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Raising Vegan Children...
by Erin Pavlina

A vegan does not eat any foods that contain animal products. This means no beef, chicken, fish, pork or veal; no milk, cheese, butter, eggs, sour cream, or cottage cheese. Instead a vegan eats fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes.

Is a vegan diet healthy for an active, growing child? Absolutely. Children raised on a vegan diet eat more fruits and vegetables than their meat-eating counterparts. They are sick less often, and don't have as many food allergies. Even vegan junk food is healthier than regular junk food, containing fruit juice instead of sugar, and whole wheat flour instead of white flour. Family and friends may worry that your child will be ostracized at school if he brings tofu and sprouts. So send your child to school with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple, carrots, and fruit-sweetened cookies and no one will know your child is eating a "special" diet. At birthday parties, find out what the host is serving and drop your child off with the vegan equivalent of those items.

Most of you probably know how important it is to breastfeed your baby, but it's even more important when you're vegan. As of this writing there are no commercial soy infant formulas on the U.S. market that are 100% vegan. They all contain Vitamin D derived from an animal. And cow's milk formulas are out for obvious reasons. What does that leave you with? Not much choice. If you want your baby to be vegan, you've got to breastfeed or find a milk bank that has collected and stored milk from a vegan mom (difficult at best).

Be Prepared
It's important to be prepared to breastfeed, you don't want to wing it. It may sound simple and easy to breastfeed but there's a lot more to it than just putting your breast in the baby's mouth. While you're still pregnant, read books about breastfeeding and attend a few La Leche League meetings so that you can get your baby latched on by yourself if there's no one there at the birth who can help you. If your birthing center or hospital provides a lactation consultant, use her! If you can afford to hire a lactation consultant, they are worth their weight in gold. If finances are tight, seek a La Leche League meeting or leader who will help you free of charge. They can also help you overcome any unforeseen difficulties that might occur.

How Long to Breastfeed
How long you breastfeed your baby is entirely up to you. Current recommendations suggest breastfeeding for a minimum of one year, and two if it's mutually desireable. Since infants need breastmilk or formula for at least one year and since there are no vegan formulas, as a vegan mom you should plan on breastfeeding your baby for at least the first year. Babies need breastmilk or formula until they are one year old. After that you can give them soy beverages and other nondairy beverages if you are not still breastfeeding.

Advantages of Breastfeeding
The well known advantages of breastfeeding your infant include providing natural immunity against numerous diseases, fewer ear infections, less allergies, less gastrointestinal disorders, lower incidence of SIDS, and a decreased risk of contracting diabetes. One lesser known advantage is that the breastmilk of vegan women is refreshingly void of toxins that are found in large quantities in the breastmilk of non-vegan women. Breastfeeding is also better for the environment as there is no waste or pollution. And, of course, breastfeeding is much better for the animals, who'd like to keep their milk for their own babies.

Feeding Vegan Babies
The breast milk of vegan women is refreshingly void of many toxins and pesticides that are found in the breast milk of meat-eating women. This affords a vegan baby an even better chance for short and long term health.

Feeding Vegan Infants
The first foods any child eats are usually mashed fruits, soft veggies, and iron fortified rice cereals. All of these items are vegan so nothing special needs to be said for starting solids. Avoiding cow's milk and eggs are probably good advice for the first year of any child's life anyway. After that, simply give your vegan child samples of food from your own plate and see what she likes.

Feeding Vegan Children
As your child gets older you can incorporate the things most kids enjoy eating. Below are some suggestions for things most vegan children will enjoy and will ensure that he has a well balanced and varied diet:
Spaghetti with tomato sauce
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Chicken-Free nuggets (soy protein nuggets that taste just like breaded chicken)
Baked french fries with ketchup
Burgers, hot dogs and sandwich slices made of tofu and other meat substitutes
Whole wheat bread (3-4 slices each day)
Grilled soy cheese sandwiches
Mashed potatoes
Veggie pizzas with soy cheese
Oatmeal with apples and cinnamon
Pancakes with pure maple syrup
Waffles with fruit
Barley and vegetable soup
Romaine lettuce salad
Vegetables, including green leafy and deep yellow vegetables
Baked potato with broccoli and tofu sour cream (non dairy)
Rice and beans
Vegetable stew
Spinach lasagna
Calcium-fortified orange juice
Calcium-fortified soy milk (3 cups each day).
Iron-fortified cereal with calcium-fortified soy milk supplements: a vegan multivitamin to provide Vitamin B12 and zinc, and extra iron and calcium

