By Louise Palmer-Masterton, Stem & Glory
There are many things that can put your work/life balance out of whack: like your little one coming back from school and casually announcing that they are now eschewing animal products and they now require a vegan diet. Gulp. What are you going to do?
First, be proud as punch that they used eschew. Then relax and contain any worries you have about proper nutrition.
The world is actually full of healthy vegan children, and there is no link between plant-based eating and malnutrition amongst children of any age, as long as attention is paid to balanced protein and healthy fats, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and iron—the stuff you should have been keeping an eye on anyway when your angel happily watched Peppa Pig while chowing down on a bacon sarnie.
The first thing you need to do if you are considering raising vegan children is educate yourself. If you don’t already love to cook, it is time to get cooking. And it’s time to fall in love with lentils, beans, nuts, seeds and a wild array of vegetables. You may also look for a Prepared Meal Delivery service that can prepare healthy or vegan meals for your family.
Protein is often top of the list of concerns when embarking of a plant-based journey, but that is quite easy to sort out—we’ll come to that soon. What should be a priority is vitamin B12.
The best possible thing you can do with regard to young children and B12 is get them to fall in love with Marmite (yeast extract is also good). A go to snack of toast and marmite will contain plenty of B12. We also use marmite in many savoury dishes – soups, stews and the best vegan gravy ever. My children are Marmite lovers to this day. We also use Engevita flakes as a cheese substitute, sprinkled on pasta and in many sauces. Engevita is super charged with B12.
I’d also recommend getting your children to fall in love with hummus as young as possible. And this brings us to protein.
Hummus is one of those super nutritious super available superfoods, and served with pitta and carrot and cucumber sticks is a winner with most children. Served together in this way, hummus and pitta is what’s called a complete protein – between them, pitta and hummus contain the full spectrum of amino acids that you need.
There is a lot of talk about getting the full spectrum of these essential amino acids that is generally misunderstood. Animal-based proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, which makes them complete proteins, but it is not actually necessary to eat one food that contains everything. That’s where the idea that vegans lack protein comes in, which is false. Combining plant foods results in complete protein and gives exactly the same result nutritionally.
There are a few plant-based foods that are ‘complete’ proteins on their own, i.e. contain the full spectrum amino acids. They include: Tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and chia seeds. Some of these are a bit of an acquired taste for an infant, quinoa for example needs a bit of hiding in a tasty-flavoured sauce. But mine always did well with edamame beans, scrambled tofu and fresh fruit chia pudding.
But rather than focus on just these foods, your protein repertoire can expand massively by combining vegan proteins from different sources (like the hummus and pitta example above) which alone are not complete, both together magically provide a complete protein.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that 100g of wholemeal bread contains 13g of protein, which is more than in 100g of egg, and all vegetables do have a protein component. A diet rich in vegetables can make a significant contribution to your daily nutritional needs, including protein.
Here are some food combining ideas:
Peanut butter sandwich. This will come as a welcome surprise maybe! And yes, a peanut butter sandwich is a very high complete protein.
Beans on toast. Yes, classic beans on toast is a complete protein. Very helpful in those moments when time is of the essence and you have hungry children.
Rice and lentils or beans. Both brown and white rice when combined with beans or lentils give a complete protein. And there are literally millions of recipes out there containing beans or lentils, rice (or other grains) and vegetables. Just about every continent on the planet has a version of this cuisine.
It’s all about making their favourite dishes as balanced and tasty as possible, paying attention to a protein and vegetable component with every meal, where they are getting their B12 from, and get their other nutrients from as wide variety of vegetables of all colours and types as possible and your child will thrive on a wholefood plant-based diet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge. In addition, Stem & Glory offers a range of ready meals, finish at home pizzas, and recipe kits available for delivery across the UK. www.stemandglory.uk www.stemandglory.uk
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