Well, do I have a treat in store for you guys today or what?! I have been blessed to make friends with a fantastic lady called Rose who just happens to be no other than a vegan nutritionist! I am so super excited to share this blog post today as Rose has agreed to answers all mine and your questions on how to successfully transition your children to a plant-based diet. She is an absolute legend for agreeing to take the time to answer all of these questions so thoroughly for you. However, before we head into the Q and A I wanted to tell you a bit about our experience of turning the kids vegan and then I will properly introduce you to the star of this piece.
I am so often asked about how we successfully transitioned our children to a plant-based diet. There is no denying that when trying to encourage your children to eat in a completely new way that you will need a lot of patience and understanding. It takes times to break old habits and it is that much harder for children to appreciate the health benefits that these new foods bring.
Always be the good example for your children as they will generally follow your enthusiasm. Be open-minded yourself about trying new things and avoid any negative reactions to foods. They may like something that you don’t but won’t even try if they see you’re not a fan.
The next thing to do is to make all your family favourites but veganise them. For example lasagna, burgers, carbonara or pizza. Make these familiar foods but make them from whole plant foods instead. At least that way they are open to trying them. My kids absolutely loved their bean burger replacements and their pink beetroot crust veggie pizzas right off the bat! I understand that won’t always be the case but trial and error is the way forward. You will win some and lose some but always stay positive if you can. I know it’s disheartening when you have spent hours in the kitchen cooking up a storm only to be met by disgruntled faces and far from empty plates. This will happen at times. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say ‘Ok, I think we can do this better next time’ or ‘It may not be your favourite but next time you can make it with me and show me how it’s done!’ This usually brings enough humour to the table to replace any negative energy. Just be prepared to take one step forward and two steps back in the beginning.
The way that we used to approach each meal at the start of our vegan journey was by always having one familiar food on the plate with two new foods. That way they would feel safe to at least eat something on their plate and curiosity would get the better of them to try the ‘new’ foods. Especially if they see you enjoying them too! Sometimes we would even have a huge sharing platter in the middle of the floor and have a lovely social floor picnic where we could eat and discuss all the new flavours and colours of our delicious plant party food.
We would then involve them in shopping and preparing the food. It would become exciting to pick ‘new’ foods they’d not heard of before. Fin, in particular, went crazy when he found a dragon fruit at the shops and Pops was keen to cook using the pestle and mortar! (And so lentil Dahl was born.)
Make food fun. Get them to make food for their teddies or play a game of ‘which food do you like best?’ Grow herbs in the garden and educate your children about where their food really comes from. I’m sure when they fully understand their options that they will pick plants over animals any day of the week!
Try not to be overwhelmed by what others are doing. It is hard when you see those beautiful vegan kids on YouTube slurping on green juice and eating seaweed wraps and you feel like you’re a million miles away from that right now. Remember that bringing up children on a plant-based diet is very different to transitioning them to eat after many years of eating a standard western diet. They will get there in the end in the right environment of understanding, patience, care, education, compassion and curiosity. With the correct nurturing their excitement for being vegan will lead your little ones to the path of kale juice in the end!
If you have any further questions about transitioning yourself or your family to a more plant-based diet then please feel free to contact me. We will all have a different story to tell and each child and family is different. I know that there are sometimes other factors to consider. For example sensory issues, food budgeting, school lunches and many more things that can make this journey easier or harder for you. I am always here as a sounding board and will happily chat away about any issues you feel I may be able to help you with.
So without further ado, I want to introduce you properly to Rosemary.
Rosemary grew up in the coastal town of Kent and was home educated until the age of 12. When Rose grew up she was a self-confessed dairy and fast food addict which brought with it a whole host of negative side effects like weight gain, kidney stones, anxiety and depression.
Some years later Rose had a chance meeting with a vegan advocate who told her his story and gave her a card with some rather poignant movies on to open her mind to the possibility of the health benefits of living on a vegan diet and the story of the devastating farming industry. After many more ups and downs on her path Rose finally started to live the healthy life she knew she truly deserved. She shunned dairy and meat and even stopped using any chemicals on her body and in her home.
