When it comes to babies and children, plant-based eating deserves a major thumbs up (am I suitably wholesome enough for publication in women’s fitness mags, yet?) But just like all major aspects of the lives of babies and children, parents must always actively inform themselves properly on what an appropriate diet for babies and children looks like.
Breast milk is the ideal primary food for about 2 years of life, and obviously breast milk is not technically entirely plant based, though it is still considered vegan by definition. Babies are in a very delicate stage as we all know, and shortcuts are rarely what’s best. It is commonly accepted that formula can be substituted in place of breast milk with no impact on the baby, but this is a myth. Breast milk is quite obviously essential for babies. What’s optimally healthy, most beneficial, and most natural for babies is without a doubt breast milk, and breast feeding should not be cut off until the baby is at the least eighteen months of age, though it can begin to taper off around that time with the introduction of food (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/extended-breastfeeding/art-20046962.)
There has been much speculation in recent years regarding the safety and legitimacy of plant-based diets, particularly when children are involved. Babies and children have fallen ill and died tragic, inhumane deaths due to alleged “vegan” and “plant-based” diets; However, when we look a bit closer, we can clearly see that ALL cases of child death and illness reported as being caused by veganism were in fact not caused by proper vegan diets, but by ill-informed, often deranged and incompetent parents. When a child dies from hunger or malnourishment, it is never from lack of animal products, it is from lack of calories, hydration, and/or sufficient vitamins/nutrients.
OK, now that the technical stuff is out of the way, onto the good stuff.
Some calorie and nutrient rich options for starting out after the first year are soft foods that won’t irritate the gums or digestive system, such as ripe, mashed avocado, banana, tomato, sweet potato, cooked carrots, and smoothies. Fruits and beans can be mashed up & introduced to establish the taste and flavor thresholds so-to-speak, as well as unprocessed, raw fruit juice in addition to plant milks and yogurts (almond, soy, cashew, hemp, rice, and coconut milks are widely available and generally affordable for smaller families). Cost is another big stigma associated with plant-based diets, which is yet another myth that scares people off. It seems like many children get fed poor diets of mainly take-out for the sake of convenience and extreme frugality of the parents (who often then turn around and purchase luxury vehicles and extravagant gym memberships). Frankly the decision to have children is not to be taken lightly and nutrition is of utmost importance, excuses like “healthy eating is too expensive” and “I don’t have time to cook” are things to be thought about before choosing to have children. No child should have to suffer poor health, fatigue, weight issues, or bad habits learned from adults (and as we all know, processed, junky, fast foods are the number one contributing habit of poor health and well-being).
This is not rocket surgery. The purpose of a diet is to provide sustenance, to provide life. We need to eat living things (plants), instead of dead things (animals), so that we can fuel our own existence with as much radiant nourishment as possible. Children are sensitive, babies especially so. What we drill into them eventually surfaces in either positive or negative ways, which is why they should be filled with the compounds of the natural earth (as opposed to the mammalian stress, anxiety, fear, and sex hormones naturally occurring in meat, dairy, and eggs).
The ideal diet for children should be comprised of as huge a variety of fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, legumes, and seeds as possible. These foods can be used to make thick, creamy salad dressings and dips, full, “meaty” burritos, fun, assorted pizzas, savory, rich sauces, and so many more of the indulgent, blissful foods that we all loved as children (and lets be real, still love). The best ice cream is vegan ice cream. The best cookies and cakes are vegan cookies and cakes. And the best meats and cheeses are – you guessed it – vegan meats and cheeses. And all of these foods can be made at home or store bought. Burger and sausage patties can be easily made from beans or TVP, ice cream can be made with blended frozen fruit and plant milk or water, cheese spreads and sauces can be made with nuts and garlic; There really has never been a better time to be a vegan parent given the infinite online library of simple, fantastic vegan recipes.
Children learn to like the foods they’re taught to like. Give them Doritos and soda once, and their poor little brains will soon enough have them nipping at the ankles for more. Have you ever seen a chubby kid throw a tantrum in the candy aisle? There’s a reason it’s the parent’s fault; the child’s brain doesn’t understand that you only want your child to eat candies and cake on holidays, it just knows it wants more of that dense calorie, fat, and sugar source. Junk foods and animal products are to children what cocaine is to lab rats. Remember what I said before about habits? Our lives consist of them, and they start young. I’d even go as far as saying that junk food and animal product addiction is the biggest and most deadly addiction epidemic we’re facing, because it’s routinely justified with “Well I have to eat, don’t I?”
As a society we have trained our taste preferences (and consequently those of our children, as well) to crave such extreme and unnatural flavors that when we get back to the basics we’re disgusted and bored of how “bland” whole plant foods seem to us. Earthy tastes and fibrous textures repulse us, despite our anatomy being perfectly built to digest such foods. Children (and adults obviously) who were not raised on such unnatural diets however do not have this problem; they eat tomatoes like apples and scoop avocado flesh from the shell by the spoonful, alongside bitter kale salads and green, muddy smoothies. This is the natural state of the human diet before we start introducing the corruption that is the “standard American diet”. Cholesterol (a compound found exclusively in animal products like meats/fish, dairy, eggs, honey, etc) should not exist in the human diet at all, given that we have zero dietary requirement for it since our body makes 100% of the cholesterol we’ll ever need.
Lives are made up of habits. We see far too often people making excuses to feed themselves (and their children) artificially sweetened and processed food items as well as cholesterol, saturated animal fat, and casomorphin contaminated foods; and it is wrecking the next generations’ shot at decent health, quality of life, and lifespan. Creating healthy cravings starts with building healthy habits, and when do habits begin to form? Childhood. And a “once in a while” harmful treat is not fair to the child in the long term;
Some people might be thinking, what about moderation? Surely occasional animal products won’t harm my child?
A healthy diet for a child is not about moderation, but rather about abundance. Simple, delicious, satiating meals, snacks, and desserts can be made with completely raw, clean, whole/plant-based ingredients. And there is no reason to restrict a child’s access to unprocessed, plant-based snacks and foods throughout the day when these are the options they have. So weight and hunger/habitual eating do not become a problem for these children because they are taught how to choose foods that make them feel and function their best. It really is a self-serving lifestyle for the parents as well because these children do not become teens with skin, body-image, mood/mental health, or eating disorder struggles the way that children with poor diets do.