Providing proper nutrition to your vegan or vegetarian toddler is very important. It can, however, be difficult to ensure that your toddler is receiving a nutritional diet. There are many factors which influence the food intake of a toddler, including the family environment, the toddler’s likes and dislikes, food texture and flavor, teething, and illness to name a few. Like all toddlers, vegetarian or vegan children need to eat a variety of foods to grow and develop well.
Here are some tips, as well as steps you can take, as a parent or caregiver of a vegan or vegetarian toddler-to help ensure that your child is getting the right nutrition.
• Offer food every two-three hours, including three meals a day and one-three snacks per day. Toddlers benefit from having routine in their meal timing.
• Let your toddler decide whether they want to eat, as well as how much they want to eat. Appetite will change from day to day.
• Let your toddler feed themselves. This will allow them to develop important sensory skills.
• Reintroduce foods that your toddler is fussy about often. It may take between eight and ten times of introducing the food before your toddler develops a taste for it.
• Provide sources of protein. Vegetarian and vegan toddlers can get protein from: tofu, veggie deli meats, beans, peas, lentils, soy beverages, cheese, yogurt, and ground nut or seed butter.
*Remember-whole nuts are a choking hazard-spreads or butter are safest.
• Omega 3 fatty acids play a role in normal brain development and healthy vision. Vegan and vegetarian sources include canola oil, soy oil, soybeans, walnuts, tofu, and some margarine.
• Vitamin B12 is found only in animal sources of food and plays an important role in red blood cell production, as well as metabolism. If your toddler is vegetarian and receiving breast milk, cow’s milk, cheese and eggs-they are likely getting enough B12. However, if your child is vegan- implement vitamin B12 fortified foods such as meatless deli meats, soy burgers, fortified soy beverages and nutritional yeast.
• Toddlers require about 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Soft margarine, and fortified soy milk are good sources.
• Good sources of iron for vegetarian and vegan toddlers include: enriched cereals, beans, peas, lentils, eggs and blackstrap molasses.
• Sources of calcium include breast milk and soy formula, soy cheese and yogurt and calcium fortified tofu.
• Toddlers under two years of age should not be fed fortified soy milk, or other milk beverages exclusively because they are too low in fat and protein. For toddlers under the age of two, breast milk and or soy based formula should be provided. Children over the age of two may be offered soy beverage or alternative milk.
Toddlers are individuals, and therefore-their nutritional needs are very individualized as well.
For more information specific to your child, please visit a Registered Dietitian.
Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. Mahan, K.L., Escott-Stump, S.,Raymond, J.L. Thirteenth Edition. 2012.
PEN: The Global Resource for Nutrition Practice. Healthy Eating Guidelines for Your Vegetarian Toddler. Dietitians of Canada. 2013.