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You Ask, I Answer: Vegan Child’s Nutrition

I have a picky eater at home, an 8-year-old I adopted last year from another country.

She is still very suspicious of new foods, and I have taken to sneaking supplements into her diet wherever I can.

She’s vegan and I’m vegetarian; I open up iron supplement capsules and sprinkle small amounts of iron into her food; same with B-complex capsules and multi-vitamin caps.

She gets plenty of protein and fiber, since she’s happy to eat tempeh, beans, quinoa, peanut butter and lots of vegetables and fruits.

I’m mostly concerned with her iron, B-complex, calcium and Omega-3 intake.

The last two I can handle with flax oil, wakame powder and various calcium supplements.

Actually, I still think she could be getting more calcium if she’d drink milk, but she won’t.

– Jennifer Armstrong
Saratoga Springs, NY

Although I understand your concerns regarding your child’s nutrition, I believe she is doing just fine based on the eating patterns you describe above.

First of all, I am impressed that an 8 year old appreciates the taste of quinoa and tempeh – nutritious foods that many adults shun, or downright don’t even know about.

Most people with children your age are concerned about the increasing consumption of Doritos, Oreos, and soda!

Alright, let’s discuss the specific nutrients you inquired about.

As far as iron is concerned, there is no absolutely need to provide capsules.

An omnivorous 8 year old should get 10 milligrams of iron a day; since your daughter is vegan – and therefore consuming solely non-heme sources – I would place her requirement at 15 milligrams.

Note that between the ages of 9 and 12, this requirement will lessen to approximately 12 milligrams.

Considering the iron amounts in these vegan foods, you’ll see why iron pills are basically a waste of money:

Quinoa (1 cup): 6.2 milligrams
Soybeans (1/2 cup): 4 milligrams
Lentils (1/2 cup): 3.2 milligrams
Kidney beans, chickpeas, black eyed peas (1/2 cup): 2.5 milligrams

Don’t forget enriched and fortified grains.

Half a cup of fortified oatmeal provides 6.5 milligrams of iron, and a cup of enriched cereal (say, Cheerios) provides 9 milligrams!<

In terms of calcium, she currently needs 800 milligrams a day, but this will jump to 1,300 from age 9 to 18.

Again, though, no need for supplementation.

It does take more planning than an omnivorous diet, but it can be done.

Check out these values:

Calcium-fortified orange juice (1 cup): 300 milligrams
Soy yogurt (1 cup): 300 milligrams
Soymilk (1 cup): 300 milligrams
Tofu (4 oz.): 260 milligrams
Collard greens (1/2 cup): 175 mg
Almonds (1 oz): 80 mg

Although Vitamin B12 is often cited as an issue in vegan diets, fortification has made this former problem a lot easier to manage.

Many popular cereals are fortified with vitamin B12.

Let’s go back to the Cheerios example — 1 cup provides a third of a day’s needs.

A cup of some (fortified) soymilks, meanwhile, contains 40 percent of a day’s worth of B12!

Wakame – a kelp – is also a great source. It’s one of the few seaweeds that contains human-active B12 (as opposed to the analog type, which is useless in our bodies).

In the event that B12 needs can not be met through food, I do recommend supplementation. Make sure it is specifically a B12 supplement and not a multivitamin containing B12 (vitamin C, vitamin E, and iron can impede absorption).

Omega-3 fatty acids are the most difficult to get from a vegan diet, since walnuts and flaxseeds only contain alpha linoleic acid (they do not contribute EPA and DHA, the two essential fatty acids found in fish).

However, Omega-3 supplements made from algae are vegan and contain EPA and DHA!

While we’re on the topic of supplementation, I think everyone — carnivore, vegan, and everywhere in between — should supplement their diet with vitamin D.

One last thing – don’t get discouraged by your daughter’s adverse reactions to new foods.

Research has determined that it takes approximately eight to ten tries for a new food to be accepted by a young child.

The key is slow integration.

For instance, let’s say your daughter enjoys baby carrots but the first time she tried celery she wasn’t too keen on it.

Rather than outright swap carrots for celery pieces overnight, throw in four or five chopped bits of celery next time you pack some baby carrots in her lunch box.

This subtle addition of a new flavor will be less intimidating to her and less of a shock to her palate.

Do this another five or six times. The results might surprise you!

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One Comment

  1. Jennifer Armstrong said on April 3rd, 2008

    Thanks so much for your help, Andy!

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