Vegan Diet for Kids: A Good Idea?

This morning on the Today Show Matt Lauer hosted a segment on whether it’s healthy to put your kids on a vegan diet. The catalyst was the new children’s book Vegan Is Love, which is due out on April 24, and covers clothing choices and animal testing as well as following a vegan diet (no milk, cheese, eggs, meat, or fish). It’s a controversial look at veganism from Ruby Roth, who became vegan as an adult, and authored Why We Don’t Eat Animals in 2009.

Vegan Is Love is ruffling feathers because it includes violent images of animals being slaughtered and illustrations of wounded animals used in animal testing, as well as strong language about what it means to be vegan. “All animals raised for meat and dairy are captured and killed in the end,” Roth writes. “Their deaths are violent and sad. As vegans we do not bring the pain and suffering of any animal into our happy, healthy bodies.”

Roth’s 7-year-old stepdaughter diet Akira follows a strict vegan diet. When her classmates are indulging in a treat at school, Akira asks whether it’s vegan, and if it’s not, she declines to eat it. She says that her favorite food is kale.

On this morning’s Today Show segment, nutritionist Heiki Skolnik said that it’s possible from a nutritional standpoint to be a healthy vegan at any age as long as the diet is carefully planned and monitored. But she objected to what she called the book’s “scare tactics.”  “Teaching kids to fear food is not typically a healthy way to approach it,” she explained. Child psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, who joined Skolnik on the show, added that kids could interpret the title as people who aren’t vegan don’t get to feel love or are creating hate or bad feelings.

I have several issues here. For starters, childhood is stressful enough without freaking your kids out about what they eat. A vegan diet can leave a child deficient in certain vitamins and nutrients if it’s not carefully conceived. Furthermore, a 7-year-old should have the ability to explore different types of foods without such rigorous expectations from her parents. She needs to be educated about food and what it means to eat well, so that she can learn how to make smart dietary decisions on her own. Then there’s the social aspect. If you start your child on a vegan diet (or any very regimented diet) at a young age, are you setting her up to be ostracized at a time when she should be developing important social skills and learning how to deal with others?

I’m thinking about experimenting with vegetarianism, maybe even veganism, myself this summer–but I will not be putting Mason on any kind of special diet. (In the wake of my breast cancer scare, I’m re-evaluating various aspects of my life, including my diet.) I’ll be happy to educate Mason about alternate eating styles as he gets older, but right now he is too young for me to eliminate entire food groups from his diet.

What do you think?

Photo: Spinach via Julija Sapic via Shutterstock.com

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  1. by Mary

    On April 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I see no reason to fear transitioning your family to vegetarianism or even veganism as long as you are educated to how to ensure your child is receiving the proper nutrients. Don’t assume that because they’re eating meat that the diet is nutrionally sound either. The point of the Today segment is the approach the children’s book takes in promoting what the author believes is the better lifestyle. My daughter, age 16, gave up meat for a while and the first thing I did was to research how to keep her receiving the proper amount of iron, b-12, etc. And a multivitamin is essential as well. Good luck with your efforts!

  2. by Karyn

    On April 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association both support vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. This is not a “special diet” and if you look at science, our bodies are not meant to eat animal products. We are the only species on the planet that drinks breast milk after infancy and the only species that drinks another species’ breast milk. Carnivors have MUCH shorter intestines for digesting raw meat (we are the only species that cooks meat) so it does not sit and ferment in their digestive tracts. The largest dinosaurs ate no meat. Most of the largest animals alive today eat no meat. There are cultures today who eat no animal products and they grow to normal size AND have no cardiovascular problems and less than 1% breast cancer rates, less Alzheimer’s/dimentia and live longer than those who eat a “Western” diet.
    My family has been vegan for 4 months now and my 4 and 2 year old are eating much more fruits and vegetables than they did before and are getting plenty of protein and they don’t miss the meat. No one feels deprived and we are discovering so many delicious meals- my reluctant husband was shocked how satisfied he feels. The few times we’d revert back and eat animal products we FEEL it! We are more tired, grumpy- we just choose to feel and be healthier!

