You can’t have missed how popular plant based eating has become. It’s good for us, it’s good for the environment and it can be healthy for our little ones too.
It doesn’t mean going all-out vegan. For many of us it’s about including dairy, eggs and meat in our diets, but having it less often.
How to do plant based eating with children
As with all things food and feeding, I do recommend a little planning and reading around the topic first so that you can approach plant based eating with the confidence that your little one’s diet will remain nutritious and wholesome.
If you google ‘plant based diet for children’ the results can seem quite overwhelming and much of what reaches the first page is opinion rather than scientific fact. I’ve done the research for you and pulled together a series of blog posts to help sift fact from fiction and provide some useful ideas and recipes to help you get started.
A great place to start is to read my guest blog from dietitian Gaby Goodchild all about food sustainability and the main considerations when planning a plant based diet for kids.
My colleague Annabel Karmel has shared with us some delicious recipes for plant based meals for different ages and stages.
This blog however is all about snacks, a great place to start if you want to be more plant based but don’t want to jump into a full vegan or vegetarian way of life.
What is a plant based diet?
There is no official definition of what a plant based diet is, but it is generally understood that it is when the food you eat over the course of a day or week is mainly from foods derived from plants. This can include fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and pulses.
Plant based eating doesn’t necessarily mean being vegan, a lot of people who follow a plant based diet still eat animal products, but make a conscious effort to eat less of them and more plant foods instead.
Healthy eating guidelines are pointing towards more plant based eating, for example the Eat Well Guide  shows an emphasis on beans and pulses in the protein group which was traditionally focused on meat, fish and eggs. In addition, the British Dietetic Association has launched it’s One Blue Dot  campaign which promotes a plant based diet for healthy eating.
How often should my child have plant based snacks?
I often advise that snacks are an essential part of healthy eating for children. For over 1’s, snacking is an opportunity to provide additional nutrients that little ones struggle to manage to get from meals alone. This is because:
Their stomachs are quite small and they can feel full up quite quickly at mealtimes.
Tiredness can mean they are too exhausted to eat well.
Emotions or anxiety switches off appetite instantly and so if you’ve had a battle at mealtimes snacks can provide a great back up.
Anyone with a toddler (or like me has had one before) can relate to there being good eating days and not so good days too.
I suggest 2-3 snacks per day, in between meals, but leaving enough time before the next meal so that your little one comes to the table ready to eat. If you want to read more about how to manage snacking, see my blog here.
How to make up a nutritious snack
For snacks to be a useful contribution to your child’s nutritional intake, they need to be balanced. This means that they should be made up of 2 to 3 different food groups. The 5 food groups are:
Fruit and veg,
Starchy carbohydrates – bread, rice, grains, pasta, potato, crackers, cereals,
Plant based proteins – hummus, nut butters, seeds, beans, tofu
Dairy alternatives – check that they are fortified with calcium, iodine and unsweetened
Oils and spreads
The portion still needs to be small, however, so that they don’t get too full for their next meal. Variety is also important to broaden the range of nutrients, so have different snacks throughout the week if you can.
Healthy for us, healthy for our planet
Not only are plant based foods healthy for your child, they are also healthy for the planet. The methane, produced by farmed livestock, contributes hugely to global warming and this is the driver for many people who want to change their diets.
Farming vegetables and plant foods uses up less water and land than livestock , so reducing you or your child’s meat intake, even by a little, can really make a difference!
Will my child get enough protein on a plant based diet?
The short answer is yes, provided you plan it properly. Plant proteins include nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butters, beans, lentils and other pulses such as chickpeas. You can also include tofu and vegetarian protein such as Quorn but do check the food labels as often the more processed flavoured versions like nuggets and burgers are just as salty as their meat based equivalent.
12 Plant based snack ideas
Here is a list of plant based snack ideas that I hope will make getting started a little easier. I’ve chosen these because they provide a good variety of nutrients, including protein, and they are both quick and easy on-the-go snacks as well as those that you might want to prepare in advance.
1.Hummus and roasted veg like pepper, sweet potato or courgette, or raw veggies like cucumber, pepper, carrot, if your child can chew well.
Hummus is an excellent way to include protein, healthy fats as well as calcium and iron into your child’s diet. It also introduces your child to different flavours such as sesame and garlic. The veggies can be used as a vehicle to eat/lick the hummus!
2.Mini energy balls & a drink of milk
These are easy to make quickly and very handy to take out and about with you. They’re a naturally sweet snack which are high in fibre, and the nuts and chia seeds provide some protein. These energy balls also contain iron due to the sunflower seeds. Because they are made with dried fruit, it’s best to have these alongside another food group like a drink of milk, so that the natural sugars and acids don’t hang around on your children’s teeth for too long.
