What do Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Jay Gordon have in common? Besides being incredibly notable pediatricians that are household names in most homes with kids, they advocate a plant based diet for children. As the obesity epidemic rises I think more and more doctors are starting to advocate for a more plant based diet.
Frequently, I get asked what my kids eat, how they like being vegan and if I expect them to be vegan (for life). In my last post, I talked about it a little bit. I do not feel I should ever choose my children’s lifestyle for them. My job is to inform them when the time is right., respect their choices and love them regardless.
My oldest son is disgusted by meat. I’ll never forget when he was in 1st grade, he wanted to get hot lunch because his best friend in his class got hot lunch. He goes to a nice school in California and they always have a vegetarian option so I made sure he knew to ask for it in the morning so it would be ready for him by lunch time. When I picked him up, I asked how his very first hot lunch went. His eyes were so big, “Mom, I didn’t eat it. I’m sorry!” I was very confused, then he followed up with, “They cook chicken legs in there! Real chicken’s legs! I couldn’t eat anything cooked in that kitchen.” He just looked like he had never heard of anything so barbaric in his life.
I also have a feeling my 3 year old will stick with at least vegetarianism. The other day at Chipotle, I got him black beans and rice for lunch. He sat down and said, “Mama, look! It’s eggs (while pointing to his black beans), aww those are baby birds, aren’t they cute?” I knew exactly where this was going, he was not going to eat these baby birds. While I’m pleading with him to eat trying to explain they’re beans that grow on plants and he’s ok to eat them, he kept arguing that they were baby birds and wouldn’t touch them. Then was horrified when he saw me trying to feed them to his baby brother. I have never used eggs in cooking at home, I have never told him eggs were baby birds. He has learned this on his own around Easter time when we read about baby chicks that hatch in the spring.
I’m sure you’re thinking, get to the point already! My point is two parts–one part being that when kids are not desensitized to the act of animals from a very young age, they generally have an issue with it later. The second part is to show that as vegans we are not “indoctrinating” our children with our beliefs, but they tend to be a product of their environment.
Now onto the good stuff and every vegan’s “favorite” question we get asked–where do they get their protein?
So here are a child’s protein needs broken down by age, I got this chart from a very cool Canadian site called, “Canadian Living”
- Up to 12 months: 13-14 g
- 1-3 years: 16 g
- 4-6 years: 24 g
- 9-10 years: 28 g
- 11-14 years: 45 g
- 15-18 years: 59 g
- 11-14 years: 46 g
- 15-18 years: 44 g
A better and more accurate way to calculate how much protein your child needs is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
In the first year of life, most of the protein a child intakes will be from either breast milk or formula. So I think the main focus should be on making sure they’re getting their daily amount of breast milk/formula. Baby food should be started when you feel your baby is ready, definitely never before 4 months. I always waited until 6 months of age then started with vegetable baby food, because quite frankly if you’re eating something sweet like bananas who really wants to switch to broccoli after that? So once my kids were veggie lovers then we introduced fruit.
By the 2nd year of their life they’ll need to be eating more regular meals, milk should only account for 16-24 oz of their diet a day. Toddlers do need quite a bit of healthy fats for brain development which is why whole milk is recommended for the 2nd year of life. Since I don’t have baby calves–I have children, I give them almond milk. Say what?? That’s not high enough fat! You would be correct, so we make up for it in other foods. Flaxseed his high in omega-3s plus has healthy fat and nut butters–like almond butter or peanut butter (I always buy the natural annoying kind that you have stir, but it’s the healthiest) are as well. I know what you’re thinking, well how do I get a 2 year old to eat that? I mix it into things, flaxseed is very easy to grind in a blender and sneak into any sort of muffins, applesauce, oatmeal, etc. Peanut butter is great on sandwiches, celery, crackers…pretty much anything! I do have this amazing recipe that my mother in law gave me. She found it on Facebook and doesn’t know the original author. But here it is (I wish the name was a bit better or that I was more mature):
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 1/2 cup nut butter
- 1/2 cup raisins (I hate raisins but they’re so good in this recipe!)
- 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/3 cup agave nectar
- 1 tsp vanilla
Mix ingredients together in a bowl, grab out little bits, roll it in a ball, stick them in tupperware in the fridge and let them set.
These are so good, packed full of healthy fats, protein and I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t want them. If your child has a peanut allergy try it with almond or sunflower butter. You could also add some hemp and chia seeds for extra protein and omegas!
If your child is 3 and up, I feel like we are mostly out of the picky eating stage and into the stage where they’ll try most things or you can at least bribe them to try most things. Other sources of protein to try for them are tempeh, any type of bean, tofu, quinoa, whole grains, sunflower seeds, nuts, spinach, kale, hemp seeds etc. What kid doesn’t like spaghetti or beans and rice? I feed my vegan kids exactly what we eat. If that fails they get a peanut butter sandwich after trying a bite.
When feeding your vegan child, take into account that we live in a protein obsessed society. We really don’t need to eat massive amounts of protein. The nutrition expert, Paavo Airola, Ph.D., pointed out that overeating protein “contributes to the development of many of our most common and serious diseases, such as arthritis, kidney damage, pyorrhea, schizophrenia, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and cancer: and that a “high protein diet causes premature aging and lowers life expectancy.” (source)
Really just focus on if they’re eating enough colorful vegetables and fruits, if my kids ate something red like an apple or a red pepper with their lunch, I give them something green for dinner and so forth. Each color group gives different nutrients. I also make sure they’re eating whole grains, healthy fats and I limit processed food.
What is your vegan kid’s favorite recipe?