Healthy foods for kids
In their first couple years of life, children do not need much: they simply need to be loved, be safe, warm and well fed. One of the single best things you can do for your child is to start them young with a child-friendly, nutritious, healthy diet. In the past ten years, on average sixty percent of children didn’t get the amount of fruit they need, while ninety-three percent didn’t get enough vegetables (1). So I am here to tell you that raising kids to be plant-strong is not only smart — it’s the best way to go to provide essential nutrients, sufficient energy and the healthy foods that kids need.
Kids and plants
A plant-based diet has a lot of upsides. Studies suggest that the growth of vegan or vegetarian kids is more gradual, but they eventually catch up to others on more traditional diets, and seem to suffer less from food-related problems like digestion issues or allergies as well as acne. Their final heights and weights are on par with meat-eating children. Interestingly enough, somewhat less rapid growth during the toddler years is somehow linked with LESS disease risk later in life.
What should my newborn drink?
Breast milk, of course! But if that’s not possible, then soy formulas are perfectly adequate. Stay away from cow’s milk formulas as they contain colic-inducing proteins that bother many babies, and is a common cause of allergies. Bear in mind that soy milk sold in grocery stores is not the same thing as soy formula. Regular soy milk is not adequate for your newborn. Once your babe is about 5 or 6 months old, or when their weight has doubled, other foods can be added, one at a time.
Baby-led weaning has had a surge of popularity recently. This involves waiting to start your baby on real food until they are ready, and skipping the baby mush altogether. If your child takes an interest in food, can sit up unassisted and can grasp things accurately with their hands, you can start providing appropriate foods for them to try and explore on their own. This is a great way to start your child on a plant-based diet at an early age. Babies fed this way often have a much more varied palate and it helps them learn to like healthy plant-based foods.
5 to 6 Months
Rice cereals, mixed with breast milk or soy formula is great and the least likely to cause allergies. Oat or barley cereals are worth a try as well. Bananas, avocado slices and cooked carrots are all great examples of ways to introduce a plant-based diet to your baby. Other things to start with: soft toast cut into thin stick slices and pasta.
Once baby is a little older and has more control over his or her grip, you can offer more slippery foods and soft stuff like thick oatmeal. Foods can get smaller as your baby develops more skills.
6 to 8 months
Potatoes, green beans, carrots and peas can be cooked and mashed. How about bananas, avocados or applesauce? Most babies at this age can also eat crackers, bread and dry cereal (whole grains, no sugar!) Try beans or tofu that are well cooked and mashed.
FREE Download: The Secrets Of Vegan Baby Nutrition: A Healthy Recipes Guidebook For Babies, by Nataly Shvinkelstain
Kids and Teens
Children have high calorie and nutrient needs, but their stomachs are small. Offer your child frequent snacks, and include some less “bulky” foods like refined grains and fruit juices. Do limit juices, however, since children may fill up on them, preferring their sweetness to other foods.
Tweens and Teens have busy schedules and high-caloric needs, so it’s important to keep healthy, delicious, go-to snacks on hand. If they have healthy and low-fat choices to make, they will learn to avoid the dining disasters that cause weight gain and health problems as they approach adolescence.
Here is a list of plant-strong options for kids and teens
- Broccoli, kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens, bok choy, and Swiss chard.
- One serving of vegetables equals 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw (unless an amount is specified).
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, and Non-Dairy Milks
- Legumes include any cooked bean such as pinto, kidney, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas, navy beans, and chickpeas, as well as soy products, such as tofu, veggie burgers, soy “hot dogs” or sandwich slices, and tempeh.
- One serving of legumes equals 1/2 cup of beans, tofu, or other item (unless an amount is specified).
- Non-dairy milks include breast milk and soy formula for infants and toddlers, and rice, soy, and other vegetable-based milks for children at least 1 year of age. Choose fortified soymilk, such as Westsoy Plus, Enriched VitaSoy, or Edensoy, whenever possible, or use other fortified vegetable-based milks.
- Nuts include whole or chopped nuts, nut butters, whole seeds, and seed butters.
- One to two servings of nuts may be included in a healthy diet, but they are optional.
- Fruits include all fruits, fresh or frozen, raw or cooked, and fruit juices.
- One serving equals 1/2 cup cooked fruit, 1/2 cup fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit, or 1 piece of fruit (unless an amount is specified.)
Tips to Encourage a Healthy Plant-Based Diet
- As you try to develop their taste in more plant-based healthy foods, make sure you don’t put an emphasis on sweets. This includes treating sweets as treats or rewards, or as bribes so they’ll eat their broccoli.
- A good plant-based diet contains a lot of healthy fruit, but try to avoid making an emotional connection with sweet things, or food in general.
- Never force a child to eat or clear their plate as that can lead to weight issues and overeating later on.
- Set a good example: children want to eat what you are eating.
- A child who helps in the kitchen is more likely to want to eat the food they help prepare. This also goes for grocery shopping. Allow them to pick the fruits and vegetables they want to eat, and they are more likely to eat them.
- Explain in language they will understand about why you choose to serve different food than their friends eat at home. You can call it a fun experiment, or let them in on the realities of how non-plant food is prepared or how bad it is for the body. Some children who have always had a plant-based diet just accept that that’s how the family eats.
- When in social situations, decide if you will let your kids have a ‘treat’ by eating what is served such as birthday cake or pizza, or if you will provide healthy snacks that they should eat instead. Keep it consistent so that they know what foods are okay when.
- The earlier you start, the easier it will be!
While most children don’t like to eat their vegetables, starting with healthy foods for your kids should lead to further good choices down the road. A plant-based diet is not only doable but one of the best things you could do for your child. Whether you want to cut or just minimize animal products from their diet, you can’t go wrong with eating mostly plants. Be sure to speak to your child’s pediatrician and make sure there are no nutrient deficiencies you should be aware of.
In the meantime, I want to introduce you to the Forks Meal Planner. This is a program designed by the folks over at Forks Over Knives, and the reason I love it is because it makes my life easy, and if my life is easier, then my kid’s lives are easier. I don’t have to think about what I am going to make for my kids, or what I need in my kitchen. Take a look and let me know what you think. It may be worth a shot, especially in the beginning, when you are transitioning your family to plant-strong meals.
With weekly meal plans, Forks Meal Planner takes the hard work out of making nutritious meals.
Using simple ingredients along with simple recipes, it is a plant-strong win!