Are you considering a plant-based diet for your little one?
Here is what you need to know to ensure your child will be well nourished.
Plant-based diets have gained popularity because many people have become aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the benefits of plant-based foods in our health.
In a world where the rising concerns around processed foods could compromise our children's healthy development, this eating approach may benefit your family's health and the planet.
Whether you are an animal lover, concerned about the environment, or just want your kid to have a healthier diet, going plant-based is an option to consider.
Providing our little one with good nutrition from an early age is very important; what they eat will have a significant impact on their health and growth.
This diet focuses on foods from plant sources. And it has a wide range of variants (from vegan to flexitarian).
Benefits of a plant-based diet
Plant-based foods should be part of our children's diet every day. They are rich in essential nutrients that help our kids grow and develop.
Here are some of the benefits of eating more plant-based food:
Plant-based food can reduce the risk of having certain chronic diseases later in life, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, Alzheimer's disease, and certain cancers.
Plant-based diets can increase energy levels, reduce inflammation, improve gut health and support the immune system.
Plant-based diets are more environmentally friendly than those rich in meat and dairy because plant-based food requires less water and land and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which cause pollution and climate change.
Also, eating more plant-based food can save animals' lives.
Benefits for toddlers
Plant-based foods give your child the energy, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, and water they need for healthy growth.
Including them from an early age will help them establish lifelong healthy habits.
What should my toddler eat?
Plant-based diets are not about eating only vegetables; there are many variants and options to choose from according to your needs and preferences.
Children have different nutritional needs than adults because their body is constantly growing.
A plant-based diet for a child should follow the same principles of healthy eating and include food from all groups.
These are the Food groups they need on their plate:
Fruits and veggies
Provide vitamins, minerals and fibre. Recommended portion: 1-2 cups per day
Essential for building muscles and bones and the functioning of the immune system.
Recommended portion: 2-4 servings per day.
They provide lots of energy, fibre and some protein.
Recommended portion: 3-5 oz per day.
They help with brain and eye development, absorption of some vitamins and hormonal regulation.
Recommended portion: 2-3 portions per day.
Plant-based foods benefit our health, so the bottom line is to increase the amount of these foods in your little one's diet.
The good part is that we have tons of plant-based food options for our children so that they won't be bored with the variety of colours and flavours.
As I mentioned earlier, plant-based diets have many health benefits for our children, but there are some important aspects we need to consider when deciding to restrict some foods from our children's diet.
For example, a plant-based diet could be low in calories. For an adult, that may be ok (even beneficial for some of us), but for a kid's growing body, this could have a negative impact.
But don't worry; a properly planned plant-based diet is safe and can meet toddlers' nutritional needs.
Essential nutrients and supplementation
If you are raising a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan toddler, it is extremely important to remember to keep an eye on some essential nutrients your child must get from other food, and probably, supplement.
Key nutrients to consider
Protein: Animal foods are rich in protein, so it depends on what foods your child eats. For example, maybe they don't eat meat, but they eat dairy. Whether you avoid animal food a couple of days per week or follow a vegan diet, plant-based food can provide a great amount of protein to help your child grow. Legumes, grains, nuts and seeds are the best examples.
Zinc: If your child doesn't eat red meat or poultry, you should include good sources of zinc such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, potatoes, and dairy products (if they eat them).
Vitamin D: Good sources of vitamin D in foods are limited. But here are some great options:
Cod liver oil
I always recommend giving a Vitamin D3 supplement to children, especially if they don't drink or eat animal products.
Vitamin B12: It's tough to find plant-based food high in Vitamin B12. If your child does not eat fish, dairy or eggs, you should talk to your Doctor to supplement your little one.
Iron: Some of the best sources (besides meat) are:
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach or kale)
Tofu, tempeh & edamame
Seeds (Pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flaxseeds)
Omega-3 fatty acids: If your child doesn't eat seafood, nuts and seeds (chia, hemp and flaxseeds) are your best friends.
Calcium: If dairy is out of the picture, here are some great sources of calcium:
Fortified plant-based milk
Whether you are just curious about this diet or already following it, there are two keys to success.
First, have a plan. A child can follow a healthy vegetarian diet as long as it's properly planned.
And second, always discuss any changes in your kid's diet with your Healthcare Professional.
Dietitian & Toddler Mom
Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition
Master's Degree in Food & Dietetics
Health Coach Certification