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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Vegan Kids and Aurelia's Diet

Chris and I get asked a lot about how our daughter Aurelia eats. She does not fit the stereotype of a vegetarian or vegan kid, first of all. Some people think vegetarian or vegan kids are thin, waif-like, and pasty pale. Aurelia is quite chunky, albeit on the short side, and has a great skin tone, shiny hair, and nearly brute force for an almost two-year-old girl. She has had turkey once or twice (Thanksgiving), but for the most part she has never had meat. She has never had cow's milk either- she went from breast milk primarily to coconut milk and now has almond milk, with a bit of breast milk daily. She rarely has cheese- and it is becoming even less frequent as I eat less of it. She rarely eats eggs- maybe she'll share with Chris if he makes eggs for himself. She used to have dairy yogurt daily, but I recently found a great almond yogurt for about the same price we were paying for the dairy variety. (Yay!) So now she is 99% vegan, as close as I am anyway.

Some people have the idea that feeding a vegan diet to children can't be done healthily- they would miss out on vital calcium, vitamin D, protein, etc. Because of this line of thinking, I have always paid close attention to Aurelia's levels of these nutrients. Since I was still learning a great deal and wasn't quite prepared to exclude dairy and eggs quite yet, I relied on these foods for the past year to make sure her diet was adequate. Or, some people have the misconception that to feed them a vegan diet, one must include a lot of soy. Knowing that so many soy foods are highly processed and GMO, I was reluctant to giver her much soy, if any. Now that I know of other sources of certain nutrients, her consumption of dairy and eggs is minimal, and I feel ok about that.

So what DOES Aurelia eat nowadays? Here is a typical day of food for her.

4 oz breastmilk
4-8 oz almond milk
4-5 strawberries
some of my green monster smoothie (typically 3-4 handfuls spinach, peanut butter, chia seeds and/or hemp seeds and/or flax, banana, almond milk)
I encourage her drinking my smoothie mostly for the spinach- it's the easiest way to get some leafy greens, omega fatty acids and protein into her!

1 adult serving yogurt (used to be Stonyfield Organic cow's milk yogurt, I have switched her to almond milk yogurt)
1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich (I buy Crofters organic fruit spread- it has little if any added sugar and Aurelia loves it!)
1 cup sliced fruit (mango, pineapple, melon, etc)
4 oz almond milk

If Aurelia is hungry and we are trying to get dinner made, we give her a small snack to hold her over. This might be a handful of raisins or 5-6 little shredded wheat biscuits (I only buy the unfrosted kind)

While Aurelia's breakfast and lunch are pretty structured, dinner is the wild card. It always depends on when Chris is getting home, whether I wait for him to feed her, whether I will be eating the same food as him, etc. Lately Aurelia is (finally) interested in trying crunchy vegetables and leafy salad greens. Until recently, I think her lack of teeth made these foods unappealing to her. Other foods she might eat include:
1/2-1 cup wild rice or pasta with
1/2-1 cup sauteed vegetables and/or mushrooms and/or
1/2 or whole avocado, sprinkled with salt and pepper and slightly smashed OR
If Chris eats eggs and toast for dinner, he will share with Aurelia
4 oz almond milk
Once she finishes her milk for the day she is given water. (We aim for 16-20 oz of milk total, between the 4 oz breast milk and the almond milk.)

Like a lot of kids, Aurelia likes bread and pasta, and she would never say no to cookies or candy, and we don't deny her those things altogether. But I am happy to report that she loves whole food fruits and vegetables, and when it comes to feeding her, I make sure she fills up on vegetation first, BEFORE she is allowed to eat anything else. It is my opinion that fruits and vegetable consumption should be the primary focus for all children's diets, whether those kids eat meat/dairy or not. Filling kids up on vegetation first ensures a lot of nutrients are taken care of.

Somehow, it seems that as a country we have accepted the notion that kids have a simple palate and that all they like- all they will eat, even- is pizza, burgers, hotdogs, fries, grilled cheese, and mac and cheese. Those are the foods typically on the kids' menu at most restaurants. Many parents to avoid an argument in the restaurant, to ensure they don't waste money on an uneaten meal, and to ensure the child eats, order off this kids' menu. I think restaurants would do better to offer kids the same menu adults are given, but with portions a fraction of the size of the adult portion.

Aurelia is only now getting to the point where she warrants a separate meal- we have always just fed her off of our plates. For one, this encouraged us to eat healthily, because it created the best odds she would too. Also, she was being exposed to lots of different flavors, textures, and nutrients. Now, she is more open to eating a wide variety of vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes, and fruits. The most challenging thing to get her to eat has always been vegetables, but it seems that as long as she has a variety of food on her plate, she is happy.

By relegating children to the kids' menu, we are not giving them enough credit, we are limiting their palates, and we are denying them vital nutrients needed for proper growth, development, and for fighting off illness. Also, this will only make the feeding situation more difficult as the child grows, in my opinion. It is important to get them while they are as young as possible for the highest rate of success. If we don't give them the chance to be picky eaters, they will be less likely to arbitrarily decide they don't like specific foods without even trying them.

What are your thoughts on vegan or vegetarian kids, kids' menus, and pickiness in kids? How do you ensure your child eats fruits and vegetables? I, for one, could always use tips for improvement!

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