So far as it’s possible, our kids were born and raised vegan (except for honey, which we love raw and use often).
Yes–we conquered three vegan pregnancies on a single-income, blue collar budget (a story for another time–and if we did it, you can, too), and then I breastfed the children on this same diet and transitioned them to solids sans animal products. At one point, we even made our own vegan baby formula (using this recipe as a base) for our oldest daughter to compensate for my waning milk supply when we turned up pregnant around the time she turned six months.
What I know for sure now is that there has been far too much worry and insecurity projected on our family about the supposed inadequacies of our children’s diet of just plant-derived foods.
But where do they get their protein? – Pediatrician
Don’t experiment on the girl, Joy. – My Dad (♥), speaking in regards to our choice to forego store-bought baby formulas and make our own vegan, soy-free one instead.
Oh, they’re vegan? Okay. Well, how do you make sure they get all their nutrients? – Random people at different times.
Truly, relying on plants for food cannot be done haphazardly. It does require extra care, understanding (sometimes research), planning and tracking–as the best outcomes in life do.
So here are five specific, practical ways we’re doing it. For your convenience, there are links included that will take you to where you can buy most of these things on Amazon. And know that we’re not affiliated with any of the brands mentioned and aren’t being compensated by them or anyone else for mentioning them. These are just the brands we use at home :).
Hemp Seeds, Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds
Listen, these seeds, right here? Fantastic. They’re chalk full of iron, good fats and trace minerals, and they’re one of the reasons we are 100% secure in having our babies be vegan eaters.
♥ Hemp Seeds are one of the most nutritionally dense foods out there that we’ve come across. Just three tablespoons are full of Vitamin B1 (important for energy, metabolism, vision and a healthy heart), iron, magnesium (a huge deficiency among people world-wide) and manganese. They’ve also got notable amounts of folate, phosphorous and potassium. They’re mild-tasting and have a nutty kind of flavor that pairs well across the board. Remember to keep them in the refrigerator. We love these ones by Manitoba Harvest.
♥ Flax Seed is such a versatile, time-tested nutritional staple. If you’re vegan and bake, then you’re familiar with the ubiquitous flax egg. And if you’re one who loves DIY vegan beauty, maybe you’ve watched tutorials on how to make flax seed hair gel (YES, indeed)! For our family, this add-in is irreplaceable. Not only does flaxseed contain two grams of fiber in just one tablespoon, and offer notable amounts of Vitamin B1 and Magnesium, but it is one of the best plant sources of highly anti-inflammatory Omega-3 Fatty Acids, in the form Alpha-Linoleic Acid (ALA)*. Our second daughter has sickle cell disease (a post for another time), and flax is an important way we address the inflammation inherent to the disease and keep her pain-free. It’s also the very best source of lignans out there (wow!), which are fiber-associated compounds found mostly in plants that have a smorgasbord of benefits, like hormonal balance, lowering bad cholesterol and THE HIGHEST ANTIOXIDANT VALUE of any other fruit or vegetable rated by the USDA! You can buy ’em pre-ground or whole. The ground ones digest better and are a lot easier to incorporate. Some people buy the whole seeds and grind them on their own–but we don’t have time for that! So we buy these.
♥ Chia Seeds can do so much for you, once you understand how they work (much like husbands, lol). They’re tiny little things that swell to twice their size or more when you give them a drink, and have a HUGE nutritional impact. One ounce (about two tablespoons) has loads of Magnesium, Manganese and Phosphorous. They also provide good, quality protein (good to know in case someone well-meaning wants to badger you about how your poor, starved little ones will ever get enough protein) and are high in fiber (which is why they sop up liquid so efficiently). Like flax seed, they’re also known for having a high concentration of ALA. We keep these ones around.
*Note: There are three most important omega-3 fatty acids–ALA, docosahexaenoic aside (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA are thought to be the most beneficial to the body, but are generally not found in plants. The body does convert ALA to both EPA and DHA, but in minuscule amounts. Seaweed does contain some EPA, but it’s often recommended that non-seafood-eating peeps supplement (there are vegan supplements out there, like this one).
How to Incorporate
What we love so, so much about these seeds is how easy it is to incorporate them into almost anything.
Here are four simple ways to use them:
1. Add a few tablespoons to a pot of organic oatmeal. Use maple syrup, a nut butter and your favorite non-dairy milk as well, and your kids probably won’t even notice that they’re eating seeds!
