5 healthy plant-based fats for kids. It’s important to find good sources of dietary fat for kids. Here are some ways to add healthy fats to a child’s diet.
Fat is a critical nutrient for babies, playing a major role in brain development. It’s also important for weight gain, absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and building hormones.
Dietary fat continues to be important throughout life. It should be regularly included in your child’s meals and snacks.
While there are plenty of places to find fats, the most prevalent in western culture come from animal-derived foods, like dairy, beef, eggs, and fish. But what if you have a predominantly plant-based babe?
Don’t worry! There are several other ways you can incorporate healthy fats in your plant-based child’s diet.
How much fat do kids need?
Fat is a critical nutrient for kids under age 2 that shouldn’t be restricted. In fact, kids in this age range should be getting 30-40% of their daily calories from fat. Still, many young kids don’t get enough.
Fat needs increase slightly from ages1-3, with daily recommendations of around 30-40 grams per day (and 25-35 grams per day for 4-8 year olds).
To meet fat recommendations, we suggest intentionally including a healthy fat source at every meal. A good way to remember this is to print a copy of our PB3 Plate and hang it in your kitchen!
Healthy plant-based fats for kids
Here are 5 healthy plant-based fats that you can incorporate into your child’s diet.
1. Nut and seed butters
We like to offer a variety of nut and seed butters, which you can find commercially or make at home. If at the store, look for ones that have minimal ingredients and don’t contain added sugar or hydrogenated oils. Add some water to thin them further for younger babes.
To make butters at home, all you really need are nuts or seeds (and maybe a pinch of salt for kids over 2!). Just add them to a food processor or high speed blender and pulverize until smooth. This works well for peanuts, cashews, almonds, or sunflower seeds.
Use nut and seed butters on toast, in smoothies, alongside apple or celery slices, melted onto pancakes, or in our PBJ snack balls.
Ground flax, chia, and hemp seeds don’t need to be made into butters. These are small enough to sprinkle on oatmeal, use a vegan “eggs” for baking, or add to smoothies and homemade granola bars.
Avocados are a great finger food for young kids. They can be mashed or served in slices if you’re doing baby-led weaning.
Not only are they a great source of unsaturated fats, but also folate and vitamin E.
We also like to spread avocados on toast, whip up some simple guacamole, or toss avocado cubes onto enchiladas, chili, or soup. You can even throw some into chocolate smoothies for extra creaminess.
3. Fortified plant-based milk
When baby is old enough to wean from breast milk and/or formula, we recommend introducing fortified soy or pea milk along with solid foods.
These options offer a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk, especially when it comes to protein and healthy fats. Many brands also add omega-3s in the form of DHA oil.
Fortified plant milks can also be used to make batters for pancakes and waffles, in oatmeal, cereal, and smoothies, or in soup bases and homemade sauces and creams.
4. Extra virgin olive oil
While oil is often demonized as being too much of a processed food, we don’t love lumping foods into the “bad” category.
In fact, high-quality plant oils are a great way to add a lot of healthy fats to your child’s diet using just a small amount.
For instance, we like drizzling 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over roasted veggies or toast, when making batters for baked goods, blending it with cashews and liquid to make a cream for soups, and tossing tofu cubes in it before popping them in the oven.
5. Algae-derived omega-3 supplements
Our bodies can convert some of the omega-3 fat ALA (found in things like ground flax seed) into the long-chain omegas EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is low. So, we recommend providing EPA and DHA sources directly.
If your family doesn’t eat fatty fish (rich sources of EPA and DHA), another great option is to try algae-based omega-3 supplements. Many brands make these in liquid dropper form designed for younger kids.
Much like fish oil, algae oil can be given either using a dropper, on a spoon, or gently mixed into milk, oatmeal, or yogurt. But unlike fish oil, algae oil doesn’t have the same “fishy” smell that turns many kids off.
There’s no consensus on whether strictly plant-based kids need DHA after age two (when it accumulates most in the brain). However, we think if kids aren’t eating fish or eggs, supplementation can’t hurt given the known benefits of DHA for adults.
Fat plays a big role in the growth and development of a child, and it’s important to choose healthy ones. When looking for ways to add healthy fats to a child’s diet, try these 5 healthy fats for kids.
Chime in: What are some healthy fats your family likes to eat?
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