How to talk to your pediatrician about a plant-based diet. If you’re raising plant-based kids, you may receive vegan nutrition questions from their doctor. Here are some answers to questions around plant-based nutrition for kids.
If you’ve decided to raise a child on a plant-based diet, you may be wondering how your pediatrician is going to respond. Will they be supportive or critical? Have they been educated in plant-based nutrition or will they have questions?
We’re hopeful that as more families adopt plant-based diets, more pediatricians are getting on board. That being said, it’s common to be questioned about certain aspects of nutrition at a check-up. This often comes from many medical practitioners simply being unfamiliar with plant-based nutrition for kids.
And we want to empower parents of plant-based kids to be a part of changing this.
That’s why we’re answering some FAQs you may receive when bringing your plant-based child to the pediatrician.
Plant-Based Diets are Safe for Children
Before we get into the Q and As, we want to emphasize that a well-planned plant-based diet can be entirely safe and nutritionally adequate for children.
In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explicitly states the below in their 2016 position paper:
“…appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
While there have been tragic reports of vegan children dying from malnutrition, this is far and wide a result of extremely irresponsible caretaking. It makes for good clickbait headlines, but this is NOT resultant of a plant-based diet in itself.
With the appropriate planning, a plant-based diet can be absolutely safe and appropriate for your kids.
5 Common Questions About Plant-Based Nutrition for Kids
Wondering how to talk to your pediatrician about a plant-based diet? Below are some common questions that you may receive and how to respond to them.
Q: Is your child drinking whole milk?
A: No. Whole milk is one source of concentrated calories and fat to support a developing brain. However, I choose to provide my child with fats from other sources.
Fortified soy and pea milks are nutritionally similar to cow’s milk in terms of calories and protein. Avocado, thinned nut butters, extra virgin olive oil (used to prepare veggies or grains), baked tofu, canned coconut milk, and seeds are also rich sources of calories and fat.
Q: Where does your child get protein?
A: Over the first 13 years, protein needs for kids increase from approximately 10 to 35 grams per day. There are many plant sources of protein that can meet a child’s needs without the addition of animal products.
Some examples include whole soy foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame, hummus, lentils, beans, peas, veggie burgers, whole grains, and nuts, seeds and their butters.
While lysine is an essential amino acid that is often limited on a plant-based diet, we include lysine-containing foods like soy, seitan, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, beans, legumes, and pistachios.
Q: What calcium foods does your child eat?
A: We choose to consume non-dairy calcium foods, such as calcium-fortified soy milk, calcium-set tofu, chia seeds, beans, almond butter, beans, and leafy greens.
To support bone development, we also include sources of vitamins D and K, and phosphorus. Many of the calcium-rich plant foods, like fortified milks, legumes, and soy, also provide these nutrients.
Q: What sources of iron does your child eat?
A: Many plant foods contain non-heme iron. Some of the best plant-based iron foods include beans, soy foods, quinoa, peanut butter, lentils, cooked spinach, and tomatoes.
We pair these iron foods with a source of vitamin C – like strawberries, oranges, or bell peppers – to boost iron bioavailability and absorption.
Q: Does your child take supplements?
A: Some parents choose to give their child a daily multivitamin, while others may supplement nutrients individually for plant-based kids. See more about this topic in this article or download a copy of our free supplement guide.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily vitamin D supplement for all babies who are exclusively or partially breastfed. It’s also a good idea for plant-based children to take a vitamin D supplement.
This is because there are few plant sources of this nutrient, and although the skin produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun, young kids should minimize time in direct sunlight.
Other supplements we recommend for plant-based kids include vitamin B12, iodine, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (if you don’t consume fish). This is because plant sources can be inconsistent and unreliable
If you’re ever concerned about your child not getting enough iron from her diet, an iron supplement can also be helpful.
We hope these answers to common vegan nutrition questions help if you’re wondering how to talk to your pediatrician about a plant-based diet. With the appropriate planning and knowledge, rest assured that choosing plant-based nutrition for kids can be totally safe and appropriate.
Chime In: Have you received any similar questions from your pediatrician? How did you answer them?
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