Registered Dietitians and Plant-Based Juniors founders Whitney English and Alex Caspero answer your plant-based eating and allergen introduction questions.
What is Plant-Based Eating?
While there’s no one definition, traditionally, plant-based means a diet based on foods from plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, with no or few animal products.
We call ourselves predominantly plant-based, which means that we focus most of our diet on plants and plant-based foods while also allowing for occasional animal products like eggs, fish and dairy.
What are some of the benefits of Plant-Based Eating for families and young children?
There’s no denying the benefits of eating more plants. Plant-based diets have consistently been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, and promote longevity. While these benefits have primarily been studied on adults, the benefits extend to infants and children as well.
After seeing private clients for the past decade, we believe that most of us could use a few more plants in our diet, so why not begin that habit right from the start? Our mission is to help all parents, regardless of diet, add more plants to the menu and support those who want to raise their children mostly or fully plant-based.
How can I introduce solids following the principles of Plant-Based Eating?
We follow a baby-led weaning model, which just means that we let baby lead the way on introducing solids. That means offering finger foods for baby to practice feeding themselves right away, as well as purees as needed.
For Plant-Based Juniors, typical first foods are similar to those introduced to other children: avocado, mashed beans, sweet potato, fruit, and cooked vegetables. For many parents, there is also the concern of making sure baby gets enough iron, as anemia is seen in equal levels in vegetarian children and omnivorous children. Therefore, a lot of our education is around pairing iron and vitamin C-rich sources and sharing iron-rich first-food recipes.
What are some tips you can share for raising plant-based kids?
Make a list of plant-based foods that your family already enjoys, and offer those often. The idea of adding in more plant-based foods shouldn’t feel overwhelming, and even if you don’t consider yourself plant-based, you likely enjoy more of these foods than you think. Consider lentil soup, pasta, bean salad, Indian curry and more. Many of these foods are naturally rich in plants. Start with your kid’s current favorite plant-based meals and add in from there.
Get kids in the kitchen with you! This can be done right from the start - showing baby how food is prepared, and then as they get older, allowing them to help. Having kids help with meal-prep not only boosts curiosity, but also creates kitchen confidence.
Include a source of iron at most meals. Iron is an extremely important nutrient for kids. It’s a main component of red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen to the cells. It’s also involved in energy production and immune function. Babies who are iron-deficient may end up with slow weight gain, pale skin, low appetite, and irritability.
While plants have plenty of iron, the type of iron found in plants isn’t as bioavailable as that found in meat, therefore vegans and vegetarians need to eat a little more than meat-eaters. They should also aim to consume iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C, which can boost absorption by 5 to 6 times!
How can I follow a plant-based diet but also follow the new guidelines on early allergen introduction?
This is why we are so excited about Ready. Set. Food!. While it’s a great way to introduce potential allergens to all children, we believe it has a special role for the fully plant-based child.
Even if you plan on raising your child fully vegan, there is a benefit to introducing potential animal allergens as these allergens can be deadly with cross-contamination and skin exposure. Especially for our parents who are uncomfortable at the idea of adding in whole eggs and milk, using Ready. Set. Food! is the best way to do early allergen introduction.
Whitney English MS, RDN and Alex Caspero MA, RDN are the founders of Plant-Based Juniors - an evidence-based resource for parents and educators on plant-based prenatal and pediatric nutrition. Whitney and Alex are Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, Certified Personal Trainers and parents to PBJs themselves. Plant-Based Juniors welcomes all forms of plant-based eating, because good health is not all or nothing. PBJs supports parents in whatever dietary pattern they feel works best for their family - whether that's vegan, vegetarian, reducatarian, or whatever you want to call it!
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