Vegan Kids: Fit for Life
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and this is especially true when it comes to eating habits. The food choices we make have a direct impact on our children’s health – for better or for worse. That’s just one reason why I’m raising my healthy and happy son, Zelic, as a vegan.
As a long-time vegan myself, I know that, unlike meat, eggs and dairy products, most vegan foods are naturally low in fat and calories, contain no cholesterol and are high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and the other vital nutrients that growing bodies need.
You’ve surely heard that the best food for an infant is breast milk, and that’s true. While cow’s milk contains calcium, it also contains animal proteins that produce harmful by-products when they’re broken down. Studies have also shown that dairy products make children more susceptible to colic, recurrent ear infections, allergies, asthma and childhood diabetes. Better sources of calcium include dark-green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, collard greens and kale), almonds, sesame tahini, calcium-fortified soya or rice milk, some brands of tofu and calcium-fortified orange juice.
Zelic is living proof that veggies do a body good. He was 13 days old when I met him in the hospital ICU and 22 days old before I was legally able take control of his diet, and I began immediately feeding him a combination of donated breast milk and calcium-fortified soy formula. I would have preferred to give him only breast milk, but it wasn’t always an option. He’s now 2 years old, and he enjoys eating fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, whole wheat pasta and other wholesome foods – and he’s ahead of the pack in his development.
Zelic was crawling at 6 months and kicking a ball at 10 months. He’s the happiest toddler you’ll ever meet – and one of the most energetic. He’s always busy: running around the apartment, dancing, laughing, playing or pretending to talk on the phone. And despite playing in the dirt and running around barefoot with the best of them, Zelic has never been sick, never had an ear infection and never suffered from colic, and his doctor says his height and weight are just right.
If your child isn’t a vegan, it’s not too late to help him or her develop healthy eating habits. Since children emulate their parents, you can set a good example by consuming more plant-based foods yourself. Kids (and adults) get all the protein they need from foods like peanut butter, whole grains, lentils, beans and whole soya foods, such as tofu and tempeh, and plenty of iron from leafy greens, legumes, sesame seeds and blackstrap molasses.
Children who are fed vegan foods when very young will be starting out on a lifetime of healthy habits. When they’re raised on healthful foods, they’ll be less likely to choose fatty cheese pizza or greasy chicken nuggets when they go off to school. And if the school doesn’t offer healthy vegan options, you can always pack heart-healthy, brown-bag lunches.
And kids who eat vegan foods don’t just have healthy hearts – they also have kind hearts. Raising kids not to take the lives of animals for granted teaches them compassion, non-violence, respect and empathy, which in turn helps make them more sensitive to the feelings of others, including friends and classmates. Plus, since children today are taught to protect the environment, they can feel proud that their vegan diet is environmentally friendly.
Zelic is the apple of my eye, and I want him to grow up healthy and to live in a kinder, greener world. I’m sure all parents feel the same way about their kids. Embracing vegan foods is a great way to start.
Posted by Jason Baker