In the past, vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with being a hippy. Things are changing, and plant-based lifestyles are becoming more and more mainstream. Many vegetarian or vegan parents have strong beliefs and are choosing to raise their children with the same diet and lifestyle. As a parent, this is completely logical.
Who wants to be cooking two separate meals? Vegan and vegetarian diets vary in terms of what foods are allowed and what foods are not, and can fall anywhere from quite liberal to extremely strict. Should kids be on a restricted diet at all? What risks are involved with these types of diets?
One of the biggest risks with these diets are nutritional deficiencies. Depending what types of foods are restricted, children (and adults) may be put at risk for deficiencies. Because children have higher needs for growth, they are more at risk than their parents.
First off, we have to separate vegan and vegetarian. Vegetarian diets may or may not include eggs, dairy, and even fish. Because of this, some vegetarian diets are nutritionally complete. The less restrictive the diet, the more variety of nutrients that diet can provide.
Vegan diets are much more restrictive because they eliminate any foods of, or containing, anything of animal origin. This includes meat, dairy, eggs, and anything with traces of animal product as an ingredient.
These diets are high contenders for a potential deficiency in B12, calcium, iron and other nutrients. Vegan kids will need a lot of high Calorie foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds, beans, and vegetable oils to make sure they’re getting enough Calories and protein for adequate growth.
There are many benefits to these diets and they can be very healthy. For one, they eliminate a lot of processed and high calorie foods that we don’t need. Secondly, they are often high in plant-based foods which provides a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, and low in Calories and harmful fats.
The key to following a vegan or vegetarian diet successfully is planning and knowledge. Knowledge of what nutrients are in which foods, and planning a variety of foods to make sure you get enough of each. Again, this is particularly important for vegans due to the highly restrictive elements of the diet. It’s a lot of work if done properly, but it can be done. If you’re not able to or don’t want to spend the time to plan properly, I wouldn’t recommend this diet for you or your kids. Alternatively, you can visit a Registered Dietitian to get help with planning.
Since nutrition labeling became mandatory in 2005, many people have started to take advantage of this extra information and be proactive about their health. As a parent, reading labels for yourself can be confusing enough. You might look for things like sodium for your high blood pressure, or fat content for your waist line or cholesterol levels. But should you be looking for different things for your children? This partly depends on the age of your child. Do you know what to look for on a nutrition label for your kids?
For children, there are certain nutrients that are of concern:
Sodium (salt): young children (under the age of one year) are not recommended to have foods that are high in salt (such as deli meats) because their kidneys aren’t fully developed and extra sodium puts extra stress on them. Unfortunately, many processed and packaged foods are very high in salt, including snack crackers and soups. For young children it’s best to limit their intake of processed and packaged foods.
Fat: Unlike adults, young children should not be on a low-fat diet. Children under 2 should be drinking full-fat (3.25%) milk and eating full-fat yogurt. As children get older you can switch them to lower fat dairy products. However, just like adults, intake of unhealthy fats (saturated and trans) should be limited. Try to avoid trans fats from processed and packaged foods altogether.
Fibre: Whether it’s adults or kids, fibre is always a good thing. High fibre foods fill you up faster and slow the release of sugar into the blood, which helps control hunger and blood sugar levels. Fruits and vegetables are always high in fibre. For cereals and other foods, look for 3-4g of fibre per serving. However, if your child has a small appetite, fills up easily, or is underweight, you may actually want to limit high fibre foods in favour of getting your child to eat more Calories. Speak to your physician or dietitian if you are concerned with your child’s growth or appetite.
Iron: Iron is especially important for young children under the age of one and those that don’t like a lot of meat. Iron will be listed as a percentage daily value (DV) which can make things confusing. If you’re child doesn’t eat a lot of meat, look for high iron foods with more than 15% DV for iron. Good non-meat sources of iron are: iron-fortified cereals, beans (kidney, pinto, navy, etc) and lentils, such as chickpeas.
