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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 and Toddlers

Infants’ nutritional needs are best met by their mothers’ breast milk, which helps to build immunity.1 When breastfeeding is not possible, commercial soy formulas for infants are available (not to be confused with soy milk or other plant milks).2

For at least the first 4-6 months of life, infants do not need any nourishment other than breast milk or formula. They should continue to receive breast milk or formula through at least 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:3

  • 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.

Research suggests it can take 10 to 12 exposures of a new food before a child accepts it. If your child doesn’t eat the food or seems to care for it, take a break and try again another day. The more familiar they get with a food, the more willingly they may try the food.

The toddler years (1-3) can be challenging and very important in a child’s relationship with food. Picky eating is a common occurrence among this age group even if individuals were not picky eaters as infants. Toddlers tend to need smaller, more frequent meals to meet their calorie and nutrient needs.4-6

Children and Teens

Children who are raised on healthful vegan diets have a reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions.7-10 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.11,12 There is a strong connection between diet quality and cardiovascular health markers in school-age children according to the PANIC (Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children) study. A higher intake of plant-based fats, high amounts of fiber, and reduced added-sugar consumption were shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.13 In another study, it was found that the type of food consumed as a child contributed to the health of arteries as teenagers and young adults. An unhealthy diet including more calories, added sugar, fat, and low fiber at age 10 led to stiffer arteries at age 17 for kids in this study compared with those eating more plant-based and anti-inflammatory foods.14

Projections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that by 2050, 57.3% of children and adolescents will have obesity by the age of 35. It is important to develop healthy habits early in order for children to grow healthy and strong and to maintain a healthy body weight.15

Many parents worry that their young children need to consume dairy for healthy growth and development. However, drinking cow’s milk is not necessary to meet a child’s nutrient requirements for healthy growth and development. Dairy is linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease, acne, diabetes, obesity, and more. Limiting or avoiding dairy products in childhood can help to prevent these chronic diseases from developing in adulthood, as well as reduce the risk for children to develop childhood obesity, constipation, asthma, eczema, upper respiratory tract infections, and more.16-18

Key Nutrients for Children


The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 13 grams per day for children 1-3, 19 grams per day for children 4-8, and 34 grams per day for children 9-13. The RDA is the average daily dietary intake level sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy individuals.19 Plant-based eaters generally meet the RDA for protein unless they consume insufficient calories or too many calories from processed foods high in fat and added sugar. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, well-planned vegan diets are nutritionally adequate and are appropriate during all stages of the life cycle.20


Omega-3 fatty acids are found in plants such as nuts, seeds, soy, greens, and sea plants such as seaweed. Incorporate seeds rich in omega-3, such as ground flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts, into children's daily diet to meet their adequate intake of 0.7-1.6 grams per day for children 1-18 years old.21 Talk with your child’s doctor to find out if an omega-3 supplement is right for your child. You can learn more about omega-3s here.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria and is required as a supplement for any individual on a plant-based diet across any age group. According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin B12 is needed in different amounts depending on age group:22

  • Age 0-6 months: 0.4 micrograms per day
  • Age 7-12 months: 0.5 micrograms per day
  • Age 1-3 years: 0.9 micrograms per day
  • Age 4-8 years: 1.2 micrograms per day
  • Age 9-13 years: 1.8 micrograms per day
  • 14+ years: 2.4 micrograms per day

Talk with your doctor to make sure your child is appropriately supplementing with B12 to meet the requirements for their age group. It is important to discuss with your child’s doctor at 1 year of age about a B12 supplement if your baby is plant-based and no longer breastfeeding.


Plant-based eaters who eat a varied and balanced diet are not at greater risk of iron deficiency anemia than nonvegetarians.23 In one study, children and adults who do not consume red meat do not have a higher incidence of iron-deficiency anemia, compared with their meat-eating counterparts. Be sure to feed infants and children plant-based, iron-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains to help develop long-term healthful eating habits.24

To maximize your child’s iron status, make sure to pair iron-rich foods (such as beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, tofu, quinoa, fortified grains, all seeds, cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, leafy greens, green beans, and dried fruits) with foods rich in vitamin C (such as citrus fruits, peppers, berries, broccoli, and tomatoes) to enhance iron absorption. Omit dairy from the diet as dairy inhibits iron absorption.25


The RDA for zinc ranges from 2 to 11 milligrams per day based on age and sex.26 Plant foods rich in zinc include chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, peas, black beans, pinto beans, peanuts, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, edamame, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, broccoli, mushrooms, and foods fortified with zinc such as cereal. Plant-based eaters need multiple servings of these foods per day to meet their daily zinc intake. Make sure to work with your child’s doctor to make sure your child is meeting their zinc requirements for their age and sex.


While calcium is important for bone health, research is mixed on the benefits of dairy for bones.  A 2005 review published in Pediatrics showed that milk consumption does not improve bone integrity in children.27 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.28 Children can meet their calcium needs from plant-based sources such as collard greens, calcium-fortified plant milks and orange juice, tofu, soy yogurt, cooked kale, almond butter, cooked broccoli, and more.

Vitamin D

The natural source of vitamin D is sunlight, as our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is an important nutrient to consider when meal planning for your child and family. Fortified plant milks, plant-based yogurts, and fortified cereals can be foods to add to your child’s diet to meet their vitamin D needs, in addition to sun exposure. Children may need additional supplementation to meet their vitamin D needs, especially in the winter months. Work with your doctor to check your child’s vitamin D status.


Iodine is an important nutrient for thyroid health, healthy metabolism, and healthy bone and brain growth. This is a key nutrient for young children and teens following any diet. Plant-based sources of iodine include sea vegetables and iodized salt. The best way for vegan children and teens to meet their iodine needs is through iodized salt. For younger children and babies, talk with your doctor if supplementation is needed until your child can consume added salt in their food.

Plant Powered Prescription for Children

  • Exclusively breastfeed for the first 4-6 months is possible.
  • Swap cow’s milk for fortified soy or other nondairy milk.
  • Choose plant protein such as tofu, beans, whole grains, and nuts to support growth.
  • Choose plant-based sources of omega-3, such as ground flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts.
  • Pair iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C to enhance iron absorption.
  • Spend 15-30 minutes in the sun with skin exposed to meet daily vitamin D requirements.

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!

Kids and Vegan Diets: What to Know

Plant-based dietitians Alex Caspero and Whitney English explain why children do not need meat and dairy in order to eat a healthy diet.

Learn More


Healthy Snacks for Kids

Take extra care to make certain your child’s snacks are every bit as healthful as the meals you serve.


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