There are so many health benefits to encouraging our children to eat more plant-based meals as a part of a varied diet. Finding options that are balanced and a good source of protein, can naturally be a concern for parents. So we asked Paediatric Dietitian Paula Hallam @plantbasedkids some questions on your behalf.
Scroll down to see a couple of delicious recipes from her new cook book too! Sweetcorn Fritters and Green Edamame Hummus
Is it possible to get all the protein and nutrients your child needs from a plant based meals?
Yes definitely! In terms of protein, young children don’t actually need very much.
Daily protein needs for 1 to 3 year olds are 15g per day and for 4 to 6 year olds 20g per day.
There are many plant-based foods that are good sources of protein and achieving adequate amounts is easily achievable.
What are the best sources of plant based protein?
There are so many options! Some examples of the best sources of protein include all types of beans, lentils, soya foods such as tofu, soya ‘milk’, edamame beans and tempeh. Nuts, seeds and grains such as oats, wheat, quinoa and barley also all contribute to plant-based protein intakes.
Falafels, hummus, nut butters, mild curries and chillies are all examples of child- friendly, protein rich plant-based foods.
Are there any other nutrients that need to be considered on a plant-based eating diet for children?
In terms of other nutrients - calcium and iron are two key nutrients for all young children (in addition, see the supplement recommendations below).
Toddlers 1 to 3 years of age need 350mg calcium per day and 4 to 6 year olds need 450mg calcium per day. Calcium is important for growing bones and vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium.
Good sources of plant-based calcium include fortified dairy alternative drinks or yoghurts, fortified breads and cereals and calcium-set tofu, as well as calcium in oranges, sesame seeds or tahini, green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, okra and spring greens and some nuts especially almonds.
Toddlers 1 to 3 years of age need just under 7mg iron per day and 4 to 6 year olds need just over 6mg iron per day. Iron is so important as it is needed for the formation haemoglobin in red blood cells, which transports oxygen around the body. Iron also has a vital role to play in the immune system and for children’s learning and development.
Good sources of plant-based iron include all types of beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, nuts*, seeds*, tofu and dried fruits such as figs, apricots, raisins and dates.
Plant-based sources of iron aren’t absorbed quite as well as animal based sources, but including a vitamin C rich food (broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits) in the same meal, increases the absorption of iron by 4-6 times!
*ground nuts/seeds or smooth nut/seed butters for under 4s
Do children who follow a plant based or vegetarian diet need to take supplements?
In the UK, it is recommended that all breastfed babies and children under 5 are given a supplement of vitamins A and D, regardless of their diets.
If babies/children are drinking more than 500ml infant formula per day, they do not need a supplement as the formula is already supplemented.
For plant-based children (and adults), a vitamin B12 supplement is recommended as there are no plant sources of vitamin B12, unless a food is fortified. It is recommended that breastfeeding women supplement with 10-25µg vitamin B12 per day and 2.5-5µg per day from 7-8 months of age for babies and young children.
Other supplements to consider include iodine and DHA (a type of omega-3 fat) from 1 year of age and for breastfeeding women.
Paula has a free supplement download with further guidance on my website: Supplement Guide
SERVINGS: 6 FRITTERS
This is a great recipe for a lunchtime meal or as an addition to a lunch box. It is perfect for little hands to pick up but equally delicious for adults too. Suitable for babies from 6 months onwards.
I like to serve the fritters with tofu and fruit to make a
- 1 tin of sweetcorn (165g drained weight)
- 3 spring onions, sliced
- 200ml dairy alternative drink
- 150g self-raising flour
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp olive oil, for frying
1. Combine the sweetcorn, spring onion, dairy alternative drink, flour, flaxseed, and smoked paprika in a large mixing bowl, stirring until you have a thick batter.
2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, then add spoonfuls of the sweetcorn mixture. Cook the fritters for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown.
3. I like to serve these fritters with strips of tofu for protein and iron as well as some fruit such as orange segments (see notes).
300g firm tofu
These fritters are perfect for babies from six months of age. For young babies (six to nine months), serve the orange in large wedges with the skin on and membranes removed. For babies over nine months of age, you can serve the orange cut into smaller pieces with the membranes removed.
Tofu is made from soya beans which are a common allergen. If this is the first time your baby has had soya, refer to our weaning guide for further information and guidance on introducing allergens.
SERVINGS: 8-10 BABY/TODDLER PORTIONS OR 4-5 ADULT PORTIONS
As a variation of the usual chickpea-based dip, here’s a green hummus made with edamame beans and peas. It’s so tasty and super nutritious: a fantastic source of plant based iron, protein, good fats, and vitamin C. Suitable from six months onwards.
- 130g frozen edamame beans
- 130g frozen peas
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 small bunch of mint
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 125ml water
- Cook the frozen edamame beans and peas for 3-4 minutes until soft, then drain and allow to cool.
- Add all the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
Serve and enjoy!
We hope you found this a helpful read if you are looking to encourage your children to eat more plants this Veganuary, and throughout the year!