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….
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.
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.
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.
NHS Choices recommends two or three portions of vegetable proteins or nuts every day to make sure they get enough protein but also iron. 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 what is known as: 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.
However, then there are foods known as incomplete proteins, including beans, whole grains and nuts. Combine two or more incomplete proteins and there you have it — you’ve got a complete protein meal!
There are therefore unlimited ways to obtain good quality complete protein on a vegan diet. I have listed my top choices below and also included a list for you at the bottom of this page to help you choose better nutrition.
High Quality Vegan Protein Foods – Nishti’s Choice
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!
My absolutely favourite! Tempeh 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 a 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).
3 Wholegrain Bread 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.
Other High Quality Protein Foods
Here are some examples of high quality protein sources, which would obviously need to be adapted for a little vegan e.g. ground seeds and nuts/butter:
- Soya products
- Beans, peas, lentils
- Quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, wild rice
- Pumpkin, chia and hemp seeds, ground linseed
- Cashew and pistachio nuts
There are numerous ways to include high protein vegan foods into the diet and the above list is an example of how many options we have to play with.
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.