Sugar: Excess sugar intake in children and adults can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Many processed and packaged foods have tons of sugar added to them. Check the ingredient list for words such as “high-fructose corn syrup”, “glucose”, “sucrose”, and “syrup”. These words mean “sugar”. The best way to avoid added sugar is to cook as much as you can from scratch, but sometimes convenience foods win out. When grocery shopping, look for items where sugar is not in the first 5 ingredients on the list.
Most of what we eat consists of acid-forming foods – that is, highly processed, white, sugar-laden, fatty and heavy in meat and dairy products. An acidic environment paves the way for disease. The evidence for this lies in the statistics of our current health – diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and obesity are skyrocketing – even among young children.
Foods are categorically acidic or alkaline
based on how they affect the body – not whether they are acidic or not. For instance, lemon may taste acidic, however, once in the body, lemon is alkalizing after being metabolized. An acidic environment provides the foundation for disease to develop and thrive.
In contrast, many diseases, including some cancers cannot survive in a more aerobic (oxygen-rich), alkaline state. The body functions optimally at a slightly alkaline pH of 7.5. A diet ratio of about 70% alkaline to 30% acidifying foods is best for optimal pH. The current SAD (Standard American Diet)
is more of the reverse of this, with the majority of food intake being acidic. Alkalizing the diet is one of the best ways to practice prevention.
pH is a very delicate balance that the body constantly and vigilantly maintains… the slightest variation in pH could be near fatal with symptoms varying from coma induced from blood sugar imbalance to convulsions and quite possibly - death.
Acid vs. Alkaline Foods
Foods that are acidic are:
- Coffee, Alcohol and soft drinks
- White flour and products (pastries)
- Whole grains
- Fats (such as trans fats)
Foods that are Alkalizing are:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruit - most
- Green Beans
- Dandelion greens
- Tomatoes - cooked
- Vegetables – most, including sea vegetables
Foods like cheeses, milk and yogurt tend to lean more towards acid than alkaline because of pasteurization – which makes them more acidic. Sometimes they are referred to as buffers, but they are essentially acid forming because they are processed and not in raw form.
From these lists, it is obvious to see that the Western Diet consists mostly of acidifying foods – heavy meat consumption, white flour, fats and sugars. These lists do not suggest eating more salt and potatoes - (want fries with that?), but rather give an idea of what is acid forming and what is alkalizing to the body. What we need is balance. For optimum health, alkalize!
Believe it or not, everyone’s busy today - even your 3 year old. With dance class, swimming lessons, music and play dates, toddlers have very little time to pencil in healthy meals – especially if they’re always on the run.
Eating on the go has shown up in childhood obesity rates – which are skyrocketing out of control. Western society now hosts a growing population of fat kids – with over 30% considered overweight or obese. It’s just too easy anymore to grab and go at the drive thru. But what is happening in light of the statistics is too worrisome to ignore. Our children are malnourished. Don’t mistake that for under-nourished (not enough food). There’s just too much bad food.
One thing to remember is to have the proper ‘utensils’ for toddlers. I have found that the FooGo is a fantastic food container much like Mom and Dad’s Thermos when they were young. These pint sized stainless steel containers can hold everything from soups to stews, to juniors’ favorite mac ‘n cheese, all just a spoonful away. Why get mystery meat on a cold, white bun when you can serve up Mom’s homemade chili in a split second?
Speaking of chili - soups, stews and pasta dishes are easily made in large batches and freeze well. Consider these as main courses for taking on the run. It’s not a mess when they can eat right out of the container. Just remember to pack a spoon.
Grazing on the Go
Kids love to graze… that is, they nibble – sometimes all throughout the day. But little bodies are growing each and every day, and they need a constant and quality source of fuel for building up muscles, bones, and brains. Consider some of these healthy on-the-go snacks for the next soccer night:
- Fresh cut veggies and hummus – kids love to dip things…so, they often love hummus. Not a garlic fan, try guacamole – made from the good fats of avocados.
