Raising your child on a vegan diet

May 15, 2024 Swedish Nutrition Team

[3 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • A vegan diet can provide all the nutrients that a child needs to support their growth and development, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  • With proper planning, toddlers, children and adolescents can get their daily requirements of essential nutrients from a vegan diet.

  • A nutrition expert at Swedish looks at veganism for children and offers three top tips to help make animal-free mealtime a positive experience.

Any parent who’s ever spent dinnertime pretending broccoli spears are trees and carrot sticks are airplanes knows how hard it can be to get their child to eat some vegetables. So, is a plant-based diet even possible for the pediatric palate?

The short answer is “yes,” according to experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But it takes thought and planning.

Last month, registered dietitian Megann Karch, RDN, CD, gave tips on going vegan without going crazy. This month, Leah Goldstein, RD, CD, offers a look at veganism for children. Goldstein is the Lead Clinical Nutrition Specialist at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Swedish Medical Center First Hill.

Vegan kids

Simply put, a vegan diet consists exclusively of plant-based food. Vegans don’t eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy products, and some don’t consume honey.

A plant-based diet offers health benefits for children of all ages – as long as their meals and snacks provide adequate nutrition. Plant-based diets tend to be low in saturated fats and cholesterol, making them a heart-healthy choice for growing bodies.

“A thoughtfully considered vegan diet can be healthful for toddlers, children and adolescents as long as special attention is given to key nutrients that growing kids need: fat, protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D and B12,” says Goldstein.

Here are three tips to help increase your chance of success.

Plan ahead

Proper planning is the foundation of a successful vegan diet for children. Be sure your child is getting enough calories, protein and other essential nutrients to support their body’s and brain’s development.

“When putting together your child’s menu, make sure there is a protein source at every meal. This could include tofu, edamame, beans or nut butter. Calcium is essential for healthy bones. Offer dairy-free milk and yogurts or fortified breads and cereals. And don’t forget a variety of fats from nuts and seeds, avocados and oils,” says Goldstein.

“When you offer a wide range of food choices, you make it easier for your vegan child to meet their daily requirements,” she adds.

Supplement appropriately

In some cases, dietary supplements help ensure your vegan child gets the vitamins and minerals they need for proper development.

“Certain nutrients are difficult to find in a vegan diet, so a supplement is recommended to meet B12 goals, as well as DHA for essential fatty acids. An age-appropriate multivitamin will also help fill in any gaps so you won’t have to worry about missing any key nutrients during phases of picky eating,” says Goldstein.

Fortified foods such as plant milks, ready-to-eat cereals and nutritional yeast can also help boost the nutrient quotient.

Create a positive environment

Even if your child loves rutabagas for dinner and almond milk on their whole-grain cereal, mealtimes can often be stressful for many parents. Creating a positive feeding environment can help you and your family look forward to meals regardless of the menu.

Protect against food allergies

Although you may be fully committed to a plant-based diet for your family, research suggests that exposing your infant to the top nine food allergens within their first year will reduce their likelihood of developing a food allergy later.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the allergens known as “Top Nine” are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans
  • Sesame

“For the vegan household, this will mean considering exposing your baby to eggs, cow’s milk, fish and shellfish to help prevent future severe allergies – even if you plan to provide a vegan diet for them as they grow up,” says Goldstein. “Work with your pediatrician to discuss the best approach to food introduction for reducing the risk of allergies.”

Learn more and find a practitioner

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you.

Information for patients and visitors

Related resources

Going vegan without going crazy

What parents need to know about eating disorders

Vegan Kids Nutrition: The Essential Starter Kit to Feeding Your Child a Vegan Diet with Confidence

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

The Swedish nutrition team seeks to bring you expert advice and tips on how to fill your plate with the right nutrients to fuel your body in the healthiest way possible.

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