A Florida couple is facing charges after their baby died from malnutrition. News sources indicate they had been feeding the child a “vegan” diet. And they aren’t the first to make such claims or face such charges, which is probably why the internet is exploding with raging naysayers.
In short, this latest case only further suggests that you cannot responsibly raise a child meat and dairy-free. However, as a mom who not only practiced both diets but also fed it to my children, I know this is not the truth. It is possible to raise your child without meat or dairy, but there are some important and critical aspects of nutrition that you must first understand.
Science classifies humans as omnivores. Veganism and vegetarianism are “unnatural” diets for us. We legitimately need certain nutrients that can only be found in animal products – namely B12. Any other source is unreliable – and that includes all the common vegan and vegetarian “go-tos” like nutritional yeast (NOOCH), seaweed, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds. So, if you plan to feed your child a vegan or vegetarian diet, you will need to give them high-quality supplements – preferably one with a vegan DHA.
You’ll also need to do a lot of planning and thinking ahead if you want to raise your child vegan or vegetarian. They’ll need a diet with a wide variety of plant proteins, complex carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. You have to do more than simply feed them the rainbow; you need to be certain that they are getting all the different macronutrients that are needed for healthy growth and development. You’ll also need to ensure they’re meeting their caloric requirements.
Avoid vegan and vegetarian junk foods and fad foods. Instead, focus on whole food items. Feed them whenever they get hungry – preferably a plant protein and at least one other item that is rich in nutrients. Above all else, NEVER simply feed your child a vegan or vegetarian diet without discussing the matter with your child’s pediatrician.
I also highly recommend you get to know other vegan and vegetarian parents. Find out what’s working for them and what isn’t. You’ll also likely benefit from the added support that they can offer you as you work to raise a health-conscious child in a world where there’s a fast-food restaurant or gas station on every single corner. Where sweets and treats that would normally be off-limits are offered in school, and not every school provides vegan or vegetarian options.
If you have a particularly picky child, you may also want to consider postponing veganism – at least for a while. Eggs and dairy products do contain B12 and other macronutrients that cannot be found in plant proteins, and they can easily help a picky child increase both their protein and caloric intake. It may feel “wrong” to you, but remember that this is your child’s health on the line and the risk to them is great. In fact, science agrees that, while yes, it is possible to raise a child vegan or vegetarian, the parents must be knowledgeable and intentional about it.