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Vegan diet for babies and children

Breast milk is the healthiest and the most suitable (appropriate?) food for newborns.  The benefits of breastfeeding are for both, mother and baby.  For a child breastfeeding has mainly impact on reducing the risk of developing many diseases (both infectious and civilizational), for a mother, it facilitates faster getting back into shape after childbirth.

If a breastfeeding mother cannot feed her child at a given time (because of other responsibilities, for example work), she can express breast milk and store it for later at room temperature or in the fridge. You can store your milk for about 4-6 hours at room temperature, 96 hours in the refrigerator and 2 weeks in the freezer.

You have to know that nursing mothers don’t need to be on any special diet. So yes, you can eat legumes, beans, cruciferous vegetables, and many other things. But it doesn’t mean that you can eat chips, fast food and drink coffee in large quantities or drink energy drinks. 

Fortunately, most of these products I see very rarely in my vegan patients’ diet.

Although it happens to me to meet parents who give their children various unhealthy snacks “too early” (sweet drinks, chips, sticks, chocolates), most often I meet parents who doubt in introducing various products to their infants’ diet.

Parents worry about introducing gluten, nuts, wholemeal bread, citrus, beans, and especially the most allergenic products.

At this point I want to calm all mothers because according to the current knowledge (I mean the standpoint of the ESPGHAN Nutrition Committee, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics), there is no scientific evidence justifying the elimination or delayed introduction of potentially allergenic foods into the diet, e.g. peanuts or other nuts. 

This information applies to healthy children as well as to children with family allergic history. The most important thing is to introduce potentially allergenic foods at home for the first time and observe the child’s reaction.

Gluten 

According to the latest ESPGHAN guidelines too early (before the 4th month) and too late (after 12 months) introduction of gluten into the infant’s diet should be avoided. The amount to be given is not specified but it is suggested that it should be a small portion at the beginning (e.g. a spoon of cooked cereals).

After the 6th month, various food products (e.g. vegetables, fruits, fats, beans, cereals, etc.) can be included. It depends on the parents from what their child will start their food adventure. 

It’s worth considering what products occur on their plate first. The best choice are low processed and iron-rich products because 4-6-month-old children needs iron the most to replenish iron stores.

The most valuable products which I see on the plates of veggie kids very often are millet grain, quinoa, sweet potatoes, kale, green beans and broccoli. I almost don’t see processed and sweetened cereals. This is a huge plus for my veg parents and that’s why I show their veg-kids menus to other parents to inspire them.

In the first three years of a child’s life, good quality fat should not be limited. Children need more of this ingredient, compared to adults, so do not be afraid to give your baby good quality oils, nuts, avocados (kids love avocados!) or seeds.

You can add fats to soups (to a ready dish on a plate), to dinner, millet, bread or to enrich oatmeal (eg tahini, sesame or chia seeds).

Fats which I would recommend the most are rapeseed oil, olive oil, walnut oil, linseed oil, avocado, all kinds of nuts and seeds.

Another ingredient which you should pay attention to in a vegan diet is calcium, but there is another post about this ingredient (you can find it here).

What to watch out for?

If parents would like to introduce honey into a children’s diet they should wait until they are 12 months old, because this product may contain spores of clostridium botulinum, the cause of child botulism.

You can find an example of a vegan toddler’s menu below. Remember that your kids decide what and how much they will eat.

Breakfast

Oatmeal with fruit and chia seeds

  • 80 – 100 g of any fruit
  • 30g (3 tablespoons) oat/ millet / buckwheat flakes
  • 200g soy drink /almond/oat (enriched in calcium)
  • 10g chia seeds/nuts or ground seeds
  • 7g amaranth popping (optional)

Snack

A sandwich with hummus, vegetables and fruit

  • 30g wholemeal bread 
  • 20g hummus
  • 50g of any vegetables
  • 50g or more any fruit

Lunch

Broccoli cream soup with millet, seeds and flaxseed oil

  • 200g Broccoli soup
  • 5g Sunflower, seeds
  • 40g Millet grain
  • 10g Flaxseed oil

Dinner

Vegetable stew with lentils

  • 100g Vegetables (pumpkin, carrot, parsnip, celery or other)
  • 10g  Dry red lentils
  • 50g Pasta / groats / rice / potatoes
  • 100g Green beans
  • 10g Olive oil or cold-pressed rapeseed oil

Snacks during the day

  • Mom’s milk
  • Water
  • Fruit

Vegan children – essential supplementation

It is necessary to supplement a child’s diet with vitamin D (especially during the winter) when the synthesis of it in the body is not possible.

The supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids (mainly DHA) can also bring many benefits to a child’s life. Breastfed children don’t need an extra amount of DHA if their mothers provide themselves this ingredient through their own milk (DHA is excreted into the milk). Other children (or older ones who don’t drink their mothers’ milk anymore)  require supplements in a dose of 100 mg DHA / day.

However, vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids (such as flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp oil or linseed) should be present in everyone’s daily menu. As for quantity, it doesn’t have to be a whole spoon of flaxseed oil (as you can see it in the menu above) –  the minimum amount of omega-3 is half a teaspoon – but it depends on the amount of omega-6 fats consumed during the day (or: on a daily basis).

Vegans should supplement vitamin B12 as well, in that the active form of this vitamin is not found in vegetable products.

Infants don’t need a large dose of this vitamin. A supplement of 2.5 – 5 mcg is enough. However, the dose also depends on their mother’s level of B12 (both during pregnancy and during feeding).

You can find some cases reports of B12 deficiency among pregnant vegans and their infants in the medical literature. I have come across  similar deficiencies in my own practice.

Plant milk drinks in infant nutrition. Is it worth to serve them?

It depends on the child’s age. These drinks can be served as an addition to the 8-12 child’s month diet but they cannot replace mother’s milk in the first year of the child’s life. After the 12th month, I would recommend a glass of these drinks per day (enriched with calcium). Please choose an unsweetened drink, with the most natural composition and enriched with calcium (this information should be included on the package).

I don’t recommend homemade drinks (made from oats, millet, etc.) – they include a lot of phosphorus and are poor in calcium, of which 1 to 3-year-old children need 700 mg per day.

Sesame or almond drinks can be a good source of calcium but you have to calculate how much of this ingredient will be present in a ready-to-drink glass of milk.

Iwona Kibil
administrator
Dyplomowana dietetyczka. Prowadzi własną praktykę dietetyczną skierowaną głównie do osób na diecie bezmięsnej. Pracuje m.in. z wegańskimi rodzinami, kobietami w ciąży, małymi dziećmi oraz osobami stosującymi dietę roślinną jako profilaktykę chorób cywilizacyjnych. Swoją praktykę opiera na „evidence-based medicine”. Jest autorką artykułów, warsztatów i wykładów związanych z różnymi aspektami zdrowotnymi diety roślinnej. Jest autorką książek „Wege. Dieta roślinna w praktyce” i "Wege rodzina. Dieta roślinna w praktyce". Sama od lat jstosuje dietę roślinną opartą na produktach nieprzetworzonych.