Rose had already spent 6 years in the medical industry caring for people who were sick and dying before deciding to take the leap and get qualified in nutrition so she could begin to help people heal their illnesses in a completely new way.
Rose studied nutritional sciences through online training. She gained two diploma distinctions, one of which was 97% as a fully qualified Vegan Nutritionist and 99% also as a Raw-Food Nutritionist. What an amazing woman. If you want to hear her story in more detail then head on over to her fantastic blog.
So to the Q and A…
What are the health benefits of bringing up children on a plant-based diet?
Children brought up with a foundation of nutrition, such as with a plant-based diet, reduce the risks of diseases related to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several forms of cancer, osteoporosis and dental disease in their current and later life. Teaching a child good eating habits and introducing a variety of healthful plant foods is vital for all stages of childhood as what a child eats impacts their growth and development. In addition to the reduction probabilities of disease, good eating habits can help children lead more active lives, increasing their overall participation and enjoyment of the world around them. Children brought up on a plant-based diet will be less likely to become over-weight and will have more energy to enjoy sports and other creative endeavours. Good nutrition can also aid in proper growth and functions within the brain, fending off erratic behaviour, mood swings, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Are there any key nutrients to be aware of that are specific to a child’s growth?
The introduction of key nutrients begins in the womb before a child is born. Medical evidence has shown that nutrition received from the mother to the developing foetus is vital for cognitive, emotional and physical health later in life. It is important for pregnant women to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods during pregnancy of which include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes to aid in the development of the growing child. Also, to avoid simple sugars and low nutrient dense processed foods as this will not only reduce the nutrients the child receives but may damage the development of the child. A research paper from the University of Adelaide Australia has shown that the “brain reward pathways” of babies who were exposed to junk food because their mother ate a lot of it during pregnancy and breastfeeding became desensitised and craved more of the food in the same way as food addiction. Interestingly, studies also show for example that women who drank carrot juice through their pregnancy proceeded with the child’s willingness to eat carrots, the group of pregnant mothers that did not drink carrot juice showed that the children rejected the vegetable, so it shows the importance in regards to eating a nutrient-rich plant-based diet during pregnancy.
During infancy, a mother’s breast milk contains all the key nutrients for growth, it also contains specific immune defence proteins that are not present in infant formula. Not all mothers can breastfeed understandably for a variety of reasons, cows milk formulas should be avoided as cow’s milk is one of the most common “first foods” introduced into an infant’s diet and one of the most common causes of food allergy. In the replacement of cow’s milk formula, soy milk is often used, probiotics can also be added to reduce the incidence and severity of diarrhoea in infants.
Past the pregnancy and young infant stages to the introduction of food, comes the importance of fruit and vegetables. Children should aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, these will provide the majority of essential vitamins and minerals a child requires. Children should also consume complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, proteins from natural plant sources to complete their nutritional requirements.
Iron, zinc and calcium are nutrients children are at a risk of not getting sufficient amounts on a plant-based diet. Combining foods high in vitamin C such as citrus fruits with foods containing iron such as legumes and leafy green veggies in the same meal can ensure proper absorption of iron. Zinc is plentiful in legumes as well as in nuts and spinach.
To ensure calcium intake at adequate levels it is advised to encourage plant-based children to eat broccoli, other cruciferous vegetables and a variety of other calcium-containing plant foods to which there are many. There are plant-based dairy free foods and milks that are also calcium fortified which can be included into a child’s daily diet.
What are the best food sources to meet these specific nutrient requirements?
