Vegan meals for kids and how to make them nutritious

Raising vegan children is a wonderful idea. It’s a healthy way to live, not just for us but also for the planet. In the UK nearly 5% of the adult population are now vegan and almost half of the population intend to reduce their meat intake in the future.

But when it comes to nutrition for children, careful planning is important to ensure they get all they need.

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15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced

Why should we eat a more plant based diet?

We are more aware now than ever of the environmental impact of the meat industry. 

We’re told that one of the biggest ways to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our meat intake because a meat based diet produces more than double the amount of greenhouse gasses compared to the average vegan diet. 

The meat industry requires more land, energy and water than farming plants, all of which impacts hugely on the health of our planet. 

Health reasons also encourage people towards a more plant based diet as well planned plant based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat than meat based diets so reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers.

Can children be healthy vegans?

Yes! Vegan diets can be healthy for children, but it can take a bit more planning.

There are some essential nutrients easily found in foods such as meat and fish, so vegan or vegetarian diets need to be well planned.

Here are the key nutrients to consider and good child friendly vegan food sources.

Iron

Iron deficiency is an issue amongst some UK children. So it’s important to make sure they’re getting plenty of iron rich foods. 

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced

There are lots of fortified and plant based sources of iron, however these can be lower in iron than meat and dairy sources. Therefore we should include sources of iron at every meal. 

Vegan iron sources include;

  • Beans, chickpeas, lentils

  • Seeds and nuts

  • Tofu

  • Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach and leafy greens

  • Fortified white bread

  • Breakfast cereals fortified with iron

  • Dried fruit such as apricots or raisins (remember these are also high sugar so are best offered as part of meals rather than a snack).

Iron requirements in children change with age. A 4-6 year old needs 6.1mg of iron per day.

To help absorb iron, make sure they have a food rich in Vitamin C at the same time. Great sources of Vitamin C include vegetables such as peppers, broccoli or kale, fruit particularly citrus fruits and berries or a small glass of diluted fruit juice (dilute 1 part juice to 10 parts water as the natural acid in fruit juice is harmful for developing teeth).

You might want to consider iron supplement if you feel it’s challenging to get enough iron into your little one’s diet, however iron supplements are poorly absorbed in the body so can have unpleasant side effects.

Signs of being low in iron include tiredness, pale skin and a poor immune system where your child might be picking up every cough or cold going.

Low iron in the long term can lead to poor growth and even effect intellectual and cognitive function as it’s iron that’s needed to get oxygen to the brain.

If you feel your little one has any of these symptoms, see your GP.

Protein

It’s unlikely that your little one will be deficient in protein as children’s nutritional requirement is actually relatively low, however it’s good for you to know what the plant based proteins are:

  • Beans, chickpeas and lentils and foods made from them such as hummus. 

  • Soya products such as soya mince and soya bean curd (tofu). 

  • Seeds and nuts including nut butters. Try peanut, cashew or almond. Whole nuts and peanuts shouldn’t be given to little ones under 5 due to the risk of choking.

  • Vegan meat substitutes like Quorn – look for less processed versions without added salt.

Aim to have a source of protein at each meal.

Why should we eat a more plant based diet?
Why should we eat a more plant based diet?

Vitamin B12

If intake is too low, children can get a type of anaemia. Vitamin B12 is easily found in meat and animal products, so on a vegan diet, you’ll need to know the plant based sources;

  • Marmite is a great source of B12 however it’s also salty, even the reduced salt Marmite contains half a gram of salt per serving, so really should be used sparingly for children.

  • Some other yeast extracts claim to be lower salt. However you should always compare these to the original yeast extracts such as Marmite to see how much lower they really are. 

  • Breakfast cereals are often fortified with Vitamin B12, check the nutritional information panel on the back or side of the box.

  • Some dairy alternatives are also fortified with Vitamin B12.

Aim to have foods containing Vitamin B12 1-2 times per day. Fortified breakfast cereals are a great place to start. 

Iodine 

The amount of iodine in plant foods can vary. Seaweed is high in iodine but isn’t recommended as an iodine source, as its levels vary greatly and some are too high in iodine for little ones. 

Instead offer;

  • Iodine enriched plant milk alternatives

  • A quarter to one third of a Veg-1 supplement from the Vegan Society is suitable for over 1’s. 

Calcium

Little ones need calcium alongside Vitamin D for strong bones and growth. Children over 2 can have a milk alternative fortified with calcium. 

Other great sources of calcium include:

  • Tofu

  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas

  • White bread fortified with calcium

  • Dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach and cabbage.

Children need 2-3 calcium rich foods or drinks per day including fortified milk. Older children over 8 years of age, need 4 servings of calcium rich foods. 

Vitamin D

With the best source being the sunlight, our UK climate can make getting enough challenging. 

Nature and Nurture drops provide the recommended dose of Vitamins A, C and D. Even better they are Vegan too!

