vegan nutrition for children

People who live vegan themselves usually also want to feed their own children vegan food. And yes, that is possible. But how?

Little girl harvests carrots

For adults, the topic of vegan is now widely accepted - for children, the controversy is often still great. Some speak of "deliberate malnutrition" and refer to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), among others, which strongly advises against it.

Others point out that this recommendation is also due to the very limited number of studies and report on numerous children who grow up vegan and healthy.

The fact is: anyone who wants to feed themselves and their children a vegan diet should look into the subject of nutrition and make sure they have a sufficient supply of nutrients.

Because in principle it should be noted: It is perfectly possible to feed children a vegan and healthy diet. No one person necessarily needs a particular food - but we all need a range of nutrients.

Every now and then you hear in the media about malnourished children - but as a rule these are cases of absolute child neglect. If a child eats only three different foods, it will ALWAYS get sick; even if these three foods are meat, milk and eggs.

Basically, all experts agree that a high proportion of fruit and vegetables in the diet is the healthiest - this is usually above average in a vegan diet. On average, vegan children eat more legumes, nuts and fibre, all of which contribute to their health advantage. For example, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) also concludes - in contrast to the DGE - that a purely plant-based diet can be healthy at any age.

Which nutrients can become critical?

A purely vegan diet per se excludes the intake of vitamin B12 - a supplement is therefore mandatory here.

All other nutrients can theoretically be supplied in sufficient quantities through food; in some cases, however, supplementation still makes sense. These potentially critical nutrients include calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium, but also omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

Infobox: Many things do not only affect vegan children

The list may seem long at first. However, some of these critical nutrients apply not only to vegan, but also to vegetarian and omnivorous (i.e. mixed-food) children. According to the VeChi study, the intake of iodine, calcium and vitamin B2 is in the critical range for children on all diets.

Vitamin D deficiency also affects large parts of the population and is not fundamentally due to a vegan diet.

How can the supply of critical nutrients be ensured?

Three things are important for this:

Many children love fruit.

Focus in nutrition.

If you eat a varied diet, you have certainly already covered a large part of all nutrients. This is often difficult, especially with children, because they do not like everything by far. It makes sense (and not only for this reason) to familiarise yourself with which nutrients are concentrated where.

Iron , for example, is found in high quantities in seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds and linseeds, and oatmeal is also a very good source of iron. Therefore, if children have muesli for breakfast that is "enhanced" with sesame or linseed, they already have a fairly high iron intake in the morning.

In addition, the absorption of iron can be significantly increased by the simultaneous intake of vitamin C; for example, by eating a little fruit or drinking a glass of orange juice.

Nutrient supplements.

Some nutrients should be supplemented: Vitamin B12 is a must. Since European soils are very poor in selenium, it also makes sense to supplement this trace element. Incidentally, both recommendations also apply to vegetarian children.

INFOBOX: Are supplements unnatural?

Supplements are also given in omnivorous diets - but already in the animal feed.

Vitamin B12, for example, is not produced by animals but by microorganisms. Whereas cows used to graze on pastures and automatically took in B12 through their food, in times of industrial factory farming this vitamin - together with other nutrients such as selenium - is added to concentrated feed. Supplementation is therefore also taking place here - but invisibly for consumers.

Check blood count.

Humans are not machines. How well the absorption of nutrients works varies from individual to individual (no matter whether vegan or not) and the rate of absorption varies depending on how foods are combined.
It therefore makes sense to have certain nutrients checked once a year and, if necessary, to top them up through the diet and possibly also with supplements.

A small or large blood count is not very informative. It is much more important to specifically check certain nutrients. As a rule, this is not covered by the health insurance system, but must be paid for by the patient (unless there are symptoms and a well-founded suspicion of a deficiency - this is at the doctor's discretion). The doctors' fee schedule can provide an overview of the costs.

Are there advantages to a vegan diet?

Those who only eat chips, cakes and soy cutlets are also vegan, but of course not healthy. On the other hand, if you eat lots of fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds - as recommended - you will do your health a lot of good:

The largest and most conclusive study to date(VeChi study) concludes that vegan and vegetarian children "showed an overall health-promoting food pattern. They consumed more vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts. In particular, vegans had the lowest consumption of sweets, snack foods and convenience foods." (Source: DGE).

Regardless of the type of diet (vegan, vegetarian, omnivorous/mixed diet), all study participants were sufficiently supplied with proteins, nutrients and most micronutrients.

Variety is the most important thing.

"However, the carbohydrate and fat quality differed between the study groups. Children and adolescents who ate a vegan diet had a particularly high fibre intake and ate less added sugar and saturated fatty acids."(ibid.).

Eating a varied diet - is that even possible with children?

There are children who eat (almost) everything. Many others have a restricted food intake, at least in phases - there are said to be children who want to live on nothing but noodles without sauce for weeks on end.

Those who are allowed to help with the cooking are more likely to taste.

This is often difficult for parents to bear - but no reason to get scared immediately. It is important to keep offering different foods and not to put pressure on them.

Children with a healthy body feeling often know intuitively what they need at the moment. Sometimes it's carbohydrates (pasta), sometimes proteins (e.g. yoghurt). Tips to get through this phase are, for example, soups and smoothies, in which a lot of healthy things can be "hidden"; red lentils or vegetables can also be mashed into mashed potatoes.

Wholemeal products are preferable to those made from wholemeal flour anyway, and a plate of pasta can be supplemented with lentil or pea noodles, for example.

Many children are also motivated to try new foods and dishes by cooking with them.

Clearly: If your child shows symptoms of illness such as excessive tiredness or if the phase lasts for a longer period of time, a doctor should always be consulted to be on the safe side).

CONCLUSION: A vegan diet is also possible for children

A prerequisite for a vegan diet in children is a varied diet, targeted intake and supplementation of potentially critical nutrients and regular checking of the blood count.
This may sound complicated - but it is also recommended for vegetarian and mixed-food children.
Basically, no child needs meat, but every child needs all nutrients.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not a substitute for advice! I share the knowledge I have acquired in 10 years of vegan nutrition (including pregnancy and breastfeeding) and with a vegan child - but I am not a nutritionist. If in doubt, please consult a doctor or nutritionist who specialises in this topic.

Show sources

- Gätjen, Edith: Vegane Kinderernährung
- Hercegfi, Carmen: Vegan für unsere Sprösslinge
- Rittenau, Niko: Vegan-Klischee, ade!