- Trail mix – make your own… don’t buy cheap brands already made up in plastic bags – these can get rancid quickly. Buy quality nuts and seeds and store them in the refrigerator (remember, nuts are a legume – like meat, they need to be kept cooler so as not to go bad). Add a little chopped dark chocolate, dried fruits and even carob chips to add some sweet to the salty if they like.
- Wholegrain muffins – muffins freeze well and can be packed in no time. Butter ‘em up with some nut butter or natural peanut butter for a protein punch.
- Fruit – pretty much any kind can travel well. Whether it’s cut up and stored in a container or remains whole, fruit travels as well as your toddler – and maybe even better at times. Think color - berries, oranges and grapes, bananas, mangos, kiwi, pineapple, plums and watermelon.
OK, you didn’t have time to pack anything – now what? If you really have to end up at the drive thru, then consider things like submarine sandwiches that can be oredered vegetarian (I’d skip the nitrate-laden luncheon meats here) and prepared on whole wheat and whole grain buns. Opt for the milk over carbonated soft drinks, go for the apple slices, and if at all possible, get something from a local grocery store, which usually has healthier options like fruits, yogurt and granola and veggies – ready to go.
And finally - having a small, lunch-sized cooler in the trunk or back seat provides for cool storage and easy access. And let them have a say – bring them shopping and teach them to choose healthier options. Kids appreciate being involved in their own choices.
It doesn’t really take much to make sure good food choices are readily available for your little superstar. Fuel them well, and watch them go!
By now we all know the wonderful things about vegetables and how important it is for kids to get enough to meet their vitamin and mineral needs. Telling kids to eat their vegetables because they’re “good for you” doesn’t always swing their vote, and getting to to their greens can sometimes feel like pulling teeth.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help peak your child’s interest in vegetables. Here are some tricks and tips for getting your kids to go for the good stuff:
- Don’t use rewards. Telling your kids to finish their broccoli before they can have dessert sends the wrong message. By doing this, dessert becomes the holy grail and broccoli becomes the obstacle to getting there.
- Learn what your kids like. Some kids won’t eat boiled veggies because they’re too soft or mushy, but they like the crunch of quick-steamed or baked veggies. Cooking methods that don’t change the colour, texture or flavour of vegetables too much are often better accepted by kids. However, different kids like different textures. Knowing your own child’s preferences can go a long way in getting them to eat more.
- Make it fun! Studies have shown that making healthy foods more appealing to kids increases their intake of those foods. Using fun names like “white trees” for cauliflower makes it more fun to eat.
- Get kids involved. Let your kids decide which vegetables they want for dinner and even get them to help you prepare them. Kids who help make meals are more likely to want to eat them.
- Offer veggies at all meals and snacks throughout the day. They may not eat a lot at one sitting, but even if they just nibble on a few veggies at each meal and snack it can add up to a few servings.
- Be patient. Continually offering foods over time will increase the likelihood your child will try that food. Patience is best, and remember, never for a child to eat any food.
- Eat your own veggies. Your kids are watching what you do more than they are listening to what you say. If you’re not eating your vegetables, don’t expect your kids to.
- Disguise your vegetables. If you’re still having a tough time, disguising veggies can be a useful trick to help increase the nutritional value of your child’s diet. Puree or finely chop vegetables and add them to everything from tomato sauces, homemade burgers, soups, and muffin batter. Or try adding finely chopped pickles, lettuce or tomato to sandwich spreads and they will likely go unnoticed.
For some reason, juice seems to have become synonymous with children. These days, we serve juice without even thinking. We send juice boxes to school in lunches, we serve it with meals and snacks, and drink it when we’re thirsty. My question is: what’s wrong with water?
