I often get asked if children get enough protein on a plant-based diet. This is understandable given how important protein is for a growing child. The recommended intake for a healthy adult is 46 grams of protein a day for women and 56 grams for men. But the average adult in developed countries is eating far more protein than they actually need. In fact, they eat roughly twice the recommended amount! It’s therefore easy to get enough protein simply by eating a wide variety of plant-based foods which include beans, legumes, nuts, broccoli and whole grains.
- Soy protein provides the same quality protein as meat and contains all the essential amino acids.
- Non heme iron can be found in a variety of plant-based foods including leafy greens, beans and grains, nuts and seeds.
- Omega-3, which is also a common concern, can easily be replicated in a plant-based diet with flaxseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds, to name just a few.
Plant-based foods are higher in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, contain fibre and have far less sodium, saturated fats and cholesterol than their meat and dairy-based counterparts. They also don’t contain antibiotics and other scary pharmaceuticals commonly found in meat and dairy products.
The benefits of plant-based eating
With increased awareness around the benefits of plant-based eating, there is now a larger variety of kid-friendly plant-based meals on the market. These days, it’s so much easier to replicate foods kids will eat and enjoy in plant-based versions these days.
I’m raising my kid’s vegan
Raising my boys, I have never found it difficult explaining to them why we eat plant-based food. They are completely on board with the decisions we make as a family. I have always shared with them the truth about where our food comes from (without scaring them or showing them visuals).
Despite our choices as a family they never feel left out. They still eat sausage rolls, burgers and pizzas occasionally – just the vegan versions. When they are out with friends, I allow them to make their own choices about what to eat. It can be tough for children to navigate a birthday party with non-vegan cakes, treats and sweets, so in these instances I try my best to guide them. But, without making it too obvious to the other parents. Ultimately, I want to advocate for veganism but I don’t believe advocacy works when you are overly prescriptive.
The challenges of vegan parenting
Being a parent has its challenges. But raising vegan children in a non-vegan world is really tough.
Here are a few ideas to help you out. These are based on my personal experience as a parent:
- Remember, your child is not you. It’s up to you to teach them the values you hold as a family unit. You are there to guide them and inspire them. If they make different choices to you as they get older, don’t take it personally or as a sign you have failed.
- Keep mealtimes exciting. Get creative in the kitchen with your children. Try making food art with the vegetables. Think Rainbow Wraps, Noughts and Crosses (winner eats all) and become a master of disguise (hide the veggies they don’t usually like to eat).
- Tell stories. My kids grew up calling broccoli “fairy trees”, beans “Jack and the Beanstalk”. Make vegetables part of a fun, fantasy world.
- Talk about the food you have made. Let your kids know about the health benefits. Educating yourself and your children will greatly benefit you all. Talk about the way you prepared the food, and where it comes from (for example, if it’s homegrown, from a farm nearby). Talking about where animal products come from may also help the rest of the family understand your point of view. Keep emotions out of these discussions – be frank, honest and logical.
- Realise that everyone is on their own journey. You cannot enforce your own feelings on others. Listen to their point of view, be kind, and give your own thoughts in a non-confrontational way. Plant seeds. Do not judge. Be compassionate.
- Be prepared for events. School events, fundraisers, get-togethers, and kids’ parties all typically include animal products. Pack some options for your kids. I always take a packet of Fry’s Sausages or Sausage Rolls so that my children get to participate in these events without feeling left out.
- Connect with animals. Go to a farm sanctuary together and spend time with the rescued animals. Make sure your kids have a real connection with animals.
Tammy Fry is a plant-based holistic nutrition advocate, mom and Director of Meat Free Mondays in South Africa.
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