Written by Suzy Sorensen, RD, LD, CDE
School-aged children are gradually gaining independence and exploring their place in the world around them. It’s never too early to talk about why we choose a vegan lifestyle: compassion for others, keeping our bodies healthy, and taking care of the planet are family values for many!
It’s a great time to dig into veg-friendly books and movies and maybe even visit a local farm sanctuary to engage young children! There are lots of great offerings available. An online search brings back hundreds of ideas.
A balanced vegan meal plan can meet children’s nutrition needs while offering health benefits. Research shows that vegan children eat more fruits, vegetables, and fiber than their peers and eat less fat and cholesterol. They tend to have healthy body weights and may have reduced risk for chronic disease later in life.
All children need enough calories to support growth, and even more with extra physical activity! Children might need to add in snacks between meals or around extra activity.
To add a nutritious calorie boost at snack time, try:
- “Trail mix” with nuts or seeds and dried fruit
- Crackers or an apple with nut butter
- Guacamole on corn chips or on a small tortilla
- Veggies dipped in hummus
Iron and calcium are especially important for growth, so iron-rich foods like beans, iron-fortified cereals, and leafy greens should be included in the diet.
Calcium sources like fortified plant milks and juices, almonds and almond butter, calcium-set tofu, and leafy greens (broccoli, kale, bok choy) should also be present.
School-aged children can be included in meal planning and preparation, grocery shopping, and packing lunch. At mealtime, follow the advice of feeding expert Ellen Satter and use her Division of Responsibility method: parents are responsible at meals for what, when, and where of feeding while children are responsible for how much and whether or not. This can alleviated the pressure of cooking multiple meals or items to please everyone.
Children can be included in meal planning and preparation, grocery shopping, and packing lunch. Older kids might want to pack their own lunch. Encourage following a guideline such as My Vegan Plate to assure protein, produce, and starch at each meal.
It can be easy to match the school lunch menu with vegan options like tacos and burritos, spaghetti and veggie balls, veggie dogs and burgers, or grilled “cheeze.” For beautiful lunchbox options, check out the Vegan Lunchbox book by Jennifer McCann! An online search also offers up lots of lunch bag-friendly vegan ideas. A small ice pack and a thermos allow for increased variety and using bento boxes or other containers with small compartments can make lunch even more appealing and help to encourage balanced eating!
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.