My issues with juice are simple. First, it’s used as a substitute for water. So often I see people downing the sweet stuff like it’s going out of style. The problem is that juice is loaded with Calories and sugar that you could avoid with plain old water. The truth is, nutritionally, juice is not far off from soda. Think about how many oranges you would have to squeeze to get 1 cup of juice. 3? 4? That’s a lot of oranges! What you’re left with in that cup of juice is the sugar and Calories from 3 or 4 oranges, and none of the fibre. Juice should be a treat, not a regular thirst-quencher.
Secondly, there are too many impostors out there. “Cocktails”, “beverages”, and “punches” abound grocery store shelves and the packaging would have you believe there’s nothing but fresh-squeezed juice in the carton. Not so. Many of these other “beverages” have tons of additives and added sugar. As if we needed more sugar in our sugary drinks!
Juice isn’t all bad. It does have some vitamins and minerals, but so does whole fruit. However, whole fruit also has fibre, less Calories, and the fill-up factor that juice doesn’t have. Kids do not need juice. Period. Although studies have shown that drinking 100% fruit juice may not contribute to obesity like other sugary beverages, it is still a concentrated source of sugar and Calories and so, should be viewed as a treat like other sweets. If juice is a regular thing in your household, now may be a good time to try to cut back. If you’re going to have juice, there are a few things you can and should do.
- Put a limit on it. One serving of juice is 1/2 cup or 4 oz. This should be the limit for young children for the day. As kids get older, 6-8 oz is appropriate.
- Don’t dilute! There is no need to dilute juice. In fact, it can interfere with a child’s ability to develop a liking for plain water.
- Serve in a cup. Giving juice in bottles can increase the risk of dental caries.
- Make sure it’s 100% fruit juice. Look for the words “100% juice” on the label. Fruit “cocktails”, “punches” and “beverages” are NOT juice.
There are so many things you want to teach your kids: to be polite, wash their hands, keep their rooms clean. But what are you teaching your kids about food? In the past 30 years it seems food has been largely forgotten or simply taken for granted. Part of the reason the obesity epidemic is as bad as it is, is because at some point we stopped learning about food and we became so busy with our daily lives that we turned to convenience foods. We let other people make our food and we don’t know where it comes from, who made it, or what’s in it.
It’s a vicious cycle. If our parents weren’t around to teach us how to cook or relied on convenience foods, that is what we know and what we will inevitably pass on to our children. We need to break that cycle. We are now learning what the industrial food system has done to our health, and we are beginning to make positive changes. Knowledge is power and it’s extremely important to teach your children about food.
The Five most important things to teach your kids about food:
- What real food is. Real food does not come in a box and does not have a label or a long ingredient list full of words you can’t pronounce. Real food should be the rule, “food-like” substances should be the exception.
- You are what you eat. You’ve heard it a million times, and that’s because it’s true. Eating a lot of food that isn’t good for you will make you feel, well, not good! Teach your kids that choosing healthy foods will help them in school, improve their soccer game, and give them more energy to play with their friends (as if they need it!).
- How to cook. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart and you don’t need to make your kids into mini Jamie Olivers (although, it would be great if you could!) but you do need to teach your kids the basic skills for how to prepare healthy food. Get them involved in the grocery shopping and in the kitchen, and show them that cooking is fun!
- To listen to hunger and fullness cues. It may seem obvious that part of the obesity problem comes from overeating, but why do we overeat? Overeating usually occurs when we override our fullness cues, when we pay attention to our eyes and eat until the food is gone rather than stopping when our bodies are telling us that we’ve had enough. Help your child listen to their body by letting them decide when they’re finished eating, and never force your child to finish what’s on their plate.
- Where their food comes from. Take your kids to your local farm and ask to go on a tour. Show your kids where lettuce and potatoes come from. Your kids will be more interested in the food and more likely to eat those foods if they know more about what they’re eating. Starting a backyard garden or even a windowsill herb garden is a great way to get the kids involved in gardening. They will love to watch their plants grow and it’s a great way for you to teach them how to use that food from “farm” to table.