Snacks:
Fruits, cut up into bite sized pieces for children under 4 (4-5 1/2 cup servings with at least 2 servings of citrus fruit or juice each day)
Raisins
Trail mix
Applesauce
Fresh berries and sorbet (all fruit without sugar)
Fruit smoothies
Popcorn
Vegans can't eat white sugar, and most candy is made with it. But there are some vegan chocolate companies that make some good stuff, and a gummy bear substitute that isn't bad made with fruit juice. Vegan cakes, donuts, cookies, and pies are abundant though.

Is a Vegan Diet During Pregnancy Safe?
During pregnancy it is vital to maintain a healthy diet for the safety of the developing fetus. Pregnant vegans have a tremendous advantage since their diet is naturally high in the vitamins and minerals the baby needs. As long as her diet is varied and incorporates a reliable source of B12, a vegan woman can be reasonably sure she is meeting her daily requirements. A visit to a registered dietician who specializes in vegan diets can help ease her mind if she is unsure of her particular diet.

Also read: Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Dr. Michael Klaper, the bible for pregnant vegans.

Suggested foods
It is important to eat a varied diet during pregnancy to ensure an adequate supply of many vitamins and minerals. Below is a list of some food choices that are healthy and rich in the nutrients a woman needs during pregnancy. These items are good choices even for non-vegan women.

Breakfast:
Whole grain cereal with soy milk
Whole grain pancakes with pure maple syrup
Fruit smoothies
Oatmeal with dried fruit or apples and cinnamon
Whole wheat toast with all fruit preserves

Lunch:
Romaine lettuce salad with chopped vegetables and low fat dressing
Veggie sandwich on whole grain bread with avocado, lettuce, tomato, and onions.
Baked potato with broccoli and tofu sour cream (non dairy)
Falafel sandwich with humus or tahini
Split-pea soup

Dinner:
Whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce
Sweet potatoes
Vegetarian pizza with no cheese
Vegetable stir fry with brown rice
Potato-lentil stew
Vegetable stew
Spinach lasagna

Snacks:
popcorn with nutritional yeast
dried fruits
grapes
fruit juice with sweetened cookies
nuts
trail mix

Handling The Opinions of Others
It isn't always easy being a vegan. Not everyone understands the nature of the diet or how healthy it really is. The best way to deal with people who challenge the safety of a vegan diet is to arm yourself with information. Read Diet For A New America by John Robbins. This book provides wonderful documentation of the ill effects of the standard American diet and describes how healthy a plant based diet is. Also, when dealing with the opinions of family and friends, remember that you don't take medical advice from your insurance broker, so don't take advice about diet from anyone isn't an expert.

Handling Holidays
It's important that a vegan child not feel different just because their diet may not be shared by those around them. During holidays it's wise to find vegan equivalents to favorite holiday treats. For example, a vegan Easter basket can include vegan chocolate eggs and plastic eggs with coins in them. Halloween can be tough, but one idea is to get together with other vegan parents and have a Halloween party. Let the kids dress up in costume and enjoy activities like bobbing for apples. Serve vegan cupcakes and confections in the shapes of monsters, and carve pumpkins too. With a little forethought and creativity, a vegan child can enjoy the same holidays non-vegan children do.

Bottom Line
Raising a vegan child is just as exciting, rewarding, and filled with challenges as raising any child. But providing your child a vegan diet will give him an early start on leading a long and healthy life.

More Information
For more information on raising healthy vegan children, pregnancy, and vegan parenting, visit the VegFamily website at
www.vegfamily.com.

