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Plant Based Eating for Children: The Good and The Not So Good

Posted by Mandy Sacher on February 03, 2020

Posted by Mandy Sacher on February 03, 2020

With veganism gaining strong traction, you may wonder, will my child be the only one with animal products such as a meat sandwich or real cheese in their lunchbox this year?


Deciding to go vegan is usually driven by strong opinions about animal rights, the environment, or your what’s best for your health. So, it naturally follows that children may be exposed to parents’ lifestyle choices and values in their daily lunch.


But are growing bodies going to get all the nutrients they need without animal products?


Plant based eating has many benefits but a completely vegan diet doesn’t provide all the nutritional elements children need to thrive, without careful supplementation and professional guidance. Iron and B12 in particular are nutrients children need that primarily come from meat. Spirulina and nutritional yeast do have B12, but not enough. There are non-animal sources of iron, but you need to make sure it’s being absorbed, so pairing it with vitamin C is very important.


Aiming for 1-2 meat free, plant-based lunchbox days may be more sensible and can be beneficial if wholesome alternatives are chosen (a humble jam or vegemite sandwich doesn’t quite offer the same nutritional value even though it ticks a vegan box!)


4 Nutritious, vegan alternatives to your meat and cheese sandwich fillings include;

  • Hummus, avocado and lettuce
  • Tahini with spinach and tomato
  • Sunflower seed butter and Raw or Manuka honey
  • Falafel patty with hummus and salad

Non-sandwich options for plant-based lunch meals include;

  • Pasta with a nutritious school-friendly pesto or veggie pasta sauce
  • Adzuki Bean Stew with brown rice or Chickpea curry and rice
  • Vegan nachos with black beans and avocado guacamole
  • Avocado and tofu rice paper rolls or Tofu and baked veggie skewers
  • Vegan Veggie muffins
  • Oat and banana pancakes

And since growing bodies need sufficient protein, the best vegan sources of proteins are important to understand. These are:

  • Hemp seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame/poppy seeds. Try sunflower seed butter on sandwiches or use seeded breads
  • Quinoa – technically a seed contains 8g protein per cup
  • White, adzuki, pinto, kidney, black, navy, garbanzo and limo beans as well as peas
  • Chickpeas – as hummus or roasted for a crunchy snack
  • Non–GM tofu or fermented tempeh

Setting aside 1-2 days per week for a nutritious plant-based lunchbox can only benefit children who also enjoy a varied, balanced diet from all food groups. Variety and exposure to more than a daily meat or cheese sandwich helps to avert fussy eating behaviours and ensures children receive varied nutrients, minerals and vitamins from a wider array of sources.


I always recommend that parents aim to offer a rainbow of different coloured veggies and fruit throughout the week to tick off the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that kids need to thrive. As long as there’s something in there you know they’ll eat, exposure to different colours, shapes, textures and tastes can only benefit their eating behaviours and overall wellbeing long term.

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