Raising vegan children isn’t altogether too different from raising non-vegan children. The main difference is that you have to be more mindful of your child’s needs if they’re vegan. Make sure they’re eating a well-planned, balanced diet and that they’re taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
They key here is that a vegan child’s diet needs to be well-planned.
Ensure an adequate supply of vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for every vegan and children are no exception. Although vegan children can thrive on a plant-based diet with no other supplementation, B12 should be supplemented for a consistent supply. You can also eat B12-fortified foods (such as nutritional yeast), as long as you check labels carefully to ensure your child is getting enough B12.
The Vegan Society has the following recommendations for B12 consumption:
- Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day
- OR Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms
- OR Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms
Many families find the use of B12 supplements more convenient for children.
Breastmilk & Formula
Breastfeeding vegan mothers should ensure that they’re consuming adequate amounts of vitamin B12 as your supply is where your baby/toddler will get their nutrients.
According to La Leche League, symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency in infants may include loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting and muscle atrophy. Taking a B12 supplement will protect your breastfeeding child from B12 deficiency. When they are older and they have weaned, they can take their own B12.
Note: B12 supplements are available without a prescription, but speak to your GP before you make any supplementary changes to your child’s diet.
If you can’t breastfeed or choose not to, you can also get vegan baby formula that has added B12. Premiriz is a 100% tested formula that is suitable for newborn vegans between 0-6 months of age. It is palm oil free and contains fortified B12, calcium and vitamin D. Buy it here.
Alternatively, WySoy is available in many supermarkets, including Tesco.
Note: WySoy is not strictly vegan as the vitamin D in the ingredients comes from lanolin (wool), but for many parents who formula-feed, it is the only realistic option available.
Don’t forget about omega 3s
Omega 3s are important for growing children and they are essential for your child’s healthy retina and brain.
There are 3 main Omega 3s; ALA, DHA and EPA.
Omega 3 DHA and EPA are present in fish, fish oils, and krill oils, but they do not come from fish. They are originally synthesized by microalgae. When fish consume phytoplankton that consumed microalgae, they accumulate the omega 3s in their tissues. People wrongly believe that the omega 3s they consume comes from fish, when in fact they don’t.
You can get Omega 3 ALA from flaxseed, walnuts and hempseed, all of which you can sprinkle on porridge or stir into stews and curries.
There is no official recommendation of how much DHA your child should have per day, so speak to your GP before supplementing.
Putting together vegan lunches
You can put together a lunchbox filled with fruit (kiwi, chopped mango, raspberries), a bag of popcorn, as well as a dairy-free yogurt and a sandwich. Some fillings you can use: mashed chickpea, falafel, vegan meatballs, mushroom and tomato, avocado and cucumber. There are a range of condiments you can use for the sandwiches, such as soy mayonnaise, dairy free butter and hummous.
If you want to include a treat, add a Moo Free chocolate bar or a homemade blueberry muffin to the lunchbox.
Interacting with non-vegan children
You may be worried that your child will be left out at non-vegan children’s birthday parties. You needn’t worry, as there are many accidentally vegan foods your child can eat at parties that aren’t an added expense to a non-vegan child’s parent.
Click here for our full list of accidentally vegan sweets!
Find a sympathetic doctor
At some point, you may find yourself being criticised for raising a vegan child by your GP or another doctor, but you should take this criticism with a grain of salt. Doctors receive very little, and in many cases no, training in regards to nutrition so their opinions on veganism may be personal rather than professional.
Always listen to your doctor and take everything she/he says on board, but don’t take their nutritional advice as gospel. If you can, try to find a doctor who understands what veganism is and who will focus on your health rather than your beliefs.
The Vegan Society‘s handy hints for feeding young vegans:
• Breast milk or infant formula should be a major part of your child’s nutrition until at least age one
• Use more soya bean oil or rapeseed (canola) oil, and less sunflower, safflower or corn oils. The former help encourage the production of fatty acids that are important for the development of the brain and vision
• Do not allow infants to fill up on liquids before mealtimes
• Spread bread with avocado, or seed/nut butters to increase calories
• Well-cooked and mashed pulses (e.g. lentils, mung beans and chickpeas) provide energy and protein. It is important to strain them through a sieve to get rid of the skins, so that children can better digest them
• Choose calcium-fortified tofu (also rich in protein), which can be served mashed or as finger food
• Make sure children have regular access to healthy sun exposure (while being careful to avoid the risk of burning), otherwise provide vitamin D supplements
• Use non-dairy milks that are fortified with calcium, vitamin D2 and vitamin B12
• Green vegetables are an excellent source of iron, calcium and antioxidants. If your child isn’t keen on them, try blending them into a tomato-based pasta sauce, or including in juices