The rise in vegan culture has been adopted by many individuals, organizations, and food companies. As veganism continues to increase in popularity, many parents are choosing to adopt this lifestyle and raise their children vegan as well. Raising vegan children is a wonderful thing to do as a parent and it is possible to raise healthy children on a vegan diet. However, our society hasn’t quite been as acceptive to the idea. There continues to be fear and misunderstanding about the well-being of raising children under a vegan lifestyle.
Families have become more open-minded about the idea of feeding their children a vegan diet primarily based on the health benefits of adopting a more plant-based lifestyle. And rightly so, caring about the health of our children is a beneficial and important change. However, despite studies showing positive health outcomes in adopting a more plant-based lifestyle, there continues to be apprehension and worry around providing a vegan diet to children. Perhaps part of this uneasiness stems from misinformed or misleading articles we come across of parents raising vegan babies. However, the problem with these stories is not necessarily the result of the vegan diet itself, rather lack of understanding in developing a well-planned vegan diet and following appropriate nutritional recommendations for each stage of age - from conception to adulthood - to prevent malnutrition or other nutritional deficiencies.
Is a vegan diet safe for children?
A vegan diet is a healthy way to raise children and it has been recognized as safe for all stages of the life cycle by many health organizations. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases”(1). In addition, they point out that following such diets “are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes”(1).
Raising vegan children isn’t an arduous task as long as you familiarize yourself with the key nutrient recommendations for each age group and plan well-balanced meals/snacks with a variety of plant-based foods. Providing a vegan diet to children simply requires more attention to meal planning to ensure that they are getting adequate calories, vitamins and nutrients, and fat for proper growth. As long as those components are followed, a vegan diet is completely safe for any baby, infant, toddler, or child.
Why I’m raising a vegan baby
Since becoming pregnant, I have continued to follow a vegan lifestyle. I’ll be honest and say that as a new expecting mom I did have some concerns about following a vegan diet during pregnancy - despite being knowledgeable in vegan nutrition as a Registered Dietitian. However, choosing not to follow a vegan lifestyle during my pregnancy didn’t quite feel right to me. I have had a healthy pregnancy, baby has been in the top percentile for growth, and my iron levels have been superior. I'm thankful for the support of my healthcare provider too!
Like most vegan moms-to-be, I knew I wanted to continue following a vegan lifestyle and still nurture a healthy growing baby through pregnancy. That is why I wanted to share important nutrients during a vegan pregnancy in this blog post so that other moms-to-be can know it's possible to follow such lifestyle during pregnancy.
Many family members have asked if I will be raising vegan children. The answer to that has unquestionably always been yes. As an ethical vegan, I want to share this wonderful lifestyle with my children. Being a vegan demonstrates compassion to not only in preventing the exploitation of animals but also that of our environment. It means showing more acts of kindness and making kind choices by adopting a more plant-based diet.
These values that I so cherish in following a vegan lifestyle is something that I want to instill in my children. I’d like for them to appreciate that the lives of animals mean no less than that of human life. That animals deserve to be treated with respect the same way every individual deserves to be treated. That animals should not be exploited for food or entertainment for our own benefit. In addition, I'd like for them to acknowledge that nurturing our environment is important to enable it to thrive for our future.
These are just a few reasons for why I am raising my little one as a vegan. I am aware that raising vegan children in a predominately non-vegan world can bring its challenges but I am excited about the journey that we as a family will take in showing more compassion to our society, and that of the treatment of animals. And though my children will be raised vegan, following such diet and lifestyle will ultimately be their choice as they continue to become independent of their own decisions, choices, and lives. That is something that I am okay with too.
What other Plant-Based Dietitians are Saying
As more families are choosing to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle, so have other Registered Dietitians. Here are a few words of those that have dedicated to raising plant-based children:
“Like any mom, I strive to ensure my 2 year old daughter is meeting all her nutrition needs all the while balancing her sometimes finicky preferences. I make sure my daughter is offered some type of bean (lentils are her favorite) and a nut or seed (aka "sprinkles" as she calls them!), as well as a fortified plant-milk for calcium and B12 and a variety of whole grains, fruits and a veggie each day. Quinoa is also a good plant-based source of iron and choline and can be eaten by itself or added to homemade veggie burgers!”
-- Jessica Spiro, RD of Jessica Spiro Nutrition
“We have found that raising a vegan family is so much more than just swapping out animal-derived products for plant foods. It's about teaching our kids the true meaning of compassion, environmental stewardship, feminism, and equality, while setting them up for optimal long-term health and showing them a unique way to positively impact the world around them."
-- Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, Plant-Based Lifestyle Strategist and Founder of Chronic Planet (www.chronicplanet.net)
"Raising our now 3 year old daughter plant-based was not even a question. Through our research and experience in our own lives and working with patients, plant-based diets are a safe and effective way to reduce incidence of the most prevalent chronic diseases, including: diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. Consuming whole plant foods also reduces carbon footprint, environmental toxins, and undue suffering. According to a 2017 study, "Cohort studies strongly support the role of plant-based diets, and food and nutrient components of plant-based diets, in reducing the risk of type 2 Diabetes"(2). To ensure she is including all the nutrients needed to continue healthy growth, we offer a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, gluten free whole grains due to her sensitivity to gluten, and dairy-free fortified plant milks. We make sure not to waste space in her small stomach on refined foods and sugar. If a plant-based lifestyle is planned and executed in a healthy manner risk of nutrient deficiency and disease incidence drop drastically. We have seen this firsthand with our healthy girl. She has always had steady, healthy growth, following her curve and normal levels of iron at checks. Raising a healthy child in an unhealthy society has been no easy feat, but something that has been so rewarding, eye-opening, and assuring to others that it is possible!"
-- Dahlia and James Marin, Holistic Dietitian Nutritionists and owners of Married to Health.
Following a Vegan Lifestyle is an Admirable Journey
Raising vegan children is an extraordinary experience and like the above dietitians, I am looking forward to sharing that experience with my little one. Teaching children about compassion and how to adopt a more healthful way of eating is a journey unlike any other. Have no fear in raising your little ones on a vegan diet - it’s a perfectly safe and healthy given all key nutrients are present in a well-balanced meal pattern.
Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116, 1970-1980.
McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology : JGC, 14(5), 342–354. http://doi.org/10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.009