A portion of fruit and vegetables is equal to:
- 1 medium-sized banana, apple, orange or peach
- 2 small fruits: plums, apricots, satsumas
- A handful of grapes, strawberries, cherries
- 3 tbsps. of cooked vegetables or fruit
- A small salad
The recommended 5 or above portions of fruit and vegetables a day can easily be achieved on a plant orientated or plant-based diet. Children should also include a slow release carbohydrate at each meal such as the grains (Avoid high sugar cereals at breakfast time and opt for oatmeal or other grains with berries as an example). Also choose high fibre grains such as granary bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice in other meals throughout the day. To add sweetness, choose maple syrup or dried fruit over sugar.
Protein in a child diet is also important for growth, children should aim to have protein at least twice a day, this can be in the form of legumes (beans, pulses, peas, lentils), plant-based milks (soy, rice, almond), nuts and seeds (chia, walnuts, macadamias etc plus nut and seed butters), fruits and vegetables such as avocados or sweet potatoes contain moderate protein, both of these foods are also rich in many essential vitamins and minerals vital for good health.
Calcium is also vital for a child’s development of both teeth and bone. Include plant-based calcium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, soya and fortified foods, a mixture of these should be included three times a day.
Healthy fats should come in the form of nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pistachios. Also, avocados and dark chocolate. Fat is important to enable growth in children and provide them with their fat-soluble vitamins. Bad fats such as cakes, biscuits, pastries, crisps, frozen pizza, burgers and other processed high-fat foods should be avoided.
Do you recommend using multivitamin or mineral supplements for children?
When raising a child on a plant-based diet, certain nutrients are required, such as vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids both of which are essential. Due to B12 being readily available in animal foods and rare in plant foods, I recommend young infants and children take a B12 supplement. (for ages 1-3 the daily recommended amount is 0.5mcg, ages 3-6 0.8mcg of B12, respectively)
There are plant foods that contain natural B12 such as seaweeds and kombucha but I would not rely solely on these as a form of B12 supplementation.
Omega 3 fatty acids can also be a concern with children on a plant-based diet as these are primarily found in fatty fish and eggs, however, they can also be supplemented through plant foods such as soy, walnuts, chia and flax seeds, plus cold-pressed nut and seed oils. There are also DHA fortified foods and juices which are advised to be supplemented into plant-based children’s diets.
Calcium cannot be absorbed without vitamin D present in the body, vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, which our bodies synthesise from the sunlight skin exposure, vitamin D is only present in the body for 60 days so it is advised to supplement vitamin D in the winter months for those living in the northern hemisphere.
Are there any U.K. vegan vitamin supplements that you would recommend?
Veg 1 multivitamin is a brand I use and trust, which contains vitamin D3, B2, B6, folic acid, B12, selenium and iodine from the vegan society website. ½ a tablet is recommended for children ages 2-12 years.
Many people are concerned with vegans getting enough protein and calcium, how would you best advise parents who want to raise plant-based children?
To ensure the adequate intake of calcium, vegan children need to be encouraged to eat calcium-rich whole foods. Many plant milks are also calcium fortified. Calcium-rich foods include calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified foods, other calcium whole foods include kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, legumes, chia seeds and almonds.
When it comes to protein, the truth is it’s not as big of a deal as what is marketed and sold to us. All plant foods contain some protein. When eating a variety of plant foods adding up to the correct calories you require each day, you and your children should be getting plenty of protein. Include rich sources of concentrated plant protein such as beans, soy products like tofu and seitan, quinoa, nuts, and hemp seeds.
What are the best sources of iodine-rich foods in the U.K. if you have a child that won’t eat seaweed?
Plant-based foods containing iodine are:
- Organic potatoes
- Organic probiotic yoghurts
- Whole food soy products
What are your thoughts on green powder supplements? For example, spirulina or barley grass powder for children?
When it comes to superfoods these can be interpreted in a number of foods without the need to add the powdered superfoods mentioned above. Surprisingly, superfoods for children can come in the form of a number of whole foods such as oats, berries, probiotic foods, nutritional yeast, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Although there may be advertised benefits to these green supplement powders, I would say a great option would be to give children green juices homemade with organic vegetables, as children as soon as weaned can enjoy vegetable juices, which provide a plethora of nutrients especially if a small amount of fruit is added.