And remember, the best way to teach your kids about healthy foods is to be a good role model!
Not many foods would be able to bear the name “perfect food”, but breast milk proudly wears the label. Anxious as a new mom only a few years ago, I opted to breastfeed my daughter. Nothing could have prepared me for the challenge. I thought childbirth would be challenging, but it was a cakewalk compared to breastfeeding. At first, I envied new moms with glowing smiles – abundant with milk while their satisfied babies cooed and cuddled. The breast just came naturally for their babies.
However, for me at first, it was exhausting, frustrating and seemingly impossible. I think I ended up crying more for the first few weeks than my new baby. What I had to do was learn to breastfeed my new little princess, and this took a great deal of patience and effort. I often wanted to quit… just throw in the towel and run for the formula, but my determination paid off and I proudly gave her nature’s most perfect food for 18 months. The challenges in the beginning became soothing, comforting, pleasant and bonding. I soon got over the irritation of sore nipples and engorgement and learned to master the art - and it is an art -of breastfeeding.
Why is breast the best?
Breast milk compares very differently to other forms of milk, say - like cow’s milk. In nutritional comparison, cow’s milk contains 3 times more protein than human milk, and is substantially lower in complex carbohydrates – of which is the largest component of human milk. We tend to think that protein is best, but for baby, complex carbohydrates are required for development and growth, not heavy protein. Human milk does have a little more fat in it than in cow’s milk, but the type of fat here is “good fats” – specifically what babies need for brain growth and development.
Human milk contains a smaller ratio of calcium, phosphorus and sodium compared to cow’s milk, but again, these ratios are much more adapted to a new infant, whereas the higher levels of these micronutrients in cow’s milk can lead to excesses of these elements. This can be hard on kidneys and other organs. Often infants do not digest cow’s milk very well. It was explained to me once using this analogy: molecularly speaking, cow’s milk is a much larger “molecule” – something like trying to push a basketball through a garden hose, whereas human milk has a much smaller molecular size – like pushing a marble through a garden hose.
Human milk “fits” through babies’ digestive tracts much better than cow’s milk. It’s the protein content and type in cow’s milk that makes it so hard for babies to digest - the protein ratio is too high and consists mostly of casein, whereas breast milk is mostly whey protein. Consequently, many children develop intolerances to cow’s milk and mostly to the protein casein
Breastfeeding benefits both baby and mom
In addition to being low to no cost, it’s always available and extremely convenient. A study in the journal New Scientist indicates that breastfeeding
was shown to reduce the risk of heart attack in women as well as help the mothers regain their metabolism after pregnancy – something most moms look forward to. Breast milk is easily absorbed by baby’s delicate intestinal tract and delivers millions of immune boosting factors with each feed.
To increase and maintain milk supply, drink at least 1.5 -2 litres of pure water per day and use herbs like fenugreek to increase production. Eating a diet rich in:
- lean protein
- and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains,
will ensure your milk supply as well as deliver the best quality milk to your baby. Moms should supplement with a quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement suitable for nursing mothers and make sure it has vitamin D in it. Or take a separate vitamin D supplement
– as cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D, but human milk has less vitamin D, simply because the D in cow’s milk is added at production.
Nothing brings you closer to the joys of new life than providing that life with perfect nourishment. Breast really is best.
Switching baby from breast milk or formula to solid foods can be a stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some common questions and answers related to switching baby to solid foods:
When should I start introducing solids?
We now recommend introducing baby to solid foods at 6 months of age. Research has shown the introducing solids earlier may increase the risk for infections or allergies, and can prevent baby from getting enough Calories. Despite the myth: introducing solids earlier does not help baby sleep. Introducing solids too long after 6 months may cause some delays in growth, nutrient deficiencies or aversions to textures. What foods should I introduce first?
