infancy and childhood. A vegan diet offers a rich variety of foods, such as grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes (including soy), and nuts and seeds. Although a plant-based diet is able to adequately support childhood growth and development, the following six nutrients are worth paying particular attention to.
If you’re wanting a deeper dive into just how to meet your nutrient needs with plants, download my plant-based nutrient guide here! And don’t forget about my online, self-paced course that will teach you everything you need to know about plant-based eating and nutrition across the lifespan here!
Protein is essential for the growth and repair of our bodies. Vegan children may have slightly higher requirements for protein compared to non-vegan children. Despite the belief that it is difficult to meet protein needs on a vegan diet, it is actually quite easy. It is important to include a variety of protein-rich foods into your child’s diet. Some examples of protein-rich foods include tofu, legumes, nuts and nut butters, as well as spinach, quinoa and hemp seeds. There are many great ways to implement protein foods into your child’s diet. These can be as simple as putting hemp seeds in a smoothie or spreading nut butter or hummus on toast!
Fat is an important source of energy and nutrients for children and should not be limited in infancy or early childhood. It is suggested to include a source of fat at each meal. Good sources of fat may include foods such as avocado, tofu, and nut butters. Fats like omega-3’s play an important role in normal brain development and vision and can be found in canola oil, tofu, and walnuts, as well as chia, hemp and flax seeds. A great snack rich in healthy fats could include avocado or nut butter (thinly spread) on whole grain toast “fingers.” Add omega-3’s by sprinkling with ground flax, chia or hemp seeds.
Iron is important for growth and learning. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, plant-based or not. Plant-based children may have a slightly increased need for iron due to variable absorption of iron from plant-based foods. To help meet your child’s needs, offer iron-rich foods at every meal. Good sources of iron include tofu, broccoli, kale, fortified infant cereal, as well as beans, peas and lentils including spreads such as hummus. As Vitamin C helps to increase iron absorption, it is recommended to pair iron rich foods with Vitamin C rich foods like tomatoes or tomato sauce, bell peppers, broccoli or citrus rich fruits like oranges. Hummus paired with bell peppers is a great option.
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in attention and memory, as well as ensuring proper brain development in children. Vitamin B12 does not naturally occur in plant-based foods. Today, there are many plant-based foods that are fortified with B12 including cereals, meat substitutes, non-dairy milks, such as soy milk, as well as non-dairy cheeses and yogurts. Although, these may not always be available and should not be relied upon as the primary source of B12. Due to the importance of B12 in the diet, it is often recommended that those following a plant-based diet should include a Vitamin B12 supplement. Learn more about just how to supplement yourself and your children in my nutrient guide.
Calcium is important in the development of strong bones and teeth.The majority of bone growth and development takes place during childhood. The bulk of our calcium stores are accumulated during our youth and these become vital as we age. Breast milk or fortified formula will help meet a child’s calcium needs until milk alternatives can be introduced. It is recommended to speak to your Registered Dietitian about whether or not full-fat fortified soy milk is an appropriate alternative for your child after the age of 1. Vegan children can meet their calcium requirements by including 3 to 5 servings of plant-based calcium rich foods per day. These include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and bok choy, as well as fortified plant milks, tempeh, sesame seeds, and tahini.
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin,” as our bodies are able to produce Vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D allows children to build strong bones and aids in the absorption of other important bone related nutrients, such as calcium and phosphorus. Unfortunately, there are very few good sources of Vitamin D, whether from animal or plant-based sources. A Vitamin D supplement is recommended for those following a plant-based diet or a mixed diet. This is especially important for infants not meeting their Vitamin D needs through a plant-based dietary intake.
We go into all of these nutrients and MORE in my e-course, Your Complete Guide to Master Plant-Based Eating. Are you ready to become a plant-based pro for yourself and your littles? Enroll today!
Hi! My name is Stephanie, and I am a third-year UBC Dietetics student in Vancouver, BC. I’ve always had a fascination with food and nutrition from a young age and it has since evolved to become a part of my identity. I love to travel and learn about different cultures and the different foods people enjoy from all around the world. As a result, cooking, baking and trying out new recipes have been some of my greatest passions. I also like to put my own little healthy spin on recipes to make them more nutritious for my family!
Hi! My Name is Taya, and I’m a third-year UBC Dietetics student in Vancouver, BC. Food, nutrition and health has always been a passion of mine. From the time I was little and insisting I help to plant and water the seeds in our garden, to today, where I exercise the same passion transforming simple ingredients into healthy and delicious food. As someone who prioritizes movement, I learned to appreciate the importance of healthy food choices and nutrition to fuel my body for maximum performance. In my free time I enjoy cooking and experimenting with different recipes, moving my body and getting sweaty!