Raising a Child as a Vegan

The vegan diet, typically very low in fat and free of cholesterol, consists only of plant products, in other words, no meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, eggs nor ice cream. The healthy diet of a vegan includes whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and loads of leafy greens. Yet, many have raised the question of calcium in a vegan diet, since most Americans and Europeans get the bulk of their calcium by way of cheese and milk, and since calcium is an important ingredient for a child's healthy growth, it's especially an issue when raising a child as a vegan.


A frequently asked question prevails, "How are vegan parents supposed to ensure that their kids receive their recommended daily calcium intake?" If meat-eating school children are found to be lacking in calcium, one might wonder about the vegan child. Surprisingly, it is very possible that a vegan child consumes and retains more calcium than a non-vegan.

According to "The Dietician's Guide to Vegetarian Diets" by Mark and Virginia Messina, Aspen Publishers, 1996, vegan parents should follow some of the suggestions below when planning meals and snacks for their children. These options are also viable calcium options in non-vegan diets as well.

For school children, the issue of what to pack for lunch is a constant challenge. School cafeterias seldom offer meals designed for a vegan or vegetarian diet. Their sparse attempts to provide vegetarian meals are frequently loaded with fat and sodium.

Consider sending your child to school with lunch that contain these healthy high-calcium ingredients:

Another popular source of calcium for vegans is soy and soy milk. While soy already has a decent amount of calcium, many soy drinks are supplemented with the recommended daily allowances. Soy is an ideal substitute for many ingredients in traditional recipes. For example, soy milk can be substituted for cow's milk in most recipes. Crumbled tofu can replace cottage cheese or ricotta used in many Italian pasta dishes like lasagna and ravioli. Soy yogurt replaces mayonnaise in many sauces and salad dressings.

The following is a list of calcium sources, and includes the amount of calcium provided per serving:

Source Serving Size Amount of Calcium
Blackstrap molasses 2 tablespoons 342 mg.
Cooked collard greens 1 cup 357 mg.
Cooked kale 1 cup 176 mg.
Orange juice (calcium fortified) 8 oz. 300 mg.
Soy milk 8 oz. 150-500 mg.
Rice milk 8 oz. 150-500 mg.
Tofu processed w/calcium sulfate 4 oz. 200-330 mg.
Tofu processed w/nigari 4 oz. 80-230 mg.
Almonds ½ cup 194 mg.

A varied menu of food options guarantees many palatable choices when maintaining a calcium fortified vegan diet. These selections are but a few of the options:

  1. Homemade pancakes and waffles, no eggs in the batter, fortified with almonds
  2. Tofu lasagna, manicotti, or ravioli
  3. Soy ice cream
  4. Corn chowder made with soy milk
  5. Soy yogurt flavored with fresh fruit
  6. Rice pudding
  7. Oat nut burgers
  8. Soy hot dogs
  9. Soy vegetable burgers
  10. French toast made with soy milk
  11. Squash pie made with soy milk

There is absolutely no reason a parent or health care professional needs to be concerned that a vegan child's diet is deficient in calcium. The ease of preparation is high. The only limitations are found in the cook's lack of creativity or enthusiasm in preparing such a menu.

Take a look at a sample menu for a school-aged child. It's easy to prepare. Most of the ingredients are readily available. And as you can see, the choices provide plenty of calcium.

Breakfast:

2 slices of French toast made with soy milk
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup calcium fortified orange juice

Morning Snack:

½ cup prepared trail mix of almonds, raisins, dehydrated oranges, and dehydrated peaches

Lunch:

(Bagged for school) sandwich of hummus, sesame seeds, and two slices of kale, spread with 2 teaspoons of soy yogurt mixed with mustard-served on two slices of whole wheat bread. 1 cup apple juice

Afternoon Snack:

1 pear
2 pumpkin cookies prepared with no egg in the batter

Dinner:

1 serving tofu lasagna

Salad of mixed dark leafy greens and sliced tomato, sprinkled with almonds and sesame seeds. Dressing of soy yogurt mixed with cilantro, a dash of Tabasco and tomato puree.
8 oz. glass of water with lemon or lime
½ cup soy ice cream

Evening Snack:

Delicious Smoothie made with 1 cup calcium fortified orange juice, 1 banana, 1 cup sliced strawberries, ¼ cup soy yogurt flavored with ¼ teaspoon vanilla.

Obviously mother's milk is the best initial calcium source for all children, however after weaning has taken place, these other selections are just as plentiful in their calcium content. In addition, they are free of harmful chemicals, unnecessary fat, and carcinogens known to be found in cow's milk.

Growth hormones given to stimulate milk production in cows are also a controversial and unnecessary agent to introduce into a child's growing body.

It's actually quite simple to substitute these options as calcium supplements to anyone's diet. A little bit of imagination and creativity combined with knowledge of just exactly which foods provide the most adequate sources of calcium are key. These are the essential skills needed in assuring a balanced vegan diet for school children of all ages, and for adults, too. It's elementary!

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