"A vegan diet for your baby?"
As vegan parents, this is the response we can usually expect from strangers, family members, and even paediatricians.
Why? In the media, many poorly researched studies involving rare and unfortunate incidents make engaging headlines but scare people into thinking that babies on a vegan diet are malnourished. Due to this, I have had so many questions thrown at me since raising my vegan daughter. Vegan since birth, she is now a healthy 17-month old toddler. It’s not as difficult or as scary as it’s made out to be!
Honestly, all it takes to raise a little one on a plant-based diet is just a little extra planning! We all know that plant-based food can provide all necessary macro and micronutrients with the exception of B12, which must be supplemented.
So, it's important to include various food groups into their daily meals. An array of grains, pseudograins, pulses, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds can provide enough nutrients for anyone at any stage of life, including babies and toddlers.
Personally speaking, I plan my daughter's meals as environmentally sustainable as possible. For family meals, I take inspiration from traditional Indian foods, staple ingredients, regionally accessible foods, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. I also use techniques like soaking and sprouting with the right combinations of food to increase the bioavailability of essential nutrients. Combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods, and combining omega-3 rich foods with beta-carotene rich foods provide the most amount of calcium, iron, and zinc as possible in her daily meals.
If you are wondering how to take the step of raising your child on a vegan diet (which is normal, considering most of us are the first vegans in our families and often lack support), consulting a paediatric nutritionist who supports and encourages plant-based diets for children can help you plan healthy age-appropriate meals for your child.
In our family, raising a vegan child doesn't stop with nutritionally adequate plant-based meals. Of course, I ensure my daughter's food and supplements have no animal-derived ingredients, but I also ensure all her clothing (especially winter clothing) and accessories are made without silk, wool, fur or any other animal product. I look for and buy only vegan hygiene products like toothpaste, body cream, shampoo and wipes. Even products like crayons, I am particular to find vegan ones, sans beeswax.
Beyond products we need to eat and use, we take our daughter to rescued animal shelters and non-commercial farms instead of zoos or animal rides. I consciously don't teach her 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' or other nursery rhymes and stories that commodify animals and teach children that their products are for us humans. I don’t buy books about zoos, animal farms or anything that teaches children an animal’s purpose is to serve and entertain humans.
The truth is, raising a vegan child is easier than most people think. Vegan children can be healthy, well-adjusted, happy, and grow up to make well informed choices. It's not a radical lifestyle when you consider that the most important thing is to set an example of kindness and compassion. Like any other parent, we just want the best for our children and their future. And when we raise children vegan, future generations will be more compassionate and kinder to the planet we all share.
Share this blog with a mom in need! And check out Sharmila's healthy green smoothie recipe.