The basics of vegan nutrition for children

Raising vegan children is a joy but also a great responsibility. Children of all ages thrive on well-planned vegan diets but their parents or caregivers need to learn a few nutrition basics to make sure their babes are well-fed. Of course, this applies to all parents, vegan or not!

Is veganism healthy for children?

Yes, being vegan is healthy and may even offer health benefits to your child.

It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”

With just a little diet planning, vegan children thrive and develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime. They have a lower risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers later in life, are less exposed to veterinary antibiotics found in animal-based foods and have lower levels of inflammation markers in their blood compared to meat-eating children.

What vegan children need daily

These food groups and supplements make up a healthy vegan diet. Every child is different and has their own preferences so the key is to aim for variety and for each of these food groups to be on the daily menu in some form.

Fruit and vegetables

They are the perfect source of healthy energy, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Children should eat at least five portions a day.

The best choices include fresh fruit (may be blended in a smoothie or puréed), dried unsweetened fruit, fresh and cooked vegetables.

Avoid tinned fruit and vegetables, pasteurised juices made from concentrate (it’s on the label) and sweetened or candied dried fruit because all of them offer mostly just sugar. The only exception is tinned sweetcorn which can be a part of a healthy diet.

Grains and wholegrains

They are an amazing source of healthy energy (carbohydrates), vitamins and minerals, and also protein (wholegrains in particular). They provide energy for the brain and body growth and keep the digestive system healthy.

Toddlers and small children need a mix of wholegrains (wholemeal) and refined (white) grain products to increase their energy intake. Giving them only wholegrains that are rich in fibre might make them full before they’ve eaten enough, so it’s best to mix it up. The older children get, the more wholegrains they should eat.

The best choices include no- or low-sugar breakfast cereals or cereal mash, porridge, wholemeal, wholegrain or whole wheat products – bread, pasta, noodles, tortillas, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, millet, spelt, oats and oat-based products – muesli, granola, oat energy bars, oat cake, wholegrain crispbreads and crackers, wholemeal or oat biscuits – these can be very sugary so ration them.


They are great sources of protein, healthy carbohydrates, fibre, B group vitamins, many minerals (including iron, zinc and calcium) and antioxidants. Pulses are the main source of protein in a vegan diet, needed for growth and repair of all tissues in the body.

The best choices include lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas and products made from or with these – burgers, patties, dips, spreads, purées, soups, stews, curries, salads, hummus, falafel, lentil or bean pasta. Soya and products made from it are also very healthy – edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso, mock meats, soya milk and yoghurts. 

Avoid undercooked beans, chickpeas and lentils – if they aren’t well cooked, they can make your child (and you) sick and you won’t be able to digest them properly.

Nuts and seeds

They are fantastic sources of protein, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Overall, they are an excellent nutrition booster, provide energy and help top up children’s calorie intake.

The best choices include nut butters and tahini (sesame seed paste/butter) – suitable from weaning onwards (used as a spread, stirred into soups and sauces, or blended in smoothies and purées) and unsalted nuts and seeds for older children (they are a choking hazard for littles).

All nuts are great but each type has an advantage – almonds are rich in calcium, cashews in iron, walnuts in omega-3 fats and Brazil nuts in selenium. Pumpkin seeds provide plenty of zinc, sesame seeds plenty of calcium, ground flaxseed, shelled hempseed and chia seeds plenty of omega-3 fats.


All experts now agree that it is absolutely necessary to give vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplements to vegan children of all ages. Find out how much they need according to age here. Children between one and three years of age should receive a supplement containing 100 milligrams of DHA omega-3 fat daily (made from algae).

Children also need a good source of iodine but because iodised salt is the norm in Uganda, using it sparingly in meals should be enough to cover your child’s needs.

When it comes to minerals, such as iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium, children who eat enough in general and have plenty of the foods from all the basic food groups (above) daily, should be automatically getting enough of all these minerals. If you also choose calcium-fortified plant drinks, your child will be well-nourished.