Selenium

This is a mineral that helps the immune system work properly. It’s found in breastmilk and also:

  • Brazil nuts (need to be ground for babies and toddlers)

  • Some grains such as couscous and wholewheat pasta but the amount is much smaller. 

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced

Omega 3

This is an essential nutrient needed for the rapid brain development. There are 3 main forms of Omega 3 and getting enough in a vegan diet can be tricky as oily fish is the best source of the form children’s growing bodies need. 

There are plant based sources including:

  • Chia, hemp seeds or ground linseeds

  • Tofu

  • Soybeans

  • Rapeseed oil (use this as your main cooking oil)

  • Nuts such as hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts. However remember they are a choking risk for under 5’s and so should be ground or given in the form of a nut butter (7). 

The plant based form of Omega 3 needs to be converted by the body into the form that your child needs, and this conversion process is not very efficient. 

Try to have something containing Omega 3 every day, alongside using rapeseed oil as your main cooking oil but your child will need a Vegan Omega 3 supplement too. 

Vitamin B2

Nutritional yeast is also rich in Vitamin B2 but be careful as it’s also salty. You can also find Vitamin B2 in:

  • Avocado

  • Almond butter

  • Mushrooms 

  • Pulses

Supplements

If you’ve read all of this and are concerned that your child might not be getting everything they need from food, it might be worth chatting to a dietitian to assess their diet.

Check out these 15 recipes to help you create a child friendly vegan meal plan:

Breakfast Ideas

15 Nutritious Vegan Meals for Kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 Nutritious Vegan Meals for Kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Cinnamon and Pear Oatmeal

There are some yummy vegan porridge ideas out there and this one of the great kid friendly vegan breakfast recipes. This cinnamon and pear oatmeal from Vegan Dietitian Karla Moreno-Bryce, shows you how to mix nuts and seeds into your breakfast porridge. Remember to use ground nuts and seeds for younger ones. Or for an easy overnight oats alternative, check this out this recipe from Vegan Dietitian Kate Roberts.

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Easy Microwave Granola

A super easy breakfast recipe to serve with fruit or yoghurt. Even better, it can be stored for up to 5 days in the fridge so perfect for rushed mornings. Remember that whole nuts aren’t suitable for little ones under 5 but you can use finely chopped or ground nuts and seeds. 

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Vegan American Pancakes

Another fun recipe from the Vegan Kids Dietitian, Kate Roberts. Not just for vegan kids, these are likely to be popular with the whole family. 

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Baked Tofu Frittatas

Who said tofu can’t be for breakfast? This yummy tofu breakfast from Vegan Dietitian, Karla Moreno-Bryce, is perfect for cooler Autumn or Winter mornings.

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Peanut Butter Toast and Fruit Kebabs

This fun and simple breakfast idea from My Fussy Eater, is a creative vegan breakfast, perfect for pickier breakfast eaters.

Lunch Ideas

Here are some of our favourite vegan kids’ lunches.

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Easy Vegan Tofu Scramble

A fabulous alternative to scrambled eggs. This tasty and colourful easy vegan lunch from registered Dietitian and food blogger, Debbie Davis, is fun for all the family. 

Untitled design (10).png15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
Untitled design (10).png15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Pizza Bites

Most kids love pizza and these gluten-free easy pizza bites from Vegan Richa, have a yummy pizza flavour!

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Tuscan Bean Stew 

A protein packed warming vegan lunch for the whole family. This delicious recipe from Mummy Cooks, can easily be made in advance and then frozen. It can also be easily blended for babies to try.

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

This soup is one of our favourite recipes for vegan picky eaters. Very warming and lightly spiced, it is suitable for the whole family, even if you have a baby. I love dishes that work for everyone!

Dinner Ideas

We love these vegan family meals:

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Tasty Tofu

If you’re new to tofu or are afraid it could be tasteless, this tasty tofu stir fry by Dietitian Priya Tew, is a flavour-packed option to try. Tofu is a great source of protein and a brilliant source of calcium. A portion of tofu (around 140g) has around the same amount of calcium as a small glass of milk. This recipe is very flexible so feel free to add your family’s favourite veg. 

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Vegan Ramen Noodle Salad

This is a quick meal for hungry kids (and adults too) from Vegan Dietitian, Karla Moreno-Bryce. You can use frozen soya beans for convenience. 

Untitled design (14).png15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
Untitled design (14).png15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Baked Rigatoni with Vegan Meat

An easy one pot, pasta Vegan meal from Vegan Richa. The tofu mozzarella is a game changer!

15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist
15 nutritious vegan meals for kids and how to make them balanced by Sarah Almond Bushell, The Children's Nutritionist

Vegan macaroni cheese with broccoli

This cashew nut based sauce is a tasty way to substitute the cheese sauce. You can add whatever veggies you have. It’s another great idea from registered Dietitian and food blogger, Debbie Davis.

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist
Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

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meet Sarah

I’m Sarah, a Registered Dietitian, Children’s Nutritionist and mummy from East Sussex. My blog is to guide & inspire you with information about weaning, nutrition, food and toddler feeding. Learn more about me here.

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