What To Do If Your Child Decides To Be Vegan. Hey everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I am very excited to share a guest post from Louise Palmer-Masterton, the founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory. She will be sharing some helpful tips regarding what to do if your child decides to be vegan.
What To Do If Your Child Decides To Be Vegan
The first thing you need to do if you are considering raising vegan children is educate yourself. You need to become familiar with plant-based nutrition and understand what constitutes a balanced diet, paying particular attention to protein, healthy fats, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and iron.
The best possible start in life for your baby is breastfeeding and for you to eat a healthy and balanced diet whilst feeding. It’s wise for this reason that you continue to take a pregnancy-safe vitamin supplement. That will pass on the best possible nutrition to your child. Don’t be in a hurry to stop breastfeeding. There are no vegan baby formula milk products currently in the UK market, although they will undoubtedly emerge in the not-too-distant future. Do not be tempted to give your infant plant-based milk substitutes, as they will not have the nutrition your child needs (the same goes for feeding an infant plain cow’s milk).
Every child is different when it comes to weaning, my eldest breastfed until more than two years old, and the Vegan Society advice is to continue breastfeeding until your child is two years old if possible. My youngest, however, stopped the minute they discovered proper food at ten months, so don’t beat yourself up if your child doesn’t seem to want to keep breastfeeding. If you stop breastfeeding before two years, you will need to pay special attention to a good balance of nutrition, minerals and vitamins. If this is the case and you worry about this, consider fortified baby foods such as baby cereal.
Both my children were weaned first on blended banana and avocado, a legend in our house (try it!), and graduated to blended lentils and vegetables, thick soups and baby versions of what we were eating. It’s sensible to pay attention to a vegetable protein component at each meal, for example, lentils, beans or quinoa, along with vegetables and healthy fats. Babies can eat nuts and seeds, but only if ground or thoroughly blended.
Some babies will let you know when they want food – they may even start grabbing it from your hands! I would allow this. My second child just had what she wanted from what we were eating, and it was a lot easier.
Concerning vitamin B12 which all vegans should be mindful of, there are several fortified foods to consider as your child starts to eat more and breastfeed less.
You can do the best possible thing concerning young children and B12, getting them to fall in love with Marmite (yeast extract is also good). A go-to snack of toast and marmite will contain plenty of B12. We also use marmite in many savoury dishes – soups, stews and the best vegan gravy ever. My children are Marmite lovers to this day. We also use Engevita flakes as a cheese substitute, sprinkled on pasta and in many sauces. Engevita is supercharged with B12.
I’d also recommend getting your children to fall in love with hummus as young as possible. Hummus is a super-nutritious superfood and served with pitta and carrot, and cucumber sticks is a winner for most children. Done together in this way, hummus and pitta are what’s called a complete protein – between them, pitta and hummus contain the full spectrum of amino acids that you need.
There is a lot of talk about getting the full spectrum of these essential amino acids generally misunderstood. Animal-based proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, making them complete proteins, but it is unnecessary to eat one food containing everything. That’s where the idea that vegans lack protein comes in, which is false. Combining plant foods results in complete protein and gives the same result nutritionally.
There are a few plant-based foods that are ‘complete’ proteins on their own, i.e. contain the full spectrum amino acids.
- Edamame Beans
- Chia seeds
Some of these are a bit of an acquired taste for an infant. Quinoa, for example, needs a bit of hiding in a tasty-flavoured sauce. But mine always did well with edamame beans, scrambled tofu and fresh fruit chia pudding.
But rather than focus on just these foods, your protein repertoire can expand massively by combining vegan proteins from different sources (like the hummus and pitta example above), which alone are not complete. Both together magically provide a complete protein.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that 100g of wholemeal bread contains 13g of protein, which is more than 100g of egg, and all vegetables do have a protein component. A diet rich in vegetables can make a significant contribution to your daily nutritional needs, including protein.
Food combining ideas
Peanut butter sandwich. This will come as a welcome surprise, maybe! The peanut butter and the bread combine as a very high complete protein.
Beans on toast. A classic and a complete protein.
Rice and lentils or beans. Both brown and white rice, when combined with beans or lentils, give a complete protein. And there are millions of recipes out there containing beans or lentils, rice (or other grains) and vegetables. Just about every continent on the planet has a version of this cuisine.
Once your baby is weaned and able to feed themselves (more or less), it’s all about making their favourite dishes as balanced and tasty as possible. Continue with attention to a protein and vegetable component with every meal, get their B12 from, and get their other nutrients from a wide variety of vegetables of all colours and types as possible.
Whether a diet is plant-based or meat-based, attention needs to be paid to providing balanced nutrition. But once you know what to include in your regular food shop, and you’ve had a chance to experiment and tweak recipes to suit your family’s tastes, any concerns you may have about providing a healthy plant-based diet will ease and disappear.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Palmer-Masterton is the founder of multiple award-winning restaurants, Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge. In addition, Stem & Glory offers a range of ready meals, finish at home pizzas, and recipe kits available for delivery across the UK. www.stemandglory.co.uk