  3. by Alyson

    On April 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Wish I could “like” your comment Karyn! In our society of processed foods, it can be “dangerous” to exclude animal products because most people don’t know how to get the nutrition they need without animal products. Consumption of animal meat and animal fat is directly linked to heart disease. Dairy, don’t even get me started. Most people have a dairy allergy and don’t even realize how much it effects them and their digestive health. People seem to think that the only option for getting calcium is dairy, but dairy actually inhibits the absorption of calcium (even with the added vitamin D), and CAUSES osteoporosis. We are the only species that drinks milk past infancy, and we are the only species that drinks another species’ milk. There are plenty of plant based sources of calcium, and there are plenty of plant based sources of complete proteins.

    With childhood obesity rates in this country, and with childhood heart disease on the rise, I don’t see a single thing wrong with raising a vegetarian or vegan child. That said, I don’t think that it is right to make them fear meat, or use graphic imagery to scare them into an animal free diet!

  4. by Siobhan

    On April 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    I don’t think it’s a big deal. It seems natural for children to eat the sort of diet their parents eat. As long as they are getting the correct nutrition it really shouldn’t matter how its coming about.
    In terms of a vegan diet affecting social aspects, as long as the child isn’t over zealous in preaching their “morally upstanding” diet or whatever, I don’t see how it would impact social situations. There are lots of reason’s why a child might not eat something others are eating; it’s not kosher, they’re allergic, they’re only supposed to eat what’s been packed for them. Not a big deal (p.s. I’m a full on meat lover, though for $ reasons I’m trying to incorporate more meatless dinners)

  5. by Aleta

    On April 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I think you both missed the point of this author’s blog. She no where said not to put your children on a vegan diet, she simply states that scare tactics are not an affective way of pushing a vegan diet.
    I agree with the author here!

    We are not the only animals who consume the breast milk of other species, I have seen with my own eyes, and take whose mother did not take to it, be nursedby a dog who had recently had puppies. Animals are surivors and will do what is needed to get nutrients it needs.

  6. by Julie

    On April 22, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    I recently became a vegetarian, but my husband and children did not. Although they are also eating healthier simply because of the foods I’m preparing, they are still eating meat on a daily basis. I cut out cows milk, but I’m the only one. It’s possible to make major changes for yourself without forcing those around youto do the same. My daughter will learn to eat healthier as she gets older, she’s two now, but I want her to make those choices for herself.

  7. by ken

    On May 3, 2012 at 12:02 am

    I have a friend who is obsessed with the vegan diet. He is skinny weak and in general very UN masculine. and actually very lacking in common intellect. Meat and high fat foods are the trigger and catalyst for many important hormones. If we deliberately refuse to eat what NATURE intended us to, we don’t develop to our full potential and sometimes we don’t develop fully. Primates such as chimps eat bugs and others as meat. They are SMART. Gorillas however don’t eat any meat of any kind and they are NOT smart in contrast to chimps, A full bore vegan diet should be discouraged from children who are developing. If they choose to be a weaker example of the human species as a adult then that’s there choice But if they were denied the right to GROW to there full potential threw those critical growing years that is simply NOT FAIR AT ALL. Think about your kids future before you try to convince them of YOUR opinions.

  8. [...] then I read this article on Parents’ website and at least a small part of what I’ve been pondering became [...]

  9. by vegan mama

    On August 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    i agree with karyn. it makes me very sad that there are so many uninformed people choosing to feed their children animal products. i wish more people would do some research before making these decisions. veganism is the healthiest diet there is when done correctly. i get all my information from highly educated nutritionists so yes, i do know what i’m talking about. all meat is good for is vitamin b12 which is available in fortified vegan foods. there is more calcium in romaine lettuce than in milk. all animal products are loaded with cholesterol and saturated fats, and most are filled with hormones and antibiotics. animal products cause heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, just to name a few. every nutrient found in meat can be found in plants (with the exception of b12 which i already covered) after all, where do you think the animals get their protein?