How to use soy foods for kids! Raising plant-based kids and not sure how to offer soy foods? Our favorite ways to serve tofu, tempeh, and more.
For parents and caregivers raising predominantly plant-based kids, it’s common for questions to come up around plant foods like soy that have a history of being highly controversial (though, not necessarily warranted).
Well, as dietitians and most importantly moms ourselves, we have regularly incorporated certain soy foods into our kids’ diets and advocate doing so for plant-based kids who don’t have a soy allergy or intolerance.
Why? Soy foods are healthy, nutrient-packed, inexpensive, and easy to prepare. But what are soy foods, are they safe for kids, and what are some ways to use soy for kids? Let’s discuss.
What Are Soy Foods?
We like to look at soy on a scale of how much it has been processed. Just as you wouldn’t categorize apple-flavored gummies the same as a whole apple, soy foods come in varying degrees of processing.
On one end, you have highly processed soy protein isolate, made from soybean meal that has been dehulled and defatted, which may be used in soy protein powders or as an ingredient in protein bars, certain snack foods, and many frozen plant-based meat alternatives.
Next, you’ve got things like soy cheese, milk, and yogurt.
Finally, there are the least processed soy foods, like tofu, tempeh, and edamame (soy beans).
For the most nutritional benefit, we recommend emphasizing the least processed soy foods the most in your family’s diet, just as we would any other food category.
Is Soy Safe for Kids?
Anyone who switches to a predominantly plant-based diet generally gets asked “the soy question” pretty early on. Based on anecdotal things you’ve heard or read, or an opinion from a single health professional that has stuck with you, you may even be a little nervous about introducing soy foods to your child.
We get it – there’s a lot of noise out there when it comes to nutrition, and a lot of it can be both convincing and conflicting. At PBJs, we’re evidence-based, period.
There’s something called the Hierarchy of Evidence, which is used to help rank the relative strength of evidence. Basically, this says that science like meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and primary studies hold the most confidence, whereas animal studies, single expert opinions, and background information like stories from peers hold the least confidence about a subject-matter.
So, is soy safe for kids? We feel confident that the answer is yes. First, whole soy foods are nutritious – offering protein, fiber, iron, calcium, and B vitamins including B12. Also, they’ve also been found to offer health benefits like anti-cancer properties. Contrary to popular myth, soy foods have not been found to negatively affect fertility or reproductive health.
While more research is needed specifically on soy foods for children to give clear recommendations, the information we do currently have suggests that soy is absolutely healthy and appropriate to feed kids.
Best Ways to Serve Soy to Kids
If you’ve been wondering how to use soy foods for kids, rest assured that it couldn’t be easier. We advocate for introducing whole soy foods early on.
Here are some ideas.
For baby-led weaning, we like to offer things that baby can pick up but are soft enough for them to “gum”, such as steamed tempeh strips or tofu cut into strips or lightly crumbled. Or, you can also blend silken tofu into smoothies, pudding, and popsicles.
Other ways to offer soy to kids as they get older include:
- Veggie tofu scramble for breakfast
- Steamed edamame pods (fun for kids to open!)
- Fortified unsweetened soy milk to drink at meals or used in smoothies, cereal, oatmeal, and batters
- Roasted tofu cubes (we like pizza seasoning on ours)
- Silken tofu in homemade pudding, sauces, and dips
- In recipes like Tofu Marinara and Tofu Fish Sticks – found in our book The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler
- Crumbled tempeh in place of ground beef for tacos, Sloppy Joes, chili, and stews
- Edamame hummus
- Tofu and tempeh in Buddha bowls and grain dishes
- Tofu Nuggets with dipping sauce
- Tofu “Egg” Sandwiches
And that’s how to use soy foods for kids! Raising plant-based kids doesn’t need to be hard and we’re here to make sure you have all the right resources. Overall, we’re big fans of soy for kids and regularly incorporate it into our own families’ meals and snacks.
Chime In: What other ways do you or your kids enjoy soy foods? Share other ideas in the comments!
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