Written by Suzy Sorensen, RD, LD, CDE
Feeding toddlers and preschoolers can be fun, but sometimes frustrating! At one year old, their growth rate slows and their food intake decreases. Yet, these early years are a critical time to form healthy eating habits for life.
A balanced vegan meal plan can meet the nutritional needs of children at every stage of development. With young children, it is important to meet calorie needs for growth. A balanced plant-based meal plan is naturally high in fiber from fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes. Sometimes fiber can be too filling to a tiny tummy resulting in a low calorie intake. If needed, fiber can be reduced by peeling fruits and veggies, including some refined grain products, and replacing a fruit serving with 4 oz 100% juice.
To increase calories if needed, add in nut butter, dried fruits, hummus, avocado, and vegetable oil spreads.
Most preschoolers need three meals and three snacks each day.
Try these strategies to help your child develop healthy eating habits:
- Be a good role model: eat a variety of healthy foods without negative comments.
- Include children in grocery shopping, cooking, and mealtime activities. For example, they can choose a fruit and vegetable at the store, stir the ingredients in a bowl, or help set the table.
- Offer a variety of foods over and over again: it can take 10+ episodes of a certain food appearing on the plate for a toddler to decide whether to touch, sniff, or taste it. Keep trying.
- Keep it fun with many colors, textures, and shapes, include some finger foods, dips, and spreads.
- General rule: the child chooses yes/no, and how much at meal time. Allow a preschooler to choose their portion. Do not force food to be eaten or use food as a reward.
- All food should be eaten at the table including snacks.
Exploring new foods is fun, but be sure to exercise common sense caution during mealtime and remember little ones have an increased choking risk. They have fewer teeth, lower chew/swallow skills, and often eat quickly!
Avoid these food with toddlers and supervise preschoolers:
- Veggie dogs (cut length-wise then across)
- Grapes and cherry tomatoes (cut in half or quarters)
- Raw veggies (chop fine)
- Whole nuts
Information, including charts, adapted from Vegetarian Nutrition Resource (dietetic practice group of the AND).
Please note: This information, while accurate, does not provide an all-inclusive feeding plan and is not intended to substitute personal medical advice. It is intended to offer guidance only. We recommend working with a registered dietitian to help meet any specific questions you may have.
Suzy Sorensen is a Twin Cities-based Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who is passionate about plant-based eating! She has a Certificate of Training in Vegetarian Nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and opened Move2Veg Nutrition Counseling in 2009 to support those interested in plant-based eating. For more information, visit move2veg.com.