2. Throw some into a fruit smoothie. Smoothies always work–they just do! Kids love them, and any selection of seeds in tablespoon amounts will just blend right in to your yummy, creamy creation. Remember that flax and chia seeds, in particular, will thicken anything you add them to. So account for that by adding extra liquid, so the texture you’re aiming for isn’t lost.
3. Add a tablespoon to your kids’ favorite non-dairy yogurt. Hemp seeds work really well here, but flax and chia can to. If you use the latter, just know that if they sit for too long in the yogurt before it’s eaten, you’ll have more of a pudding (that your kids may or may not like) in the end.
4. Add a couple tablespoons to your pancake/waffle/cake batter. Of course, we love our very own It’s Really Vegan mix, and can vouch that it’s just as delicious with a hemp-flax-chia seed trio added.
Nutritional Yeast Flakes
Nutritional yeast is an absolute must-have in the Cesar household. We sprinkle it on everything some days, and it’s one of the secrets to delicious vegan cheese sauces and parmesan. Although it’s produced from the same Saccharomyces cerevisiae as baker’s and brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is unique and especially suited to nourish vegan kids. The fortified kind is what you want–for the B12 content in particular–and you’ll need to make sure that the brand you use is vegan (the medium on which the yeast is grown may be animal-related). Check these out.
Although vitamin/mineral content may vary by brand, generally, just a couple tablespoons of fortified nutritional yeast contain all you need for the day (and then some) in B vitamins, plus a significant amount of immune-boosting zinc and varying amounts of other trace minerals like iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese and copper. And, it’s a complete protein, folks!
How to Incorporate
It’s so easy to make nutritional yeast work for kids.
Here are four simple ways to use them:
1. Add a couple tablespoons to a pot of oatmeal or multigrain hot cereal. In fact, we add yeast flakes to our kids’ oatmeal right along with the aforementioned seeds. They love it.
2. Sprinkle (or scoop) it into pasta sauces and soups. Whether it’s marinara, vegan alfredo or homemade cashew cheese sauce, nutritional yeast is an absolute fit. Savory soup?–add a couple tablespoons. Blends right in and only makes these dishes more delightful.
3. Add a few tablespoons to your popcorn. Popping your own popcorn is cool, but around here, we eat our popcorn pre-popped and bagged! No matter what, a little vegan butter and yeast flakes are literally perfect with popcorn, and if your kids are like ours, they’ll keep wanting more.
4. Offer them straight-up. This may not work for everyone, but it works for us! If we spread a half-cup of flakes on a plate and leave it for our children, they’ll have the flakes on their little fingers and licked up in no time. And what kid doesn’t want an excuse to lick their fingers? Try it!
Seaweed is just plain good. At least, I think so now. I hadn’t eaten it much or realized how delicious it was until I spent nearly a year in South Korea teaching English. “Kim”–the Korean word for roasted sheets of salted seaweed perhaps more commonly known by their Japanese name, “Nori” (which is only sometimes roasted and usually not seasoned)–was a fixture of how I ate there. And boy, was it delicious. So flavorful, great on it’s own as a snack, or even better in combo with rice, veggies and tofu! And it seemed to satisfy something my body was craving.
That “something” could’ve very well been iodine. Just a few sheets of nori contain your entire recommended daily intake of this key trace mineral. (Other types of seaweed, like Wakame and Kombu, contain much more iodine per gram). Our thyroid needs iodine to make its hormones, which impact the body’s metabolism, importantly. And while iodine deficiency isn’t common, it happens to be the biggest cause of hypothyroidism in the world.
Nori is also a source of vitamin A, B2, B9, C, manganese and iron. In fact, the iron it contains is more easily absorbable than other plant forms of iron and doesn’t seem to be impacted by the heat during roasting. B12 can be another benefit, although much of it may be destroyed by roasting or even seasoning of the nori.
Finally, while seaweed does offer some Omega-3 benefit in the form of EPA, it doesn’t quite make the cut when it comes to DHA (just as flaxseed doesn’t). Interestingly and awesomely, micro algae oil seems to offer the (vegan) answer here, and is increasingly being considered as a more sustainable alternative to fish oil.
How to Incorporate
Here are some fun ways to incorporate seaweed for your kids:
1. Give it to them as a snack, plain. It really is tasty and may be just the right thing for your children. Not to worry though, seaweed has to be an acquired taste for some, so if the kiddos don’t take to it at first, know that they may grow to appreciate it in time. (And if not, sneak it in :)).
