Healthy Kids    

Planning a balanced, plant-based diet for kids

Make sure child gets all the nutrients they need

Planning a balanced and plant-based diet for kids

Caregivers who follow a vegetarian, vegan or other plant-based diet may wonder whether it’s wise for their children to follow the same eating plan.

A well-balanced vegetarian diet can meet a baby or child’s needs, although it’s important to make sure children eating plant-based diets are getting enough protein-rich plant foods and other essential nutrients, according to Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN.

If you’re contemplating a plant-based diet for your child, you can learn more about the essential nutrients every child needs with this insight from Malkani and the nutrition experts at Plum Organics.

Starting at about 6 months, babies’ iron reserves are low and they need iron from food sources.  Iron is essential for brain development and healthy immune systems, as well as overall growth. Heme iron from animal-based foods is absorbed better than non-heme iron found in plant foods, but you can increase the absorption of non-heme iron by offering meals that include a plant source of iron – found in foods like beans, legumes, quinoa, chia seeds, leafy greens, nuts, nut butters and tofu – and a vitamin C-rich food, such as broccoli, strawberries or cantaloupe. Vitamin C helps boost non-heme iron absorption.

Vitamin B12
Important for development of the nervous system, vitamin B12 also plays a role in the prevention of anemia and affects some behavior and mood regulation. Dietary sources of B12 include primarily animal products (meat, fish, eggs and milk), although some B12 can be found in nutritional yeast and fortified cereals. Infants likely get enough vitamin B12 from breast milk or formula, but as their milk intake begins to taper between 9-12 months, vegan babies may benefit from supplementation.

Vitamin D
Most people know vitamin D is good for strengthening teeth and bones, but it also supports calcium absorption and promotes optimal functioning of the immune system. The only known naturally occurring plant-based food source of vitamin D is some varieties of mushrooms. Formula-fed infants drinking more than 32 fluid ounces do not generally need a supplement, but breastfeeding infants may need to be supplemented.

READ MORE: Raising vegans

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These essential fatty acids are important for brain development, learning and behavior. There are three types of omega-3s, including EPA, DHA and ALA. EPA and DHA, the most critical, are found mainly in fish or algae. Breast milk and formula often contain omega-3s, as well.
For plant-based tots who don’t eat fish, the ALA in foods like chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts can be an important source of omega-3 fatty acids. Consider an option like the Mango & Pineapple, White Bean, Butternut Squash & Oats blend from Plum Organics, which provides omega-3 ALA from chia seeds and offers a convenient way to add important nutrients to a toddler’s plant-based diet.

Calcium is important for strengthening bones and teeth, as well as muscular and nervous systems and heart function. For most infants, formula, breast milk or a combination of the two will provide adequate intake of calcium. Plant-based dietary sources of calcium include tofu, beans, fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables, tahini, sesame seeds and almond butter.

In addition to the important role it plays in immune health, overall growth and development, zinc is a vital component of cell turnover and repair. Breast milk provides adequate zinc to meet a baby’s needs, but over time the concentration of zinc in breast milk decreases (even if the mother takes supplements). Whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, beans, legumes, chickpeas and nuts are all plant-based sources of zinc.

Most children who eat plant-based diets easily meet their needs for protein, which is essential for adequate growth and development. Plant-based baby food blends like the Carrot, Sweet Potato, Corn, Pea and Chicken pouches from Plum Organics offer a no-mess, portable way to provide about 18% of an average 6-12-month-old’s daily protein needs. Other sources of plant-based protein include beans, legumes, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and soy.

Caregivers should speak with their pediatricians or registered dietitians about any nutrition-related concerns and always consult them before starting any supplements. Find more information to support your child’s nutrition needs at

(Family Features) 
Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Other articles by HVP News Reporters

  • Guilt-free, superfruit snacking

    Sweet treats made to permissibly indulge

    For many, enjoying a small indulgence can serve as a reward for a job well done or a mood-boosting pick-me-up. In fact, mindful snacking is on-trend for a majority of consumers. read more »
  • Getting healthier starts wth your feet

    Start your wellness goals from the ground up

    Good foot and ankle health is critical for good overall health, so no matter what your wellness goals are, be sure to start from the ground up. read more »
  • Dangerous heart conditions often go undetected in pregnant and postpartum women

    A torn ACL revealed an undiagnosed heart defect

    National Jewish Health experts advocate for screenings to detect heart conditions that may develop in otherwise healthy women read more »
  • Bald Eagle viewing in winter

    Watching them can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience

    Winter is a great time to view bald eagles in New York State. Viewing from a safe distance and at established observation sites can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience. read more »
  • Yes, you can raise healthy, smart, kind kids in a screen-saturated world

    "The Mediatrician" helps guide parents on Safer Internet Day

    Raising children in a screen-saturated world elicits fear, hope, and questions from parents, educators, and healthcare providers. The best thing to happen this year on “Safer Internet Day,” is the launch of “The Mediatrician's Guide”, developed to deliver those critical answers. read more »
  • Looking for a new career?

    Become a financial planner

    Becoming a financial planner offers both financial rewards and the chance to help others. Whether you’re a recent graduate exploring your career path or a mid-career professional seeking change, this growing profession may be the right fit for you. read more »
  • How to prep the night before the SAT or ACT exam

    Calm your nerves and enter the testing site with confidence

    Taking the SAT or ACT exam is the culmination of months of test-specific preparation, and in truth, years of schooling. While knowing that can feel like a lot of pressure, there are steps you can take the night before the exam to calm your nerves and enter the testing site with confidence: read more »
  • 7 Valentine's Day date ideas to break from the norm

    Think outside the box this year

    If you’re feeling pressure to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day date, it may be time to veer away from tradition. While flowers, chocolates and dinner for two is a classic, thinking outside the box can make for just as romantic of an experience. read more »
  • Helping infants, toddlers and families thrive

    The child tax credit is a critical policy vehicle

    A bipartisan package that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, would expand the child tax credit (CTC). As the Senate decides whether to follow suit, advocates press that the CTC is a critical policy vehicle to help all infants, toddlers and their families thrive, and it should be implemented as soon as possible. read more »
  • What to look for when you need a law firm

    Savvy advice from Best Lawyers

    Let’s face it, no person or business gets a thrill out of hiring a law firm. Fortunately, peer-reviewed rankings have simplified the process. read more »