"I'm not just "glad" that I was brought up vegan. Glad isn't the word for it. I am relieved, overjoyed, deeply thankful and fiercely proud. I can't believe my luck at being brought up with a lifestyle that honours my planet, optimises my health and relieves me from the burden of contributing to animal suffering ... I am more than glad, I am grateful." - written in 2013 by Kamina Wust (Amanda Benham's daughter), a lifelong vegan born in 1988.
Raising Vegan Children
Below are some Frequently Asked Questions about raising children on a vegan diet, as well as some links to useful information.
Is is safe to raise children on a vegan diet?
Yes, leading nutrition organisations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the Dietitians' Association of Australia have formally recognised that a well-planned vegan diet can be a healthy option at any age and at all stages of the life cycle. Here is a link to a summary of the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on vegetarian and vegan diets. "Well-planned" is a key term here, and to assist with planning I do recommend that if possible you get professional help to guide you through a plant-based pregnancy, lactation, introducing solids and establishing healthy eating habits for your child. Ideally this help should come from an Accredited Practising Dietitian who is trained in paediatric nutrition and is experienced in working with people on plant-based diets. Here are reasons for this:
(1) Nutrition is crucial for the proper growth and physical and mental development of children. Irreversible damage to a child's health can occur when mistakes are made and there is inadequate nutrition during pregnancy, infancy and childhood. Play it safe. I think the general level of understanding of nutrition is so poor that everyone can benefit from seeking expert advice, not just people on a vegan or plant-based diet,
(2) There is a great deal of misinformation being spread on websites and in social media on vegan nutrition by ill-qualified people. And just because something "worked" for another parent or another child does not mean that is it the right answer for your or your child.
(3) Unfortunately, even many health professionals know very little about vegan nutrition. For example, doctors receive very little nutrition training and are generally not qualified to provide nutrition advice. They also do not have the time or resources to provide information on essential nutrients, meal plans, supplementation etc. However I do of course recommend that you consult with your doctor if you have any concerns about your child's health or development, and let them know that your child is on a vegan diet.
(4) Our society is not geared towards raising children on a vegan diet. Good information can be difficult to find, and you may face opposition from family, friends, strangers and even some healthcare workers. By seeking professional advice you can put your mind at rest and also reassure others that you are feeding your child responsibly.
(5) Plant-based nutrition is an emerging area of nutrition and as new information comes to hand, recommendations are adjusted. A professional whose main work is in this area should be up-to-date on the latest information and recommendations.
For some free information on nutritional considerations for raising a vegan child from pre-conception to adolescence, go to my Free Downloads page.
Why have some children experienced deficiencies on a vegan diet? Doesn't this mean it's unsafe?
It is true that some children have experienced deficiencies on a vegan diet, but so have many children on an omnivorous diet. Problems such as iron deficiency anaemia, poor growth ("failure to thrive") etc are caused by inadequate nutrition and are not uncommon in the general population, and so do not get media attention. All diets for children should be carefully planned to provide an adequate intake of all essential nutrients. Unfortunately problems such as the widespread availability of poor quality information, people taking advice from unqualified people, the lack of training of most health professionals, the negative attitude of some health professionals and the fact that our society is not set up for nor supportive of plant-based eating can all be barriers to parents knowing how best to nourish their child (and themselves) on a vegan diet. Parents raising children on a vegan diet need support and access to good quality advice and information, not judgement or ill-qualified advice.
Can there be health benefits to raising children on a vegan diet?
The health benefits of plant-based eating have been clearly established in research on adults. (Here are some links to recent review articles on the health benefits of vegan diets: Dinu, 2016, Tuso 2015, Rinaldi 2016, Yokoyama 2017) There has not been much research published on the health of children raised on a vegan diet, but it has been established that children can grow and develop normally on a vegan diet. There is no reason why the benefits of avoiding animal products for adults would not also provide benefits to children, provided that care is taken to ensure an adequate intake of all essential nutrients. Key features of a plant-based diet that can be beneficial to health include the lack of cholesterol, low saturated fat content, higher fibre intake, higher intake of beneficial antioxidants, prebiotics and other phytonutrients, lack of antibiotic residues, lower pesticide load etc.
It should be noted however that infants and young children do require a slightly different dietary composition to adults, so the vegan diet that an adult can thrive on may need adjusting for a small child. For example, children's requirements for protein, iron, fat and calories are relatively higher than adults, due to the extra requirement for growth. Also a very high fibre diet may not be appropriate for infants and young children. However, achieving this on a plant-based diet need not be difficult.
How do children feel about being raised on a vegan diet? Isn't it mean to make them eat a restricted diet?
From my experience, most children naturally love animals and do not want to eat them or see them harmed in any way, and understanding where some food comes from, are happy to eat a vegan diet. A vegan diet need not be restrictive at all, and in fact adopting a vegan diet often opens people's eyes to a vast array of new foods and recipes. In any case, there are so many vegan "alternative" foods available now that there is no need for people to miss out on cheese, chocolate, icecream or even "meaty" foods as there are vegan alternatives available. However, learning to cook delicious vegan meals and treats rather than relying on commercially prepared vegan foods is easy, a lot of fun and generally a healthier (and more eco-friendly) option.
Here (again) is what my daughter Kamina wrote about being raised on a vegan diet:
"I'm not just "glad" that I was brought up vegan. Glad isn't the word for it. I am relieved, overjoyed, deeply thankful and fiercely proud. I can't believe my luck at being brought up with a lifestyle that honours my planet, optimises my health and relieves me from the burden of contributing to animal suffering ... I am more than glad, I am grateful."
And on the idea that it's "forcing your views" onto children to raise them on a vegan diet:
",,, don't let anybody make you feel like you don't have a right to bring your kids up vegan. That is like saying you don't have a right to teach your children the spiritual or religious beliefs you hold, or to expect them to conform to your ideas about what's morally right or wrong. I was excluded by the "cool" kids at school because my parents taught me not to smoke or go shoplifting; that didn't make them wrong for teaching me values that put me on the outer with some groups. If you are vegan because you believe it enhances your life, the lives of others or the health of our planet in some way, then there is no reason to bring your kids up eating differently to yourself. Your lack of integrity will only confuse them."
(Both quotes are from "Vegans Are Cool" compiled by Kathy Divine, 2013.) You can read more about what Kamina has to say about being raised vegan on her website lifelongvegan.com and on this You tube interview.
Where can I find out more about raising children on a vegan diet?
(1) Have a good read of my Free Downloads, which cover vegan nutrition for children from pre-conception to adolescence. There are also links to growth charts and developmental milestones, to help you monitor your child's growth and development.
(3) Get one of my giant (A3 size) fridge magnets, as many people have told me that it has helped their family to make better food choices.
(4) Get a copy of my ebook "Easy Peasy Plant-Based Eating" as it covers basics of vegan nutrition and meal planning. (It's aimed at adults, but as parents are a role model for their children's eating, it's important for them to eat well too.)
(5) Read this journal paper: Vegan Nutrition for Mothers and Children. It is aimed at healthcare workers, but provides information on key nutrients and how to obtain them on a vegan diet (which I've summarised in my checklists, "Optimal Nutrition for Raising a Child on a Vegan Diet", available on my Free Downloads page).
(6) If you really can't book in for a consultation and still have questions about vegan nutrition for children, send me an email. I'll do my best to either answer personally, put the answer on this page, or make a new fact sheet up to put on the Free Downloads.
(7) Sign up for my free newsletter (below) for updates. Newsletters are infrequent (less than one per month) and you can unsubscribe at any time. Your email address will never be shared or used for any other purpose.