3. Sweet and Salty roasted chickpeas served with tangerine segments
Chickpeas are a great source of protein (half a tin provides around 8 grams!) and including a tangerine will also add some vitamin C. It’s best to omit the salt in this recipe if you are serving to children as it really isn’t needed.
4. Mashed banana and peanut butter wrap pinwheels
Simply spread a wrap (wholemeal is better) with peanut butter and top with mashed banana. Roll up and slice into pinwheels. Banana is an excellent source of energy as well as containing valuable micronutrients. Adding peanut butter provides a portion of healthy fats and protein too.
5. Dairy free yoghurt topped with cooked quinoa, roasted apple slices, milled linseed, oats or nut butters
Choose unsweetened versions of dairy free yoghurts which are kinder to teeth and don’t encourage a preference for sweet foods and look for brands that are fortified with calcium, vitamins and iodine. These are a really useful top up, particularly if you are following a dairy free or vegan diet all the time. Adding the toppings that I’ve suggested make it a bit more interesting for your child but importantly they supply some nutritious additions.
6. Wholemeal pitta with reduced-salt marmite and dairy-free spread with chopped strawberries
Marmite is fortified with vitamin B12, an essential vitamin normally only found in animal products so if you are vegan, vegetarian or dairy free this can be an easy way to add it to your child’s diet. It’s great that a lower salt version of Marmite is now available as in previous years it was a food I’d always suggest avoiding for little ones.
7. Pancakes with cashew butter and raspberries
Not exclusively vegan but too good to leave this one out, this pancake recipe uses wholemeal flour which is not only high in fibre but also iron (which is sometimes difficult to get enough of when following a plant based diet). Cashew butter is a tasty alternative to peanut butter which will increase your child’s healthy fat intake, giving a fab energy boost and raspberries contain vitamin C which will aid the iron absorption from the wholemeal flour. If you want to make it exclusively vegan swap the egg for 1 pureed apple and use a plant based milk.
8. Avocado mashed on wholemeal toast
Avocado is one of the easiest and quickest vegetables to prepare as there is no need to cook it, just mash it on to toast with a fork! They are a super concentrated source of healthy fats, and vitamins E and B which are great for your child’s immune system. The wholemeal toast provides fibre and iron too. This snack will provide a lovely energy boost and keep them full up till their next meal time too!
9. Black bean cookies & Plant based milk
This is a healthy alternative to your standard cookie recipe and they are a great source of iron from the oats, cacoa powder and black beans. They are also high in fibre and protein so provide a steady energy release to fuel a busy afternoon of play. Don’t expect a crunchy biscuit, these are more chewy and your child will need a drink of plant based milk to wash them down.
I love this recipe from Alpro, omit the salt for babies and toddlers and go easy on the chilli if your little one isn’t au fait yet with spicy foods.
I developed this recipe when my daughter was diagnosed with an egg allergy and use chia seeds to replace egg.
Ok so this isn’t 100% plant based, the recipe uses milk although you could use a plant milk instead, and the egg is replaced with apple puree. Apples contain pectin which acts as a fab egg replacement. I couldn’t not include this recipe though as it’s just so delicious. We cook it on the weekends for breakfast and it rarely lasts a day!
Any other suggestions?
There are tons of other foods that are plant based and are perfect for snacking. Here’s just a few more ideas:
Tortilla chips with guacamole & salsa
Cereal bars – Deliciously Ella, Trek bars
Just remember to pair at least two of these together to maximise nutrition and of course choose foods that are developmentally appropriate for the age and stage of your child.
Adding more plant based foods to your little ones diet is a healthy move to make, not just for them but for the future of our planet. You will automatically be increasing their fruit, veg and wholegrain intake, which stands them in great stead for the future.
If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve learned here then I’d like to introduce you to the Happy Healthy Eaters Club. This is a members-only club where you’ll learn how to raise a child who skips to the table (without you having to ask 50 times first), sits down, and happily munches away.
The club will teach you all about food and parenting techniques so that you can nip fussy eating in the bud (or prevent it before it begins) and make you’ll feel safe in the knowledge your child has eaten their nutrients, that they’ll sleep well, grow healthy bones and brains, and not pick up all those bugs.
Your parenting around food means that your little one will learn to be excited to try new foods, family mealtimes are a breeze and there’s not a reward, bribe, or iPad insight and you haven’t spent hours in the kitchen cooking up different meals for everyone either. And I promise you… you’ll no longer be scraping rejected food from the floor! Here’s the link to learn more: https://www.thechildrensnutritionist.com/hhec-open
Thanks to Leanne Thompson for helping create this blog.