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Everyday Nutrition: Top 5 Nutrition Tips for Vegan Parents

By on June 11, 2016

In celebration of Generation Veggie’s first birthday, I thought I would throw together a “Top 5 List” that encapsulates many of the questions and concerns voiced by veggie parents raising veggie children. So, let’s get down to it.

  1. IGNORE the media! This should be a no-brainer given that writers and web sites will use every click-bait tactic to get people to read their inaccurate loads of anti-vegan malarkey. It seems like at least once a year, some media outlet is brandishing the vegan diet as a form of child abuse while disregarding this thing called “science.” Vegan dietitians, like myself, are never asked to comment within these stories because, if we did, the writer would be made to look foolish given that vegan diets are nutritionally sound for children and all people throughout the entire life cycle – pregnant women included!
  2. Stop striving for perfection! A constant concern that I hear from parents is the child won’t eat “this” or will only eat “that.” Providing your child with nutritious choices is part of responsible parenting, but if they are going through a food jag where all they want is noodles, that is okay. That is pretty darn normal. Your child hates broccoli. Okay, move on – there are plenty of other vegetables to try and many ways to prepare them. Try offering it later. I honestly have heard parents beat themselves up because their children don’t like kale. Guess what? I probably hated kale as a child. Let’s face it, my parents never even offered me kale! I’m pretty sure the only leafy veggie my rural grocer offered was iceberg lettuce. Point is, kale is great, but there are plenty of other sources to get calcium and other nutrients rather than stress yourself out about how to get your little sweet pea to eat that leafy green. Further, you are not a devil if you offer foods with sugar and oil to your child. Sure, a diet based around sugar and oil is not ideal, but a cookie here and there is okay in my book.
  3. Get fats from plants! Way too often I hear from parents who are being told by their pediatrician to give their kids cow’s milk as a way to increase fat intake in their diets. Um, no. It is true that we all need some fat in our diet for basic functions like helping the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), and it also aids neurological development in children. Happily, there are a slew of plant-based foods naturally rich in fats –like nut butters, soy milk, and avocado – that can provide nutritious calories without resorting to drinking the milk intended for calves. It’s fine for children to consume some oil in their foods, especially in instances where it is paired with a nutrient-dense item, like roasted vegetables coated in a bit of olive oil. Additionally, encouraging omega 3 fatty acid-rich foods, like walnuts, is important as well.
  4. Supplements are important! One of the more asinine things I have heard said by naysayers is that by consuming supplements, vegans are showing their diet is inferior to that of someone who eats animals. Not true. Additionally, there are individuals within the vegan community who do not support taking supplements and insist you can obtain everything you need from plants. Sorry, but in today’s food system, I don’t buy that rhetoric. While I think we should try our best to obtain nutrients from food, supplementing is not admitting failure, especially during infancy and into adolescence when growth is critical. Supplemental vitamin B12 is essential for vegans of every age. I cannot stress that enough. Vitamin D is something I recommend as well, especially if your climate is like mine in Ohio. It should be noted that vitamin D is added to cow’s milk as this bovine secretion is not naturally rich in the nutrient (despite its encouragement among omnivores as an excellent source of the vitamin!). Supplemental omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA sourced from algae could also be beneficial for children though the jury is still out on exactly how much. Click here for more information about omega-3s.
  5. Don’t forget you are the role model! This is a bit obvious perhaps, but I feel it is worth mentioning. Parents have to remember that they are incredibly influential over the relationship their children develops with food. If you hate vegetables (and yes, I have met veggie-hating vegans) and are not willing to try new foods, the likelihood your child will pick up on that and mimic it is very high. If you rarely cook and rely heavily on prepackaged foods, this will have an impact on your child. If you do not have a healthy relationship with food, this can have psychological consequences for your child and negatively impact their feelings about food. This is getting into psychology, and I am not a psychologist. I will stop here, but I think you get my point. It’s super important for children to have role models who will provide positive interactions with food.

If this walk down Nutrition Lane has made you hungry for more knowledge, you can read all of my “Everyday Nutrition” columns here.

Have a nutrition question for Anya? Email her.

Disclaimer: Although Anya Todd, R.D. and Kara Rienzo, R.D.N. are registered dietitians, the nutrition content provided on GenerationVeggie.org is for educational and informational purposes only. Any or all changes to your diet and lifestyle should always first be discussed with your professional healthcare providers. GenerationVeggie.org assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequences resulting directly or indirectly from any action or inaction you take based on the information found on or material linked to on this website.

Posted in Advice Columns, Everyday Nutrition

Anya is a registered, licensed dietitian with more than a decade of experience in clinical settings, research, education, and community outreach. Currently, Anya is pursuing a graduate degree in Sustainable Food Systems. When not working or studying, she runs the Mid-Ohio Animal Welfare League, a volunteer-operated nonprofit that provides foster care to medically needy companion animals and brings low-cost vet services to under-served areas. Read more about Anya.