Disclaimer:
Although not for everybody, a vegan diet does indeed have many health benefits, and if planned appropriately, it can be a healthy diet for children. Parents, especially if they are vegans, can feel reassured that they can raise their kids to be vegans too. The article mentions that children raised on a vegan diet are 'sick less often' and that the breast milk of women on a vegan diet is 'void of many toxins and pesticides,' and that this may give 'a vegan baby an even better chance for short and long term health.' These comments are the opinions of the author and have not been confirmed by medical or scientific studies. The purpose of this article is more to teach parents on how to safely raise a child as a vegan and not to convert all parents to this type of diet.

The foods that are part of a vegan diet are low in cholesterol and saturated fats and they are high in fiber (all characteristics of a healthy diet) and may lead to a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and Type II diabetes. And since most of the foods that people are allergic to (cow's milk, egg whites, seafood, poultry) aren't part of the vegan diet, your child is much less likely to suffer from food allergies. These health benefits led Dr. Spock to recommend a strict vegan diet for all children over the age of 2. This proposal created a lot of controversy, but not because experts disputed the health benefits of a vegan diet, but rather because they thought that parents might not take enough time and effort to plan a vegan diet that included enough calories, minerals and nutrients to ensure optimal growth in their children. Some areas that you should pay special attention to if your child is on a vegan diet include:

Calories. Vegan diets may have less calories than diets that include meat and dairy products. Although it isn't necessary to count calories each day, you should ensure that your child is receiving enough calories for their optimal growth. In general, if your child is eating a well balanced and varied vegan diet, is gaining weight and developing normally and is active, with a lot of energy, then he is probably getting enough calories.

Getting Your Vitamins
While you're breastfeeding it is extremely important to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need in your own diet. Your baby is counting on you to provide her with all the nutrients she needs to grow at a healthy rate. While getting a well balanced diet and sufficient vitamin intake is of extreme importance while breastfeeding, the following two vitamins are of particular concern to vegan women. Be absolutely sure you are getting enough of these:

Vitamin B12. Babies are born with zero to little stores of this important vitamin. B12 will pass through your breastmilk in sufficient quantities ONLY if you're getting plenty in your own diet. If you are not 100% sure you're getting enough yourself, consider giving your infant a liquid B12 supplement from the time she is 2 weeks old until you stop breastfeeding. This vitamin is only absorbed from animal products, so your child will need to take supplements or eat foods that are fortified with Vitamin B12 (check nutrition labels), including fortified soy milk and some meat substitutes. Also, nutritional yeast as a great way to get B-12.

Vitamin D. Get out into the sunshine! If you can't get 10-15 minutes per day of sunshine, or 20-30 minutes two to three times per week, then you must be sure to get enough Vitamin D in your diet. Good sources of this vitamin are found in fortified non-dairy beverages. Let your baby's skin get some sunshine too, but be very careful not to expose your infant to too much sunlight because of the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. If you live in colder climates and aren't sure you're getting enough Vitamin D, you can supplement. Find Vitamin D2 because that is plant derived. Vitamin D3 is from an animal source. Your body also makes Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so most children do not have problems with Vitamin D deficiency. If your child is not exposed to the sun very often, then you should consider Vitamin supplements or a soy milk that is fortified with Vitamin D.

Calcium. Calcium is a mineral that is mostly present in your child's bones. Having a diet with foods that are high in calcium to meet daily requirements is necessary for the development of strong bones. It is also an important way to prevent the development of osteoporosis in adults. Many vegetables contain calcium, especially broccoli, sweet potatoes, great northern and navy beans, and leafy greens. You can also give your child soy milk or orange juice that is fortified with extra calcium.
Protein. You can make sure that your child gets enough protein and amino acids by eating a good balance of grains and legumes.

Zinc. Your child will need to take supplements or eat foods that are fortified with zinc to get enough of this important mineral, since the best sources of zinc are meat and yogurt. Zinc is also found in whole grains, brown rice, legumes, and spinach.

Resources:
La Leche League Website
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Gwen Gotsch and Judy Torgus
The Breastfeeding Book by Martha Sears R.N. and William Sears M.D.
Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Michael Klaper, M.D.
Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, R.D. and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D.