At 6 months of age, baby’s iron stores begin to run out, and breast milk doesn’t provide enough iron. For this reason it is important to offer iron-rich foods at 6 months of age, such as iron-fortified cereals, meats, egg yolk, beans and lentils. Providing a source of vitamin C with iron-rich foods, such as sweet potato, squash, and broccoli will help baby absorb the iron better.
Slowly introduce new foods, one at a time, every 3 days. This allows time to watch if an allergy develops. Introduce foods from a variety of food groups to ensure baby gets adequate nutrients.*Always breastfeed (or give formula) first before offering solid foods. Milk will still provide the majority of nutrition and Calories at this stage.What about textures?
Baby needs to start with smooth textures, such as pureed, strained and mashed. Over time, as they develop better oral-motor skills, they can progress to grated, minced lumpy and diced textures. Around 9-12 months baby should be able to handle soft, finely chopped and finger foods.When can I switch to cow’s milk?
You can start to introduce whole (homo) cow’s milk at 9-12 months of age. If your child is eating solid foods really well, 9 months is ok, otherwise it is best to wait closer to 12 months.*Soy, rice and other vegetarian beverages do not have the same nutrition as breast or cow’s milk and so are not recommended before 2 years of age. What foods should I not feed my baby?
Does my baby need supplements?
- Egg whites and honey should be avoided until one year of age.
- Low fat milk products should not be given to baby until 2 years of age.
- Excess salt and sugar. Extra sugar does not provide nutrients, and salt his hard on baby’s kidneys.
- Allergin foods: if you have a family history of allergies, talk to your doctor or dietitian about which foods to avoid and until what age.
Exclusively breastfed infants (for the first 6 months of life) will need a 400IU vitamin D supplement until 1 year of age, even after they start eating solid foods. Multivitamin drops with vitamins A and C are not required for healthy term infants. After one year of age, babies should continue to get 200IU of vitamin D until they are getting 2 cups of vitamin D-fortified milk per day.Things to remember:
- All babies are different - don’t compare your child to other children. Let your child go at their own pace, and don’t stress about it
- Don’t take advice from friends and family. Recommendations and research changes all the time. Take advice from a health professional.
- Babies have small stomachs and will not eat a lot right away. Offer frequent meals and snacks, 1-2 tsp at a time, and slowly increase as baby wants it.
- Babies do not need juice! If you’re going to give juice make sure it’s 100% fruit juice and limit to 2-4 ounces in a cup, non-diluted.
- Gagging is normal as baby gets used to new tastes and textures. Choking is NOT normal.
Kids love to create things and work with their hands. Cooking with your kids is a great way to use their imagination and spend some quality time together. It’s also a great way to teach kids about food, where it comes from and how to prepare healthy meals. Teaching your kids to make healthy meals and eating together as a family has been shown to reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese.
Some benefits of cooking with your kids:
- Builds self-esteem
- Promotes eye-hand coordination
- Teaches valuable lifelong skills
- Fosters independence
- Practice with numbers and math
- Provides an opportunity to talk about food and important nutrients for growth
- It’s fun!
It’s also true that kids are more likely want to eat with the family and try new foods if they’re involved in the cooking. When cooking with your kids, let them be involved in the entire process from deciding what to make, to setting the table. This will help build their decision-making skills and gives you a chance to guide them to make good choices, without doing it all for them.
Can start anytime
Kids can start being a part of the kitchen at almost any age. Young kids under age 5 can start with safe, simple duties such as washing veggies, snapping peas, mixing batters and dipping bread in egg for french toast. Older children can do more advanced jobs like cracking eggs, reading recipes, grating cheese and progress to cutting vegetables (with supervision).
If your kids aren’t too keen on the idea of cooking initially, start small with something that they like and that doesn’t take too long (such as fruit smoothie popsicles) and build up to bigger snacks and meals. Baking cookies is a fun thing to do, but be sure to add variety and involve your kids in making healthy balanced meals as well.
A great recipe to start with is low fat, whole grain pita pizza