Vegans avoid all animal products and byproducts, including meat, dairy and eggs. Some people worry that a vegan diet lacks the essential nutrients that children need for healthy growth, but vegan children can consume more than sufficient nutrition from fruits, vegetables, grains and other nonanimal foods. Vegan parents should understand children’s dietary requirements and carefully plan their children’s food and supplement consumption, as should parents of vegetarian or omnivore children.
Plenty of Nutrients
A child on a vegan diet consumes sufficient vitamins and minerals -- often, even more than necessary. Vegan children eat more nutrients, more fiber and less saturated fat than other children, according to a study in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association."
Consequently, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association support a vegan diet for children, as long as parents plan the children's diets carefully and give their children sufficient supplements.
Vegan children on well-planned, properly supplemented diets grow just as well as omnivorous children. They take in more nutrients, and establish healthier eating patterns to continue into adulthood. Although these children may not remain vegans throughout their adult lives, a vegan childhood teaches an appreciation for healthy foods and helps children develop obesity-fighting habits. The influence of these factors will continue through adulthood. Vegans have significantly lower rates of some health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
Even a well-planned vegan diet cannot provide all the nutrients required by a growing child’s body. Vegans avoid dairy, a primary source of calcium. Although a few vegetables contain calcium -- such as broccoli and kale -- most vegan children need a calcium supplement.
Many people get sufficient iron and zinc from red meat, which vegans do not eat. A child’s vegan diet must contain sufficient zinc- and iron-rich vegetables -- such as legumes, spinach, asparagus and some grains -- or zinc and iron supplements. A vegan child should consume sufficient vitamin C, from either foods or a supplement, to aid the absorption of iron.
All vegan children must take a vitamin B-12 supplement; this nutrient is essential for neurological functioning, nerve health, physical growth, blood production and overall energy. B-12 does not occur naturally in standard vegan-friendly food sources.
Because vegetables have relatively few calories, children who eat primarily vegetables often struggle to eat enough food that provides sufficient calories for energy and growth. Additionally, a vegan diet can lack sufficient protein and healthy fats, which a child also needs for physical development and activity.
These are only potential problems, and a well-planned, strict vegan diet can easily provide enough calories, fats and protein. Nuts and seeds, butters made from nuts and seeds, olive oil and avocados contain healthy fats and are dense in calories. Dried fruits contain calories more densely than fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegan children can get protein from grains, nuts, legumes and soy products, such as tofu and soy milk.
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association; "...Vegan Diets: Children"; V. Messina; June 2001
- VeganHealth.org: Pregnancy, Infants, & Children; 2003
- Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine: Frequently Asked Questions About Nutrition
- MassGeneral Hospital for Children: Vegetarianism
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Vitamin B12 in the Vegan Diet; Reed Mangels; 2006
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Feeding Vegan Kids; Reed Mangels