Is It Safe to Raise a Vegan Toddler?
Definitely—although you will need to give him some supplements and work with his pediatrician to screen for possible deficiencies. While all nutrients are important, it’s difficult for young children to receive an adequate amount of nutrients by plant food alone, especially vitamin B12.
At every meal, you should serve an iron-rich food (like legumes, chickpeas, or fortified breakfast cereals) along with a vitamin C–rich food (such as strawberries or 100 percent pure or fortified orange juice), which boosts iron absorption. Also make sure he’s eating a wide variety of calcium-rich plant foods, which could include tofu, broccoli, kale, and fortified soy milk.
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If you have a pickier kid who refuses to eat many plant-based foods, you may need to make exceptions to your vegan diet to be sure that he’s meeting his nutrient and calorie needs. The same goes for allergies. For example, if your child is allergic to soy, opt for dairy milk to get proper levels of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.
A good option for an after-school snack rich in iron and vitamin C is a glass of fortified orange juice with hummus and carrot sticks. At dinner, you could pair lentil noodles (a good source of non-heme iron, which is found in plant foods) with a tomato-based sauce to help boost iron absorption. And just because you’re vegan doesn’t mean you have to give up “fun” food. Nondairy chocolate–dipped fruit, roasted chickpeas, guacamole, and ants on a log make easy and kid-approved treats. To make sure your child is getting all of his nutrients, talk to a doctor or a registered dietitian about supplements he needs and specific dosage recommendations. She may recommend drops, gummies, sprays, or dissolvable packets.
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– Holley Grainger, a registered dietitian in Birmingham, Alabama