They can, and millions already are! Some young people have made this decision for themselves because children instinctively love animals and have a deep sense of justice and compassion. They know it is not right to treat other beings that way, and by encouraging children to live their own values, parents or guardians are supporting young people in their own autonomy. Other children are brought up vegan and it is entirely normal for them to eat only plant-based foods. Whatever the motivation or route to veganism, researchers agree that: “A completely plant-based diet is suitable during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, and childhood, provided that it is well-planned.”
Of course, parents raising vegan children should pay attention to the foods given to their children, but that is no different to non-vegan parents: All children need sufficient nutritious foods. According to Claire McCarthy, MD, there are two key things for parents of vegan children to consider: calories and protein.
Plant-based foods tend to have fewer calories than animal foods. If children fill up on high-fiber foods, their small stomachs could become full before they have eaten sufficient calories for growth and development. It isn’t a problem, though, as parents can simply ensure they provide some high-calorie foods, like nuts, nut butters, avocados, soy products, and granola.
As for protein, the amount of protein a child needs depends on their age and size, but their needs can be easily met with nuts, nut butters, legumes, soy products, and cereals. Research shows that soy protein can meet children’s needs as effectively as animal protein, but it is always best to offer them a variety of protein-rich foods. Thankfully, protein is not a problem on a vegan diet.
What we feed children when they are young forms the foundation of their lifelong eating habits. A healthy plant-based diet is perfect for supporting children as they grow into adults, and keeping them healthy throughout the rest of their lives.
Moreover, when we bring children up vegan, we put our own principles into practice. Our food choices become consistent with the lessons we already teach them: that kindness and sharing are important; that bullying or harming another being just because we can is never OK; that we should take good care of our planet and our communities; and that we have the power to make the world a better place.