There are some concerns as to the heavy metal contamination risks of spirulina algae in particular, due to how it is grown. For this reason, It was advised by MD Greger to use chlorella in it’s replacement. It is also worth bearing in mind that many of the proposed health benefits of chlorella have not yet been proven.
What are your top must-have foods to eat every day?
Many plant foods are highly nutritious, some more so than others and a list of must-have nutritious foods will vary from taste preferences to different cultures around the world.
My top list of foods for every day are a part of a balanced nutritious whole food plant-based diet, made simple. An example of what I eat on a daily basis, which will include the specific foods I’ve mentioned throughout, so all nutrient bases are covered, made into the basic combinations listed below.
- Oatmeal or a natural cereal made with plant milk and fresh or frozen berries/fruit
- Green juice made with organic vegetables + some fruit
- Fresh fruit seasonable where possible
- Vegetable soups with legumes or grains added
- Colourful salads with fruit and nuts/seeds added
- Grains with legumes and vegetables
- Potatoes, beans and vegetables
- Variety of raw foods with sprouted grains/ seeds
- This is an easily assembled example as there are many plant food combinations that will provide ample nutrition for all ages.
Do you have any other advice that could be useful to new vegans starting out or transitioning their family to a plant-based diet?
When transitioning to a plant-based diet there are some useful tips to aid new vegan and their families to flourish on this lifestyle.
Replace one food group at a time-
With a transition, it should be just that, a manageable process. I would recommend the most important food group to replace first should be dairy there are many replacements to explore, then meat, then eggs and then other animal food groups. Take your time, try new foods and create new meals, see these dietary changes as an evolution, remember you are providing yourself and your family with more nutrients, more energy and longevity. Make your transition enjoyable and include the children. Children who helped create a new meal are more likely to try eating it!
Eliminate processed foods-
Processed foods are addictive and harmful to the human body, the goal should always be towards a whole foods plant-based diet, as when it comes to optimum health and nutrition processed foods will hinder our progress. Plant foods such as non-organic and GMO may also be worth avoiding where possible, as there are some concerns about the negative health effects of these foods.
Grow your own food –
If you have a garden or even a window sill, you have the opportunity to grow your own foods, these can be anything from nutrient-dense herbs or grasses such as chia or wheatgrass to organic vegetables such as kale, which some varieties continue to grow year-round. Also, some leftover veggies which are usually wasted can be regrown such as spring onions, sprouted garlic cloves, root ends of celery and even potatoes that have started to sprout.
Whether you are transitioning alone or with your family, education is vital, there are many nutritional documentary films such as What The Health, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, That Sugar Film to name a few which can provide a basis for nutritional knowledge, especially what is non-healthful, which is a good place to start. There are also a variety of plant-based nutritional books from cooking plant-based to foraging for wild organic plant foods, depending on what interests you.
Vegan support groups –
There are many ways to gain support with your transition from recipe books to help with meals to make, to online groups to join, blogs to follow and ways to connect with others also making or have made the change. You may find local child-friendly workshops that offer plant-based cooking lessons or other active groups gatherings with plant-based children such as within the home education movement. There are also plant-based professionals such as myself, that can guide you and your family pre, during and post-transition, with your health goals in mind to ensure the success of this lifestyle.
All material on this document is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. Nothing stated or presented on this document is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers if you have any questions regarding a medical condition, your diet, nutritional supplements, an exercise regimen, or any other matter related to your health and well-being.
The Vegan Nutritionist
Thank you so much, Rose, for taking time out of your very busy schedule to help support our viewers on their vegan journey. We wish you all the best for your future and we look forward to following your story and tasting all your delicious whole food plant-based recipes! If you too would like to know more about Rosemary’s story, follow her nutrition advice or pick up some of her delicious recipes then head on over to her blog. You can also find her here, here and here.
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