Nutrition for Kids
Plant-Based Diets for Infants, Children, and Teens
Eating habits are set in early childhood. Choosing a plant-based diet can give your child—and your whole family—the opportunity to learn to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods.
Infants’ nutritional needs are best met by their mothers’ breast milk, which helps to build immunity. When breastfeeding is not possible, commercial soy formulas for infants are available (not to be confused with soy milk or other plant milks).
For the first half year of life, infants do not need any nourishment other than breast milk or formula. They should continue to receive breast milk or formula at least through their first 12 months. The longer a child consumes breast milk, the better. There is no need for infants to consume cow’s milk.
At around 6 months, it’s time to introduce solid foods to your baby’s diet. Introduce iron-fortified infant cereal, mixed with a little breast milk or soy formula, since it is the least likely to cause allergies.
At 6 to 8 months, you can begin introducing other plant-based foods:
- Vegetables, including potatoes, green beans, carrots, and peas, are all good choices. They should be thoroughly cooked and mashed.
- Fruits, such as mashed bananas, avocados, peaches, or applesauce.
- By 8 months, some babies can eat crackers, bread, and dry cereal and protein-rich foods like well-cooked and mashed tofu or beans.
Children and Teens
Children who are raised on healthful vegan diets have a reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions. Adolescents raised on a plant-based diet often find they have an easy time maintaining a healthy weight. They also have fewer problems with acne, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems than their peers who eat animal products.
American children often have fatty streaks in their arteries before they finish high school. Children who eat a plant-based diet limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease.
When it comes to milk, research shows that dairy products have little or no benefit for bones. A 2005 review published in Pediatrics showed that milk consumption does not improve bone integrity in children. Another study tracked the diets, physical activity, and stress fracture incidences of adolescent girls for seven years, and concluded that dairy products and calcium do not prevent stress fractures in adolescent girls.
Nutrition Activities for Kids
Get crafty with the nutrition rainbow, learn more about nutrition for kids, and sign a pledge! Help reinforce healthful habits by inviting your kids, nieces, nephews, and their friends to try one of these activities and learn about healthful foods!
Eat the Rainbow!
In this nutrition lesson for kids, Maggie Neola, RD, talks about how all of the foods that make up the nutrition rainbow can improve our health!