As a children’s dietitian, I have seen a rise in health conscious parents who have decided to raise their children on a vegan or vegetarian diet. I fully support parents choosing this method of feeding and I actually admire them for it as it does take courage, time and not to mention an effort to study nutrition (I assume this is what you have done before you go vegan or vegetarian!).
Eating well throughout life is important; I think we can all agree on that. However, eating well in the first 1000 days of life (from 9 months of pregnancy and the first 2 years of life may just be the most important time to ensure proper nutrition. Evidence show that the first 1000 days of life are crucial for ensuring healthy growth and development and to ensure a child meets their full potential!
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or a meat-eater, good nutrition is key to a healthy life.
But how about the child that’s fed a vegan or vegetarian diet? Is that considered an appropriate diet for children?
It surely is….
However, from experience, most of my vegan and vegetarian clients struggle with protein. They either don’t eat enough or they eat low quality protein. This applies to both adults and children.
So what is protein? Protein is an essential macronutrient which is made out of building blocks known as amino acids. If we consider the human body then most of what you can and cannot see is made of protein! Hair nails and skin is all protein!
But did you know that protein also makes up antibodies which help fight viruses and bacteria?
Protein is also what makes all our enzymes which carry out thousands of chemical reactions that take place in our body cells!
So just imagine, a growing child whose body undergoes exceptional transformation. From the growth of their organs to the maintenance of a healthy immune system; Protein is essential.
Two or three portions of vegetable proteins or nuts should be consumed every day to ensure enough protein but also iron is obtained from the diet. A portion of protein is approximately equivalent to a handful (child’s hand).
Unlike carbohydrate and fat, protein isn’t stored for future use; therefore a good intake of quality protein is essential on a daily basis.
Protein can be complete or incomplete.
Complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids. Incomplete protein will have some but lack a few. Essential amino acids are important since the body can’t make these.
Animal protein is a source of complete protein whereas plant protein isn’t complete.
Incomplete protein include beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, peas, and corn. Combine two or more incomplete proteins and there you have it — you’ve got a complete protein meal!
However, there are a few plant protein sources which are bucking the trend. And they are therefore my ‘Top Choices of Protein for the Vegan Child’.
Wholegrains with Nut Butter
Nut butters alone aren’t considered complete protein but you can make it complete once it’s mixed with wholegrain bread! Cashew butter is a top choice of mine since it’s also a great source of zinc and iron! This does not apply to those with a nut allergy! Don’t be scared to use nuts in your child’s diet. As long as it’s not a whole nut and as long as they don’t have an allergy to it all should be well.
My absolutely favourite! Tempeh (made of soy beans) is high in complete protein and a source of fibre and iron!
The options are endless when cooking tempeh recipes for kids. You can slice it right out of the package and throw it on the grill, bake it, sauté it, or you can steam it and marinate it. Tempeh fries make a great high protein snack, or how about flaxseed and tempeh meatballs? Alternatively, puree the tempeh with fruit or veggie for the younger infant.
Tempeh is fermented soy and because it’s fermented, it’s in fact also a prebiotic (so helps to keep a healthy gut in the little ones).
Quinoa is in fact a seed so it is a source of carbohydrate but also contains all your 9 essential amino acids. What I love about quinoa is that it is so versatile! Quinoa breakfast makes a great substitute to an often carbohydrate only rich breakfast such as cornflakes or porridge. Top the quinoa breakfast off with a handful (child’s hand) of fruit and voila! There you have a perfect breakfast with all 9 essential amino acids and a portion of fruit!
Quinoa is gluten free too!
Other Top Protein Foods
BUCKWHEAT: This fabulous grain is indeed gluten free and contains all your 9 essential amino acids. It reminds me a bit of quinoa. Buckwheat is an ancient grain. I believe anything ancient is gold!
SEITAN: Also known as wheat gluten. This food dates back to the 6th century amongst the Buddhist monks who used it as a substitute for meat. It is low in lysine but have it with soy sauce, rice or buckwheat and viola! Complete protein meal.
HEMP SEEDS: Rick in omega’3s and amino acids (low in lysine). Use this into quinoa porridge or stir in into a healthy vegetable and fruit smoothie.
CHIA SEEDS: Like hemp seeds, these are rick in omega-3’s but also iron, calcium antioxidants. Stir them in with a quinoa porridge and there you have a complete protein meal again!
I hope this blog post has made you re-think the way you currently eat and how you may want to change your child’s diet to ensure it’s balanced and that it contains good amounts of quality protein.
Other protein foods for the vegan child include beans, whole grains,
Thanks for reading. Please like and share. If you want help and advice then I provide online consultations from the comfort of your home. Both for the vegan child or the vegan adult.
Please note that this information neither is medical advice, nor is it meant to replace the advice of your doctor or dietitian and I assume no liability for the use or misuse of this information.