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Child Nourishment

Nourishing your child with a vegan diet requires some planning and forethought, to assure that the unique needs of a growing body are met. The specific needs for each age group of children can be accessed, courtesy of the Institute of Medicine, online at If a child is started on a whole food organic, vegan diet, when he or she first consumes solids, introducing foods at the appropriate time for each age, the child will develop an appreciation for these wholesome natural foods. There may challenges in cultivating their taste for natural food. It is a myth that children require a milk substitute several times per day (much as the average person utilizes dairy milk). Young children (through at least age 2 or 3) should nurse or have an adequate breast milk replacement for the first few years of life. Once weaned, past the age in which breast milk or formula is required, it is the nutrient needs that are important. It is best not to consume soymilk on a daily basis. Milk substitutes, such as soy and rice milk should be used more as treats and the focus should be instead on serving whole foods that meet the childs nutritional needs for fat, calories, protein, calcium, etc. As children are growing, it is important to make sure that their diets contain all the nutrients they need or to add supplementation with a multiple vitamin / mineral combination, specifically designed for children. It is important to make sure that their growing bones receive the needed calcium and vitamin D, along with the other trace minerals and nutrients that support bone health. Making sure that calcium sources are abundant is crucial. A list of the calcium content of a variety of common foods can be accessed online, courtesy of the Institute of Medicine, at It is important to make sure that children (as well as adults) get ample amounts of the essential fatty acids. Hemp and flax oil are delicious and can be added to food (only after cooking and when food is cool enough to eat). The general rule of thumb of 1 tablespoon of these beneficial oils for every 100 pounds of weight is a good guide for optimal amounts of these oils. For children, this might translate to 1 tsp for a 33 pound child. This will provide them some needed fat and in the form of essential fatty acids which are crucial for our health. Vitamin D can be synthesized by our bodies, when we obtain adequate sun exposure (without sun block). This may require some planning, allowing for some unprotected sunlight. According to Dr. Holick, of the Boston University School of Medicine, The most cost-effective and efficient method for preventing vitamin D deficiency is to have adequate exposure to sunlight. Some dermatologists advise that people of all ages and ethnicities should avoid all direct exposure to sunlight and should always use sun protection when outdoors. This message is not only unfortunate, it is misguided and has serious consequences, ie, the risk of vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of many chronic diseases. There is little evidence that adequate sun exposure will substantially increase the risk of skin cancer; rather, long-term excessive exposure and repeated sunburns are associated with nonmelanoma skin cancers. The amount of time for adequate exposure depends on time of day, season, latitude, skin pigmentation, and the area of skin surface that has no sun protection. Typically, the sun exposure of a person in a bathing suit of 1 minimal erythema dose (which causes a slight pinkness to the skin) is equivalent to ingesting 20,000 IU of vitamin D. Thus, exposure of hands, face, and arms or arms and legs to 25% of a minimal erythema dose (about 5-15 minutes between 11 AM and 2 PM in Boston)

will provide an adequate amount of vitamin D. Another critical nutrient in a vegan childs diet is vitamin B12. Vegan children have not built up stores of vitamin B12 and need a reliable source in their daily diet, or nearly every day. Nutritional yeast labeled Vegetarian Support or listing 100% of the RDA of vitamin B12, per serving, is a good staple to add to food. Cheezy rice can be a delicious dish for children and adults alike. Once brown rice is done cooking, add a variety of vegetables (especially dark greens, such as kale and collards, cut in small pieces, to be more child friendly). Add a beneficial oil, such as flax or hemp oil (to provide essential fatty acids) or cold pressed olive oil, nutritional yeast, and sea salt or tamari to taste. This is a wholesome dish that provides taste and nutrition. There is an increased risk of iron deficiency in infants and children 6 months - 4 years. Iron deficiency anemia in children results in poor cognitive development, poor school achievement, and behavioral problems. High iron requirements are due to rapid growth rates. Adolescents are at risk due to rapid growth and females due to menstrual blood loss. As non-heme (non animal sourced) iron is not as well absorbed as heme iron, there may be a greater risk of iron deficiency in vegan children. Doctors can check iron levels with a simple blood test. Parents should make sure that they serve a variety of iron rich vegan foods, along with vitamin C rich foods to maximize iron absorption. Parents may also buy supplemental iron, designed for childrens consumption, in liquid or chewable form, if diet is not providing enough. The iron content of a variety of common foods can be accessed online at the web page for USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21 As with adult vegans, it is important to make sure that children are eating a variety of protein sources, a combination of whole grains and beans, throughout the day, to assure the proper amino acid balance is attained. If a child is a picky eater, it may be necessary to supplement with a good childs multivitamin / mineral combination. If vegan is not written on the bottle, be sure to check with the manufacturer to ascertain that all raw materials and the final combination are vegan. Many companies do not add animal derived ingredients and may not be aware that gelatin can be used to stabilize vitamins in the process of manufacturing raw materials. It is becoming more common for companies to label products that are vegan as such. And often times when there is no mention, there is a reason and a questionable ingredient therein. One company that produces a chewable vegetarian / vegan multivitamin / mineral is Pioneer Nutritional Formulas. Information about this company and which of their products are vegan (labeled as vegetarian, but meeting vegan standards) can be accessed online at