A plant-based way of eating works well for everyone. I’m often asked about possible exceptions to this, the most common after athletes (which has been covered a little already when I wrote about protein) being kids. There’s an oft-cited statement from the American Dietetic Association, the gist of which is that they’ve deemed that a ‘well-planned’ ‘vegan’ diet is appropriate for all stages of life, and promotes normal growth. The sentiment is great but it does make it sound a little as if you’d really need to sit down and do some serious planning to get things right. Actually, with just some very minor modifications and a little encouragement, eating plant-based will get your kids off to the best start possible.
To be honest looking back I must have been a super-healthy kid. I have very few memories of going to a doctor for anything. If I had more than a handful of courses of antibiotics I’d be surprised and I don’t remember being given medicine for anything else really. You could say I was lucky, but knowing what I know now I wonder how much of it might have been due to the fact I was eating vegetarian at least. I’ll never know. But what I do know is that there are plenty of childhood illnesses that seem related to food.
ADHD, asthma, ear infections, eczema, diabetes, and acne all can be influenced by food. I’ll look into these further at some point, but for now just check what’s out there for yourself. Childhood obesity is first and foremost about food choices, and the standard diet also often brings about an inappropriately early onset of puberty. Kids need to be at the top of their game because they’re always learning, and a plant-based way of eating keeps energy levels high and consistent, helping them stay sharp and focussed. And many illnesses that do not affect us until adulthood actually lay their foundations in childhood.
So a plant-based way of eating will help your kids to feel their best. But there’s a few differences between kids and adults that we should take into account. Children are smaller, so of course they have smaller stomachs too. This means they’ll feel ‘full’ quite quickly with the more fibre and water dense plant foods. Given that they’re also growing and quite active, an emphasis on the more energy dense foods can be important for kids. Focussing on starchy vegetables and grains is a good starting point, and kids may also at times need a few of the more energy-dense foods added in, like avocado, nut butters, tofu, and dried fruits.
There are plenty of plant-based options for familiar and kid-friendly foods and recipes out there. For breakfast try porridge, toast, pancakes, French toast, or even just stick with the tried-and-true WeetBix. Lunches could include wraps, sandwiches (practically all I ate for lunch when I was a kid anyhow!), soup, fruits and veggies either alone or with dips, or even sushi. For dinners stuff they can personalise like pizza, burgers and fries, and Mexican are great choices. Otherwise comfort foods like mashed potatoes and macaroni and ’cheese’. Treats and desserts include muffins, cupcakes, rice pudding, and banana ‘ice-cream’ with all the toppings. Snacks can be useful for getting in extra energy, and include hummus, frozen grapes or orange slices, nut butters, popcorn, dried fruit, and even baked potatoes!
Kids especially are enthusiastic about being kind to animals and also the environmental aspects of eating plant-based. Introducing the change to them as an ‘experiment’ to see if something improves (e.g. their energy, sleep etc.) also appeals to some. Gardening to grow their own food and cooking and customising their own meals can help to get kids excited about plant-based eating. Keep in mind of course that even for the McDougall and Fuhrman kids the emphasis is very much on eating plant-based at home. When out and about and in social situations kids will tend to choose better options once they understand, enjoy, and are familiar with these anyhow. Just like with us, it’s what they’re eating most of the time rather than some of the time that really matters!
Choosing to raise your kids plant-based isn’t just an ‘appropriate’ choice, it’s the best choice.
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