What To Know About The Safety Of A Vegan Diet For Kids

Last year, around 2% of U.S. adults followed a vegan diet, according to Statista. With a growing emphasis on healthy, sustainable lifestyles and the ever-increasing accessibility to vegan products, it seems likely that more and more families will consider going plant-based. This begs the question: Is it safe for kids to be vegan?

At first, it may sound radical to raise kids without childhood favorites, like grilled cheese sandwiches or carnival corn dogs, instead opting for tofu, tempeh, bean-based meals, and vegan cheese — all of which may require bigger grocery budget. However, others may find it beneficial to raise kids on a balanced variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, not to mention the value of teaching them about sustainability from an early age. To respond to the question: It can be perfectly safe for kids to be vegan as long as their meals are planned meticulously so they consume all of the nutrients they need.

Potential benefits of a vegan diet for kids

As Fox News reports, kids can be safely vegan in most cases as long as their diet includes the right vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Harvard Health elaborates that children need foods rich in iron (like broccoli, spinach, or lentils), calcium (fortified plant-based milk and kale), vitamin D (found in some orange juices!), and zinc for healthy development and immune response. Don't forget about proteins, which are found not only in animal products, but also in nuts, soy, and other sources. A proper vegan diet can be rich in these nutrients, making it a healthy option for young and older diners alike.

A 2021 study found that vegan children exhibit a normal growth rate and are less likely to be obese than their peers who consume animal products. Another study says that among vegan adults, there is a lower risk of developing chronic diseases, like diabetes, cardiovascular challenges, and some types of cancer. However, science doesn't currently have enough evidence to completely back a vegan diet for kids, and parents would do well to seek advice from a professional nutritionist or doctor if they have questions about what's best for their children.

Wondering what a rich, complete vegan kids' meal might look like? One mom advised Fox readers to put "all the colors of the rainbow" on their kids' plate. For example, go for proteins like beans or chickpeas, served alongside fatty and creamy avocado and a juicy pico de gallo. Colorful antioxidants — doesn't it sound delicious?

Challenges of a vegan diet for kids

Despite the proven benefits of plant-based diets, scientists are still researching the long-term effects of a vegan diet on young children, per The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. What's potentially dangerous is that some vegan meals can be low in calcium, vitamin D, zinc, or calories. Of course, as is the case with any diet, these issues can be addressed with thoughtful meal planning. According to BBC, for example, parents can add "healthy oils" to their kids' plant-based meals so they have enough calories and energy for the day.

However, there's more on the table than just nutrient intake: A vegan diet — or change of diet in general — can have an emotional effect on your kid because they may feel left out if they don't eat like their classmates at school or friends during a birthday party, explains Cleveland Clinic. If you're thinking of introducing your kid to veganism, the best thing to do is be flexible: Your kid may not enjoy tempeh on the first try and may have a hard time coming around to broccoli, but they're sure to find their favorite plant-based ingredients and recipes eventually. Experts suggest talking to your children about why you're choosing a vegan diet in the first place and letting them ask questions.