When you work with as many parents as I do, you see people from all walks of life and who maintain a wide variety of speciality diets for any number of reasons.
I’ve been asked many a time by a new mom if I felt that it was safe for her to wean her baby onto a Vegan diet rather than choosing an animal based diet for her little one, and I think it is a great question! While your child’s nutrition is an excellent reason to be choosing a diet for them, the diet you choose also has to be one that you are comfortable with from a lifestyle perspective.
As someone who has worked with many parents as to how to properly transition their children onto a vegan diet I have a couple of thoughts on the matter.
- Animal products are not “magic” but they’re very convenient. People talk about cow’s milk like it will cure cancer or solve world hunger….it won’t. There is no absolute NEED to transition your child to cow’s milk when weaning them from breastmilk or formula. However cow’s milk is a very convenient source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and fat all of which need to be replaced in a vegan diet. This is the same for nutrients found in eggs and other animal proteins as well. Are these nutrients found in plant based sources? Definitely! But achieving your child’s daily needs for these nutrients from plant based sources does require a little more forethought than pouring a glass of milk
- Be wary of alternatives that seem comparable but really aren’t. Many milk alternatives will advertise “as much calcium as milk” which is true. Many nut-based milks are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to the same level as cow’s milk. However many of these products are quite low in protein and fat making them inappropriate for children under the age of two. Similarly cheese and yogurt alternatives, while very convenient for making a vegan grilled cheese or parfait, are low in calcium and protein. So while these products are delicious and a nice variety addition to your child’s diet it’s important to consider the nutrition facts label so you know that you are actually getting what you think you’re getting from the food!
- A strict vegan diet could (could!!!) put your child at risk for allergies later in life. More of the research around food allergies now is showing that earlier introduction to allergens (including eggs, cow’s milk, fish and shellfish) can actually act to reduce the risk of allergies later in life. While it may be important to you as a family to maintain a vegan diet there may come a time where your child decided to introduce animal products into their diet. The only way to guarantee a lack of allergy is to have regular exposure to these products. In a 100% vegan household this could mean taking your child out for ice cream, or ordering eggs or fish for your child off of a restaurant menu when going out. While this might not be something all parents would like to/ are able to do, it is something to think about for your children’s long term health!
For more information about transitioning to solids or specialty diets email firstname.lastname@example.org!