If you’re looking to optimize their nutrient intake or find creative ways to help them love their greens, Whitney E. RD, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles and one half of the duo Plant-Based Juniors, shares five must-know tips for every parent raising their children on plant-based diets.
5 Essential Tips for Raising Babies and Toddlers on a Plant-Based Diet
1. Build Out a PB3 Plate
To begin, Whitney advises planning every meal and snack with one food from each of the PB3 categories:
legumes, nuts, and seeds
grains and starches
fruits and vegetables
“Doing so ensures kids get the nutrients they need to thrive,” Whitney explains.
For instance, a sample PB3 meal may include almond butter on whole-wheat toast, topped with banana slices.
2. Plan Meals Strategically for Maximum Nutrient Absorption
While you may imagine that it’s enough to simply ensure that your child gets plenty of vitamins and minerals, it’s important to understand how certain nutrients complement one another.
For instance, it’s key that your baby or toddler gets enough iron into their diet, as iron supports energy, movement, and cognition. However, animal sources of iron are easier to absorb than their plant-based alternatives.
For that reason, Whitney advises pairing iron-rich foods (such as beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products) with vitamin C-rich fruits and veggies (such as strawberries, citrus fruits, and bell peppers).
“Vitamin C can increase iron absorption by three to six times,” Whitney shares, allowing your bundle of joy to get the most bang for their bite.
3. Get Creative to Make Plant-Based Eating Fun
Youngsters are notorious for not being enthusiastic about veggies — and that poses an especially difficult challenge for plant-based families!
However, Whitney advises flexing your creative chops (no pun intended!) in the kitchen to make meals and mealtime more fun. “Rather than hide veggies, find creative ways to include them in meals that your kids will enjoy,” she suggests.
For instance, she recommends:
adding spinach and other greens to “Green Dragon” smoothies
turning sweet potatoes and carrots into different shapes with mini cookie cutters
Plus, if your child loves a certain character, show, or movie, incorporate those elements into their plant-based meals as well. After all, Whitney’s bottom line is to ensure that their favorite foods aren’t only nutritious, but also fun!
“My son Caleb happily eats chopped broccoli when it's mixed into macaroni because we told him it's Yoda's favorite food,” she shares.
4. Don’t Give Up!
If at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself (and your go-to veggies!) up and try again.
“Just because your babe shuns a certain food, don't give up on it,” Whitney begins. “It can take multiple exposures before kids will try a new food — and even longer before they start to regularly eat it.”
That said, she emphasizes the importance of exposure. If, for instance, your toddler pouts at the first sight of peas, perhaps include it in a vegetable medley every few days.
“Even if you know they're not going to touch it, keep including a variety of foods on their plate,” she adds. Stay persistent, and they may come around soon enough.
5. Supplement to Fill in Nutrient Gaps
Last but not least, Whitney wants parents to know that supplementing is totally fine, healthy, and above all, advised, for plant-based eaters.
“Ditch the idea that ‘natural’ diets don't include supplements,” she starts. “All diets contain foods that are supplemented in one way or another: vitamin D is added to cow's milk, folic acid is added to bread, and iodine is added to salt. That’s because some nutrients are harder to obtain in our modern world.
”In particular, Whitney advises vitamin B12 supplementation for all plant-based eaters, as animal foods are the primary source of this key nutrient. However, your little one may require other supplements depending on their dietary staples and needs.
For more evidence-based tips and tricks for raising plant-based eaters, order Whitney’s new book, The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler, available on May 18, 2021.
Michele Ross is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Los Angeles. Clean skincare and hiking make her heart happy.