Raising Kids On A Vegan Diet
There’s a long list of reasons why more and more people are opting for a vegan diet – from reducing their carbon footprint to reducing the suffering of other sentient animals. A vegan diet consists of no animal products whatsoever, including dairy, eggs, meat and fish. Instead, vegans get the nutrition they need from foods like wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds.
A vegan diet demonstrates social responsibility and ethical awareness to young children, whether it be permanent or for a few days in each week. Overwhelmingly, experts urge people to limit the amount of animal products they consume by opting for more environmentally sustainable (and kinder) eating habits.
Choosing to go vegan for even a few days in a week and explaining to your child the reasons behind it teaches them that their choices and actions have enormous impacts on the planet and the lives of other beings. Eating less animal products dramatically reduces your carbon footprint and reduces the suffering of many animals raised for food each year. The latter is the reason why some many young children choose to become vegans or vegetarians independently of their parents after they’ve made the connection between the sentient creature that was once driven by its own self-interests and the food on their plate.
Raising healthy vegan kids takes a good amount of research about proper nutrition – as does any diet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) support a vegan diet for growing bodies and agree that a well-planned vegan diet which consists of essential vitamins and minerals is perfectly healthy for infant and toddlers. We’ve put together some information in this article with some links to further references about raising children on a vegan diet and some key things to consider.
Why go vegan?
Choosing a vegan diet, or consciously choosing to reduce the amount of animal products you consume, offers a wealth of benefits for yourself, the planet, and other animals.
Health benefits – A child on a vegan diet consumes sufficient vitamins and minerals – often, even more than necessary. Vegan children eat more nutrients, more fiber and less saturated fat than other children, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Vegans on average live longer lives than non-vegans and significantly lower their risk of heart disease.
Environmental benefits – The United Nations have been urging for people to move towards a meat and dairy free diet from as early as 2010, citing that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change. Raising animals to eat produces more greenhouse gasses (via methane and nitrous oxide) than all of the carbon dioxide excreted by automobiles, boats, planes and trains in the world combined.
Dairy industry facts – The inherent cruelty of raising cows on dairy farm cannot go without mention. Even on dairy farms with “high welfare standards” cannot function without the disposal of bobby calves (mostly male calves who cannot produce milk). Bobby calves are usually killed within days of their lives.
Egg industry facts – Like the dairy industry, even organic and free-range egg farms cannot function without the regular slaughter of its “waste products”. In this case it’s male chicks, who at one day old are ground up alive or gassed to death.
Overfishing – The magnitude of commercial fishing and the use of trawl nets is almost impossible to imagine, but its effects are devastating. With the population’s increasing demand for seafood, the industry actually cannot sustain into the future.
Factory farming – Modern day farming practices are highly intensive and often involve severe overcrowding and legalised cruelty. Legal forms of animal abuse include keeping hens in cages for their entire lives, castrating and mutilating piglets without anesthesia and keeping pregnant sows in sow crates where they have no room to turn around or even lay down.
Essential vitamins and minerals for children
The Victorian Government makes the following suggestions about a vegan diet for babies and young children:
- Milk – continue breastfeeding or using fortified infant formula until at least 12 months.
- Solids – don’t delay the introduction of solids.
- Grains, fruit and vegetables – include baby rice cereal, fruits and vegetables (consider continuing with iron-fortified rice cereal for longer) as first solids.
- Offer a variety of solids – after six months begin with pureed fruit and vegetables. On advice from your child and maternal health nurse, you can later add soft cooked beans, lentils and pulses, tofu, avocado, smooth peanut and other nut pastes or sesame seed paste (tahini).
Pay close attention to the research you find online (including on this site; we’ve taken a lot of care to find the best research and information to include and refer to in this article, but we’re not health professionals).
Further reading (recommended by www.livestrong.com):
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association; “…Vegan Diets: Children”; V. Messina; June 2001
- VeganHealth.org: Pregnancy, Infants, & Children; 2003
- Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine: Frequently Asked Questions About Nutrition
- MassGeneral Hospital for Children: Vegetarianism
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Vitamin B12 in the Vegan Diet; Reed Mangels; 2006
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Feeding Vegan Kids; Reed Mangels