Some people question if a vegan diet is ‘safe’ for children, and as with any diet (meat-based or otherwise) the key thing is to pay attention to balanced nutrition: a diet consisting mainly of sausages (whether Mattesons or McCartney) is not a good idea.
The first thing you need to do if you are considering raising vegan children is educate yourself. So, if you don’t already love to cook, it is time to get cooking. And it’s time to fall in love with lentils, beans, nuts, seeds and a wild array of vegetables.
You need to become an expert in plant-based nutrition and understand what constitutes a balanced diet. As well as balanced protein and healthy fats, you will need to pay particular attention to vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and iron.
The best possible thing you can do with regard to young children and B12 is get them to fall in love with Marmite (yeast extract is also good). A go to snack of toast and marmite will contain plenty of B12. We also use marmite in many savoury dishes – soups, stews and the best vegan gravy ever. My children are Marmite lovers to this day. We also use Engevita flakes as a cheese substitute, sprinkled on pasta and in many sauces. Engevita is super charged with B12.
I’d also recommend getting your children to embrace hummus as young as possible. Hummus is super nutritious and served with pitta and carrot and cucumber sticks is a winner with most children. Served together in this way, hummus and pitta is what’s called a
complete protein – between them, pitta and hummus contain the full spectrum of amino acids that you need.
There is a lot of talk about getting the full spectrum of these essential amino acids that is generally misunderstood. Animal-based proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, which makes them complete proteins, but it is not actually necessary to eat one food that
contains everything. That’s where the idea that vegans lack protein comes in, which is false. Combining plant foods results in complete protein and gives exactly the same result nutritionally.
There are a few plant-based foods that are ‘complete’ proteins on their own, i.e. contain the full spectrum amino acids. They include: Tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and chia seeds. Some of these are a bit of an acquired taste for an infant, quinoa for example needs a bit of hiding in a tasty-flavoured sauce. But mine always did well with edamame beans, scrambled tofu and fresh fruit chia pudding.
But rather than focus on just these foods, your protein repertoire can expand massively by combining vegan proteins from different sources (like the hummus and pitta example above) which alone are not complete, both together magically provide a complete protein.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that 100g of wholemeal bread contains 13g of protein, which is more than in 100g of egg, and all vegetables do have a protein component. A diet rich in vegetables can make a significant contribution to your daily nutritional needs, including protein.
Here are some food combining ideas:
Rice and lentils or beans. Both brown and white rice when combined with beans or lentils give a complete protein. And there are literally millions of recipes out there containing beans or lentils, rice (or other grains) and vegetables. Just about every continent on the
planet has a version of this cuisine.
Beans on toast. Yes, classic beans on toast is a complete protein. Very helpful in those moments when time is of the essence and you have hungry children.
Peanut butter sandwich. This will come as a welcome surprise maybe! And yes, a peanut butter sandwich is a very high complete protein.
So, it really is safe to bring up your children on a wholefood plant-based diet. You will often read about concerns of deficiency in the vegan diet, especially with regard to protein. But the truth is that protein deficiency is rarely seen in affluent populations, and generally only
seen in populations where ALL food is scarce. Simply put, where food is abundant, all people, regardless of their dietary choices, will be getting more than enough protein, and following the steps as outlined above, will ensure your child will thrive on a wholefood
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge. In addition, Stem & Glory offers a range of ready meals, finish at home pizzas, and recipe kits available for delivery across the UK.
Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisepalmermasterton)