Whether it's a trend or not, many teenagers and younger kids are choosing to become vegans or vegetarians, for some it could be one of their most liked celebrities has recently announced they are vegan, but for most, it's mainly for the compassion of animals. And when your child makes such a decision parents naturally become worried that their child now will longer get all the nutrients they need for a growing child. Also, it does definitely involve more work on the parent responsible for preparing/cooking the meals with other members of the family who aren't vegan. There definitely is going to be some adjustments made.
Every parent wants the best for their child and making sure they are healthy and thriving is definitely on the top list.
First, let me assure you that Vegan/vegetarian diets can be perfectly safe and healthy for kids. In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that vegan (and vegetarian) diets are appropriate for all stages of life—as long as they're well-planned
I understand this can be overwhelming but don't worry, as a parent myself of 3 teenagers (1 vegan and 2 vegetarians) I’m here to support you along this journey.
Important things you need to first plan for are protein, calories, and some essential vitamins
Calories: Plant-based foods tend to have fewer calories than animal-based ones. This is not a bad thing, given the current obesity in the world, the WHO (World Health Organisation) confirms that 38 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2019
However, it is important to be sure that children and teens get enough calories to grow and support daily activity. The amount of calories a child needs depends on their age, size, and activity level.
Nuts, nut butter, and soy products can help add calories, as can granola and other whole-grain products.
Protein: Protein is important, not just for building muscle but for all sorts of body functions. The protein they need is similar to calories, depending on their age and size. The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is 0.8 g/kg/day however some studies have shown that a slight increase may show more health benefits, therefore the WHO have set a safe protein recommendation of 0.83 g/kg/day. For those who are athletic can go slightly higher.
Nuts, legumes (including peanuts), soy products, and whole grains are good sources of protein.
Vitamin B12: This is a very important Vitamin your growing child needs. It is a nutrient that helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevents anemia
The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milk, nutritional yeast, some soy products, and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. B12 does not originate from animal products also, whether it exists in fortified foods, supplements, or meat it all comes from microorganisms.
Your child should have a daily B12 supplement. Please discuss this with your family doctor to prescribe the appropriate one for your child.
Vitamin D: It Is a vitamin and a hormone. It enables the body to increase calcium absorption when needed. For more info on Vitamin D check my blog post
Teens that spend very little time outdoors or live in places far from the equator should definitely supplement.
Sources: Plantbased milk fortified with Vit D, vitamin D-fortified orange juice, and other vitamin D-fortified products. Check labels.
Calcium: Getting enough calcium for growing children is important, and yes you can get calcium without dairy. There are so many reasons to go dairy-free, check this for more information. https://switch4good.org/improved-health/
Good calcium sources include fortified non-dairy milk and juices, low oxalate greens (kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, and okra), beans (soy, white, navy, white, black bean), blackstrap molasses, tofu, and figs. Some corn tortillas are fortified with calcium too. Check labels.
Iron: Absorption from iron plant foods increases when foods high in Vit C are combined or eaten at the same time. Cooking with onions and garlic can increase iron absorption. Vitamin C increases iron absorption. Good sources of vitamin C include pepper, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwifruit, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit, and orange juice.
Good plant sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa, and fortified breakfast cereal.
Zinc: Our bodies need zinc for lots of different functions, including fighting infection, growth, and speeding up reactions. It is possible to get all the zinc you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet.
Sources of zinc include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, wholemeal bread, and quinoa.
As your child has expressed interest in changing his/her diet, it will be better to support them and have an open discussion about what their reasons are and that together you both can come up with a plan that can meet everyone's satisfaction. Teenagers also need to learn about healthy eating and understand that they are also responsible for making sure to get all the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
It also helps to meal plan and go grocery shopping together and involve them in the kitchen so they get familiarized with what's involved and can then be more independent in making the right food choices.
How I can help?
Meal planning will be very important during this transition especially at the start, I offer whole food plant-based meal plans that are kid-friendly and can be enjoyed by the entire family! This could help you save you time wondering what meals to prepare and take away the stress of wondering if they have all the nutrients they need, The meal plans come with the nutrition labels also.
If you would like to try a 2-day meal plan get in touch, and I would be happy to share this with you.