Kid-Friendly Tips to Move Towards a Whole Food, Plant-Based Eating Plan
Written by Taleii's advisor, Pamela Lim, https://joyfulparenting.sg
Our diet today affects our kids’ world tomorrow.
A diet of processed foods and few fruits and vegetables takes its toll on the body over time. The greatest benefit of a healthy diet is its role in the possible prevention of some diseases as it establishes lifelong healthy eating habits.
A plant-based diet is rich in disease protecting phytonutrients. A little planning with meal preparations to contain all the nutrients your child needs will go a long way for healthy growth and long term health benefits.
If you are considering switching to a plant-based diet for your kids, remember that the change doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and it doesn’t have to happen overnight. You can start with swapping out a few meals a week with plant-based foods to familiarize your kids with new recipes and ingredients.
Eating less meat and dairy products for a start can have health benefits for the whole family, regardless if your family wants to cut out meat or animal products completely. If you have concerns about your child’s diet or eating habits, talk to a qualified health coach for a personalised advise.
The main thing to keep in mind is that a diet should be balanced with fibre, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The beauty of plant-based eating is that this well-roundedness often happens naturally when following the eating plan. Beans, for example, are a good source of both fibre and protein. Similarly, natural peanut butter is both high in protein and healthy fats.
Kids can be taught to recognize these plant-based foods as the norm rather than animal-based snacks and fast foods that are heavily marketed to children.
The idea is to keep it simple.
There are many misconceptions about plant-based diets being expensive, difficult, nutritionally inadequate, or even bland. Plant-based diets don’t have to be costly or time-consuming. You can make plenty of nutritious meals using inexpensive ingredients like tofu, canned beans and lentils, dry grains, frozen veggies and seasonal produce. Herbs and spices can make all the difference as your child’s taste buds adapt.
Most parents are concerned about their child getting enough protein on a plant-based diet. But lack of protein isn’t usually a problem, even for the most strict vegetarians.
Many foods have some protein, including grains and breads such as cereal and rice, so your child should get enough protein from a balanced diet as long as he adds some plant-based proteins such as:
- Nuts, seeds and legumes (peanuts and lentils)
- Soy milk and soy products (tofu)
- Quinoa (grains high in protein)
The micronutrients mainly found in animal foods are the nutrients you want to make sure your child replaces with plant-based sources. It’s crucial that kids get enough vitamins and minerals to ensure healthy growth.
Eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains means you’re probably getting enough fibre. Making this diet change quickly can cause physical discomfort so gradually increase the high-fibre foods in your child’s diet to ease his gastrointestinal system into it. As long as your child gets enough calories, protein and micronutrients, a plant-based diet is safe.
Here are some examples of when a plant-based diet might not be a good idea for your child.
- If your child’s a picky eater. A picky eater’s diet is already limited, so you don’t want to take away any foods he’s willing to eat. Introducing a whole new diet might increase a picky eater’s anxiety and make the situation worse.
- If you suspect an eating disorder. It’s not uncommon for kids with eating disorders to eliminate food groups, particularly the animal protein group. Plant-based diets are healthy, but you don’t want to encourage eliminating food groups with an eating disorder.
- If your child has multiple food allergies. Three of the eight common food allergens are protein sources on a plant-based diet. If your child has a soy, peanut or tree nut allergy, it might be difficult for him to get the nutrients, calories and protein he needs without animal sources of food.
Plant-based is not a diet to restrict what your child eats. It’s a healthy eating pattern and a lifestyle choice your family makes.
Here are some recommendations to transition to a plant-based diet for children:
- Do not make separate meals for your kids.
- Offer kid friendly plant-based meals and allow your child to choose what and how much they eat.
- Don’t eliminate all the foods your child likes and is used to. Introduce new meals gradually.
- Your child’s old-favourite foods aren’t “bad”. Those are foods he can still have sometimes.
- Keep your child’s paediatrician or a qualified health coach in the loop so they can guide you and monitor your child for nutrient deficiencies, especially if your child eliminates all animal products.
What Should be Included in a Healthy Plant-Based Diet for Kids?
Choose a wide variety of different coloured vegetables and fruits to include in your child’s diet every day. It’s good to vary the types of whole grains and a bit of wheat is fine for some but not too much. Instead, offer a variety of grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole oats and millet. Legumes, seeds and nuts, once they’re old enough. Add protein and healthy fats for optimal growth and development. The best thing about these plant-based foods is that they are natural, additive-free and safe for your child.
What Shouldn’t be Included in a Healthy Plant-Based Diet for Kids?
Many packaged foods come from plants but after all heavy processing, it becomes unhealthy for your child. Ready-prepared snack foods are quick and easy but are usually laden with salt, sugar and additives, all of which are addictive and reduce overall health. These foods can lead to fussy eating, imbalances in energy and mood and nutrient deficiencies.
Unlike many plant-based and vegan kids meals on the market, Taleii's Baby Whole-Food Blends are manufactured without added sugar. The wide range of plant-based baby whole-food blends are also free of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.
As explored above, plant-based diet offers a variety of benefits to growing children, from aiding digestion to boosting immunity. Whether you decide to switch to a plant-based diet or simply looking to boost your child’s intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods, there are plenty of great reasons to embrace these delicious plant-based foods.
We may not always make the right calls as a parent but bearing in mind, that raising today’s kids to eat in a way that benefits their lifelong health, teaches boundless empathy as well as preserving the future of the planet.