There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to raising a child, and one of those is how your baby will be fed. Most families feed their kids in a way similar to how they eat — regardless of whether or not your own diet is omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan, you probably wonder how to ensure that your baby gets a good balance of nutrients and enjoys a variety of foods. Here’s an overview of considerations and resources for each kind of diet, with children in mind.
(Photo by Julian Lee, via Flickr)
Most people fall into this category, eating meat, fish, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and grains. One key benefit of an omnivorous diet for children is the variety — it’s always easy to find something to feed your child, because you aren’t restricting any major groups of foods (with the possible exception of allergies). Of course, that’s also part of the problem — many not-so-healthy foods are omnivorous as well, and with all those options it can be hard to know where to start and what to feed your child.
This is where common sense will prevail — a balanced diet for a child will look pretty similar to a balanced diet for an adult, with smaller portions. Canada’s Food Guide is one place to start; aim for lots of vegetables and whole grains; go for healthy proteins and avoid processed meats, added sugar, and sodium; and work in whole fruits and healthy fats. Offer a wide variety of foods when you first start with solids to help your baby adjust to different flavours and textures. If you have special concerns, consider a visit to a dietician, who will have specific training on how to make sure your child gets the needed nutrients.
Here are books you may find helpful:
- Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter
- My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything by Nancy Tringali Piho
Vegetarians remove meat and fish from their diets, getting their protein and related nutrients from other sources like dairy, eggs, tofu, beans, and lentils. Some people are vegetarian for ethical reasons related to animal welfare, and others choose this diet for health-related reasons. Still others are vegetarian for cultural or religious reasons; many Seventh Day Adventists and Hindus are vegetarian, for example. The Canadian Paediatric Society says that vegetarian diets can be appropriate for children, and advises that parents who wish to feed their kids this way take a few things into particular consideration. Calcium intake should be monitored, for one — the mineral is found in foods like dairy, green vegetables, and tofu. Iron is available in plant products but may be more difficult to absorb than that found in animal products, so take care to ensure you’re offering your child plenty of iron-rich foods. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products so supplementation may be wise if your child doesn’t eat much dairy or eggs. Many holistic nutritionists are well trained in vegetarian nutrition, so they can be an excellent resource if you have more detailed concerns, as can your local vegetarian society.
Here are books you may find helpful:
- Raising Vegetarian Children: A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony by Joanne Spepaniak and Vesanto Melina
- Better Than Peanut Butter and Jelly: Quick Vegetarian Meals Your Kids Will Love! by Marty Mattare and Wendy Muldawer
Vegans — those who don’t eat any animal products — still only make up a small percentage of the population, but thanks to movies like Forks Over Knives and books like The Engine 2 Diet, their profile is rising. Along with this new attention, however, has come some controversy about whether or not it’s healthy to feed children a vegan diet. As with vegetarian diets for kids, pediatric societies in Canada and the U.S. agree that a vegan diet can be healthy and sufficient for children, but again it requires some specific considerations.
The Vegetarian Resource Group offers a helpful guide for vegan diets for children of all ages. The tips for vegetarian diets above apply, of course with recommendations for dairy and eggs removed. Lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, and soy products are all ways to get adequate protein with a vegan diet; offer your child a variety of these foods to ensure they get all the required amino acids. If your child does not eat any animal products, you should use a supplement for vitamin B12, as deficiencies can be serious. Many recommend a vitamin D supplement as well since our primary source is milk — to which it is actually added and not naturally found in high quantities — and because Canadians in northern areas can’t make much of the vitamin during the winter months of the year. And yes, breast milk is vegan!
Here are some books you may find helpful:
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Eating for Kids by Dana Villamagna and Andrew Villamagna
- Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love! by Jennifer McCann
Whatever your feelings on various diets and your plans for feeding your own children, never hesitate to go to experts with questions, whether it’s your pediatrician, family doctor, dietitian, or other health practitioner. And bon appetite!
About the Author:
Terri Coles is a freelance reporter specializing in health and lifestyle topics who lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. She contributes regularly to Pawesome, The Teal Cat Project, and Vegansaurus, and is currently blogging about her experience as a pregnant vegan at Veggo Preggo.
Tags: nutrition terri coles vegan