2. Sprinkle it onto pasta dishes. Spaghetti and marinara, fettuccine alfredo, mac and cheese, pesto…it just works! Seaweed can be crushed up (or even bought this way), and is right at home with any of the above.
3. Add it to soups, salads or sandwiches. Your kids are bound to already like a kind of soup (organic miso ramen, maybe?), salad or vege sandwich. Make it a habit to add some crushed seaweed to the mix.
4. Popcorn. You know what to do: Popcorn + crushed nori and yeast flakes + melted vegan butter = THE BEST MOVIE NIGHT!
Some oils are garbage. Think genetically modified, inorganic corn oil as an example. But then, some oils…they’re just awesome. Enter organic, cold pressed coconut oil. Our toddlers consume it daily, and because of that, we have greater peace of mind that their little bodies are getting what they need.
Coconut oil is a fundamental of life in these parts. We use it for cooking, for our skin, for our hair…even for the baby dolls’ skin and hair (baby dolls in our home receive the utmost care). There are tons of benefits here, but I’ll briefly describe the ones that have us sold related to nourishment. They really all come down to coconut oil’s saturated (yes, saturated) fat content. Over 90% of the fats in coconut oil are medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are metabolized much more quickly than other fats. Specifically, about half the MCFA content of coconut oil is lauric acid. Lauric acid fights candida, fights other pathogenic fungi, bacteria and viruses, can help clear up UTIs, helps prevent and heal stomach ulcers, and offers quick energy. It even makes omega-3 fatty acids more bioavailable when taken together with them.
How to Incorporate
Here are a few ways we use this great stuff:
1. Add it to oatmeal. A couple tablespoons in a warm pot of yummy oatmeal are the perfect addition. Our kids love the taste.
2. Plop some in a smoothie. And if it’s a cold smoothie, let it blend really well so that the hardened coconut oil (the oil stiffens up when it’s chilled) doesn’t disrupt the smooth texture. Delicious!
3. Twirl it into a homemade salad dressing–or add it to a store-bought one. Miso paste, agave, Bragg’s liquid aminos, tahini, a little vegan mayo and coconut oil are a STELLAR combo! Even the kids can’t get enough baby greens when they’re coated in it!
4. Add some to warmed non-dairy milk. Throw in a touch of pure vanilla extract and cinnamon, while you’re at it. And pair the beverage with banana bread. Your little ones will love it.
Fruit is man’s most compatible, simplest and very best food! I couldn’t imagine a happy life without it. Colorful, full of vitality, sweet, juicy, satisfying…fruit! And some of the best fruit of all are BERRIES. And some of the best berries according to our kids? BLUEberries! Rounding out the last of our five practical assurances of nutrition for our kids, welcome blueberries.
Blueberries are called a superfood (as in, more than your average food) with reason! Just a cup gives you a quarter of the daily recommendation for vitamin C and manganese, and over a third of it for vitamin K. Perhaps the furthest-reaching effects of blueberries are tied to their heightened antioxidant content in the form of flavonoids. Because of flavonoids like anthocyanins, blueberries vacuum up free radicals. This means less inflammation, prevention of some of the inevitable oxidative DNA damage we experience daily, and safeguards against cognitive impairments. Brain food for our babies? We’ll take that!
Another thing we love about these little guys is their versatility. Find them freeze-dried, frozen, powdered or fresh, and your kids will reap benefits in every case.
How to Incorporate
Here are a few ideas about how to give them to your children:
1. Add them to your favorite waffle batter. It’s fun to crush them up, whisk them into our very own It’s Really Vegan mixes, and make crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside blueberry waffles!
2. Blueberry-Banana Smoothie. Frozen fruit, oat milk and agave–you know what to do!
3. Toss them into some yogurt (or vegan ice cream). A little granola, plus fresh blueberries to top off the kids’ yummy coconut yogurt? (If your kids are like ours, they won’t tolerate the obvious berries in their yogurt, but they’ve never said no to berries and ice cream!)
4. Juice them. Why not find some time to go blueberry picking with your little ones and let them help you juice a couple pounds later on? Drink up your fresh blueberry juice with straws (in fun cups, maybe) and freeze any leftovers for ice-pops another day. (If your precious kids are like ours, this proposed endeavor is a full day’s work, honey.)
Comment below to tell us all about how it’s been raising vegan babies! Or, if you’re transitioning your kids, or even just thinking about having them go vegan, we wanna know what your process has been like.
Let’s make this investment for our children. They are worth it!