Growing up Green: Exploring Veganism with Your Child

Growing up Green: Exploring Veganism with Your Child


by Tammie Ortlieb

According to a poll conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group (2000), one million school age children consider themselves vegetarian. These children typically choose the plant based lifestyle for either health, environmental, or ethical reasons. But what about nutrition? Can a child who leaves out the entire meat group get the necessary protein for a developing body? Can a youngster who goes one step further and eliminates all eggs and dairy products get sufficient calcium, vitamin D, and the other nutritional goodies afforded by such animal byproducts? 

In its Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2005), the American Dietetic Association assures that “vegetarians of all types can achieve recommended nutrient intakes through careful selection of foods.” Diets should include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of whole grains and a smattering of nuts and seeds. Parents can guide children toward smart choices that will benefit both mental agility and a developing body. Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, in their book, Becoming Vegan, not only cover childhood and adolescent nutritional needs, but provide a vegan food guide to ensure proper proportions of the varied food groups (see also In addition, Erin Pavlina’s Raising Vegan Children in a Non-vegan World is a wonderful resource for moms of younger children. 

Your child is growing faster now than she will at any other time during her life. Infancy and adolescence, especially, are marked by periods of rapid emotional and physical growth. During her first two years, your baby will go from being completely dependent on Mom and Dad to walking, talking, and generally getting into trouble. By the time she reaches seven years of age, her brain will already be nearly its adult size. As puberty approaches, your child may even pass up the adults in her life in both stature and strength. The food your child eats–through calories, fats, and nutrients– fuels each stage of this development. 

While planet friendly, a vegetarian diet is not always healthful and nutritious. I know a few teenagers at least who exist on not much more than energy bars, chips, pop, and vegan pizza. For breakfast they might choose a frozen toaster pastry, for lunch some fries from the drive through. Dinner, then, could be soy buttered pasta with a few green beans. At the end of the day, this youngster has MAYBE taken in a grand total of two servings of veggies with the toaster pastry filling counting as his fruit. 

Compare this to the child who wakes to a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and walnuts. In his lunchbox, he has fresh strawberries and whole grain pita wedges with hummus. Also inside is a chocolate soy milk drink box, juice, or a bottle of water. Dinner includes a serving of hearty homemade vegetable soup with a whole grain muffin. Instead of soda, this child has a tall glass of water with lemon and lime slices. Not only will junior be more alert in school, but he will have more energy for play, homework, and sports activities. 

He will also reduce his future chances for certain life threatening illnesses. The new food guide promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables lowers an individual’s risk for heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. Such a diet also lowers the incidence of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. More than likely, this youth also will maintain a better weight than will his junk food eating peers. 

While you may not have the influence in your child’s life that her peer group does, you still play a key role in setting standards. Your daughter will look to you for guidance and information. She will notice if you bring home apples and bananas for snacks or if you load the cart instead with cookies. She will observe the extra effort you put into making homemade dinners. When out with friends, she will know that a baked potato is better than fries because she has seen you make the choice many times. Children are what they see. Allow your child to see a parent who enjoys making smart nutritional choices. 

Vegetarianism can be a rewarding, healthful way to eat. Discover with your child new foods, experiment with recipes, and search out others you know who follow a plant based diet. Make a game out of finding as many veggie options as possible on menus at local restaurants. Let the kids help with the grocery list. Grow your own vegetables or stop off at farmers’ markets. Working together can ensure a plate that’s loaded with deep reds and leafy greens rather than simply some nutritionally deficient white starchy excuse for a meal. 

Get them off to school right: breakfast ideas that satisfy, energize, and fuel the brain

  • Oatmeal with raisins and crushed walnuts 
  • Whole grain toast with almond butter and agave nectar 
  • Vanilla soy yogurt with fresh blueberries, crushed pecans, & wheat germ 
  • Shredded wheat cereal with cinnamon, soymilk, and sliced bananas 
  • Homemade granola 
  • Leftover dinner from the night before 
  • Trail mix 
  • Puffed rice cereal with fresh raspberries and almond milk 
  • Fresh fruit smoothies 
  • Homemade whole grain muffins (see recipe below) 
  • Tofu scramble


Keep up the momentum: lunchbox smarts 

  • Cut up veggies with hummus 
  • Apple wedges (shake with lemon juice) and peanut butter 
  • Rice cakes with nut butter and thinly sliced strawberries 
  • Pita half filled with hummus, slaw mix and tomato slices 
  • Peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread 
  • Chickpeas and chopped red pepper tossed in an oil and vinegar dressing 
  • Cut celery filled with dairy free cream cheese and raisins 
  • Clif bars ( 
  • Homemade banana bread with apple butter 
  • Piece of fresh fruit and a nut mix 
  • Garden salad 
  • Obento: The Japanese Art of Box Lunches

End the day the nutritious way: dinner ideas that meet the body’s needs 

Banana Split Muffins 

These are a sweet treat for a lunchbox or an afterschool snack.

2 large ripe bananas, mashed 
1/4 cup olive oil 
1/2cup pure maple syrup 
1/4 cup plain rice milk 
1 tablespoon vanilla 
1/2 cup crushed pineapple 
1 1/2 cup unbleached white flour 
1 cup whole wheat flour 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 cup dried cranberries 
1 cup vegan chocolate chips 
Non-stick cooking spray or paper liners 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray or oil muffin tin, or line with paper liners. 

Mix bananas, oil, syrup, milk, vanilla, and pineapple in large bowl. Sift together flours, baking powder, salt, and soda in separate bowl. Add to banana mixture. Stir just until moistened. Fold in cranberries and chocolate chips. Divide evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes or until tops are lightly browned. Remove from pan. Cool completely before serving.

Tammie Ortlieb

Author: Tammie Ortlieb

Freelance writer and former instructor of psychology, Tammie has a Masters Degree in Developmental Psychology with special emphasis on child and adolescent development. She maintains a blog at and is the author of Outside the Lines and Freeing my Inner Blonde which can both be found at She’s a book nerd, a health nerd, and a huge glass of soymilk half full kind of gal.

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