What I find fascinating about raising plant-based children is how passionate people get about this subject. I’ve received messages of hate calling me everything from irresponsible to reckless. Then, seeing the same people who critique this lifestyle feed Lucky Charms, cow’s milk, muffins, fast food and sugar ladened ultra-processed snacks to their children leaves me feeling quite confused. All diets come with their list of pros and cons and there are many nuances to consider. The typical or standard diet has the benefits of being cheap, convenient, highly palatable and popular with children. It has the cons of providing over 60% of calories through ultra-processed foods, of being excessively high in sugar, salt, saturated fat and of being deficient in fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols and of leading to an over 65% rate of overweight and obesity. Plant-based diets also have pros and cons. They help prevent cancer, decrease cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, all-cause mortality, auto-immune conditions and inflammatory parameters. When a plant-based diet is done without any planning, it does create a risk for deficiencies in certain vitamins that are not as abundant, like iodine and B12 for example. Other nutrients of concern will be addressed below and these possible deficiencies can easily be covered by a few simple tricks.
The motivation for eating a plant-based diet goes much deeper than the amazing health benefits the diet provides. Children are naturally connected to animals and the environment and instinctively want to do what they can to protect both. Explaining to children how our food choices not only affects our health, but also affects the health of other sentient beings on this planet is not an easy task. Not all children are ready to hear about the harsh realities of our food system, but when they are, they can find solace in knowing they’re doing their part.
A few generations ago, little was known about the health effects of vegetarian or vegan diets. Data was scarce and people adopting these diets typically did it for ethical reasons more than health reasons. Often, those adopting a plant-based vegan diet purely for ethical reasons aren’t spending too much time with careful planning. Fast forward a few generations, and now we know that when properly planned, plant-predominant diets are likely to be the healthiest dietary patterns for the prevention of chronic diseases that make up our top killers, as well as the best diets in term of reducing carbon footprint and animal cruelty. What better gift to give to your kids. In our house, my daughters eat what we eat when they’re at home, but we don‘t restrict any foods when they’re at friends house. They eat cake at birthday parties, and vegan cake if the party is at our house!