Sometimes, it is difficult trying to get your child to eat certain foods. It’s not just frustrating, it also makes you worried that your child will be missing out on important nutrients. If your child is a picky eater or simply doesn’t eat enough, you may want to give them a multivitamin/mineral supplement and they may also need an omega-3 fat supplement throughout their childhood.

How to make healthy vegan meals for children?

Preparing healthy vegan meals for kids is easier than you think. Just follow the simple template below – that way you’ll include all the basic food groups and the meals will be balanced.

Each healthy vegan meal should consist of:

Grains/Wholegrains (cereal products) or Root Vegetables
Pulses or Nuts/Seeds (or both)
Fruit or Veg

Children get the best nutrition if their snacks also follow the structure of main meals, just on a smaller scale. Find a detailed guide to vegan meals and snacks for kids here.

Children need to eat more often

Children usually can’t eat much in one sitting (there are exceptions of course) simply because their stomachs are small. However, they burn energy fast so they need smaller portions and more often than adults.

Even though children may not necessarily be sticking to the routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner at the usual times, it’s good to aim for three bigger meals and several snacks in between. Just bear in mind that the snacks shouldn’t be so big that your child would then be still full at mealtime.

Younger children should eat every two hours, while older kids every three hours. In general, a child shouldn’t go as long as six hours without a good protein and energy source.

How to ensure children eat healthily?

Despite our best efforts, it’s sometimes difficult to make sure our children eat what’s good for them or eat enough. It’s not about them having the perfect diet but about making sure they are well-nourished enough to grow and develop in the best possible way.

When it comes to meal preparation, here are a few tricks you can use:

  • Involve your child in meal preparation or cooking, depending on their age, to make them interested in what they eat.
  • Don’t introduce more than one new food at a time – even better add the new/healthier food to their favourite food.
  • Cut fruit and vegetables into smaller pieces or sticks and combine colours – making food visually attractive helps to encourage children to eat it.
  • When making soups and sauces, stir or blend in ingredients to increase nutritional value – tahini (sesame seed paste), nut butter, lentils or beans.
  • Grate tofu or tempeh into meals – some children might want to pick pieces out of a meal but if it’s grated, for example in a pasta dish or risotto, they will eat it.
  • Blend fresh fruit (and vegetables) into smoothies – you can also add nuts, seeds, plant milk, silken tofu or oats to increase the nutritional value.
  • Use wholemeal flour for baking – it contains more nutrients than white flour, including protein.
  • Let your child choose between two or three options – don’t ask them what they want but give them a choice.

Once you actually sit down to a meal, the situation may require a different approach:

  • Lead by example – eat the same foods and eat together; if your child sees you eating what they’re eating it will encourage them. On the other hand, eating something different to your child might create more problems.
  • Don’t give up – children may need as many as 20+ exposures to a new food before they take to it. Keep each exposure relaxed, don’t force them but make sure they try the food and praise them for trying.
  • Make mealtimes happy and drama-free – don’t hover over the child to watch their every bite but try to talk about nice or interesting things, say how good the food is or tell them where it comes from.
  • Discourage unhealthy snacking between meals – of course children can have a treat sometimes but they shouldn’t be filling up on crisps and sweets and then refusing to eat a proper meal because they’re full. Make sure they always have a healthy snack available.
  • If your child doesn’t want to eat something, try to offer it with a dip – vegetables with hummus or bean dips, blend tofu with some mayo, even plain ketchup will do (just make sure they don’t eat more ketchup than vegetables); and try fruit with nut butters, tahini or blend dates with banana and a few almonds for a sweet dip.

We all have ideas of how our children should eat while reality is sometimes very different! It’s important to do our best and accept that nothing will ever be perfect. Don’t give up trying but don’t be too strict either. Steer them and their choices and with time, you’ll find your own tricks and workarounds. In the meantime, praise them (and yourself) for every step in the right direction.

For more information on vegan nutrition for children, including specific advice for different ages, click here.

Find out more about vegan pregnancy and baby nutrition in The Vegan New Parents’ Guide or learn more about raising a vegan child in our Healthy Vegan Kids guide.