Vegan diets may be unusual, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t bring your child up as a vegan as long as you keep a close eye on his diet. Careful planning is a must to ensure he has healthy, balanced meals.
From 12 months, your child can eat whatever you’re cooking for the whole family. Peas and beans must be well cooked as they are hard to digest, so a good option is thin split-pea soup: a great protein-packed lunch which can be served with toast soldiers.
You can also serve tofu and soya mince which help make healthy and hearty sauces for pasta and noodle dishes.
Nuts are a great source of protein and calories for vegan children. Government guidelines say whole nuts and seeds must be avoided by children under five as they pose a choking hazard, but they’re fine if offered in ground or pureed form, such as nut butters or tahini. Remember to seek advice before introducing nuts if there are food allergies in your family.
Eating for energy
Your child is growing at a rapid rate, and his energy levels need a regular boost. The best way to achieve this on a vegan diet is by offering small meals regularly. Hummous (made with tahini and chick peas) served with vegetable dippers and breadsticks makes a good snack that’s full of protein and calcium, and will provide more energy than a sugary biscuit. Bananas and avocados are also great sources of energy.
Vitamins and nutrients
Concerns about nutrition are often used to dissuade parents from choosing a vegan diet for their child. But your little vegan should have all he needs to develop provided you give him the right foods and supplements. Pay particular attention to his iron and protein levels: aim to include lots of pulses, dark green leafy veg and non-dairy yoghurts to give him what he needs.
The Department of Health recommends that babies over six months should be given vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D. Speak to your health visitor about other supplements that will help your vegan child get all the nutrients he requires.
Your vegan child’s daily diet
The Vegetarian Society, which also provides vegan dietary advice, recommends the following daily food guidelines for children aged one to five:
Vegetables: two servings, preferably dark green leafy ones to boost iron
Fruit: one to three servings, fresh, frozen or dried
Grains and cereals: four to five servings of bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals (fortified with vitamin B12)
Pulses, nuts and seeds: one to two servings, including nut butters, lentils, seed pastes and beans
Milk substitutes: three servings, including yoghurt, soya milk (fortified with calcium, vitamin B12 and D) or tofu
A serving equates to half a slice of bread or a few tablespoons of a vegetable.
If you’re wondering just how this translates into toddler-friendly vegan meals, be guided by this sample daily menu from the Vegan Society:
Breakfast: cereal or tahini on toast, breastfeed or soya milk
Lunch: mixed vegetable dish with pulses, rice pudding or fruit, water or diluted fruit juice
Tea: baked apple and rice, soya yoghurt
Evening: cereal or milk
Don’t forget to add regular high-calorie snacks like avocado, banana or nut butter on toast.
Vegan children and milk
Until the age of two, children still need 500ml of milk a day – either as a drink, on cereal or in cooking. If you’re using soya milk, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your child’s teeth as it tends to be sweeter than cow’s milk and more likely to cause cavities. Always check with a health professional before offering soya milk to your child. Rice milk is not recommended for children under the age of five and should never be a replacement for breast milk or formula.