Rais­ing veg­e­tar­i­ans: When your kids say “no more meat, mom”

Do your kids re­ally need meat?

The Kids Post - - Contents - By Jon Sufrin

Shortly af­ter the birth of her daugh­ter Is­abelle a few years ago, Toronto ve­gan Laila Upes­lacis found a pe­di­a­tri­cian and in­di­cated that she planned on rais­ing her child on a plant-based diet.

At first, the pe­di­a­tri­cian was con­cerned. It would be best to keep Is­abelle on a non-ve­gan diet for her first five years of life, the pe­di­a­tri­cian said, to en­sure that such as vitamin B12 — are care­fully sup­ple­mented. As a re­sult, the once-skep­ti­cal pe­di­a­tri­cian is now fully on board.

“It’s just ad­just­ing your way of think­ing,” Upes­lacis says. “In­stead of just hav­ing meat, starch and veg­eta­bles, it’s a new way of look­ing at how to cook.”

As more and more par­ents choose to raise their chil­dren on

Not car­ing about the diet at all is prob­a­bly the big­gest chal­lenge.”

her nu­tri­tional needs were ad­e­quately met.

But Upes­lacis con­sulted a nu­tri­tion­ist and did her re­search. She wanted her daugh­ter to grow up with­out de­pend­ing on an­i­mal prod­ucts, so she stood firm in her de­ci­sion.

To­day, three-year-old Is­abelle and her one-year-old brother Ben are happy and healthy on their ve­gan di­ets. They eat lots of wholesome, home-cooked food, and nu­tri­ents that are hard to come by from veg­eta­bles only — ve­gan or veg­e­tar­ian di­ets, con­cerns are on the rise. In­ter­na­tional news­pa­per head­lines have warned of the po­ten­tial health risks, and last year, a one-year-old boy from Mi­lan who was on a strictly ve­gan diet was re­moved from his par­ents’ care af­ter doc­tors dis­cov­ered he was se­verely mal­nour­ished.

Mered­ith Deasley, a GTAbased pe­di­atric nu­tri­tion­ist, says she has seen first-hand the ef­fects of poorly ex­e­cuted ve­gan di­ets in chil­dren. She re­calls con­sult­ing with the par­ents of a 13-year-old girl who was not re­act­ing well to her plant-based nu­tri­tional in­take.

“She was so pale, so ema­ci­ated,” Deasley says. “I told them to try eggs and fish just to see what would hap­pen. Three weeks later, she was thriv­ing.”

The prob­lem, Deasley says, is that it can be dif­fi­cult to an­tic­i­pate nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies that can oc­cur when re­mov­ing cer­tain food items that are con­sid­ered staples in Western di­ets. Vitamin B12, she says, is avail­able only through non-ve­gan sources, so it needs to be sup­ple­mented. Pro­tein and healthy fats, too, need to be rig­or­ously sought out from sources such as legumes, nuts and seeds.

“Th­ese kids are grow­ing. It’s like a body­builder — if they want to build mus­cle, they have pro­tein shakes. The pro­tein helps them grow.”

Nu­tri­tion can be a com­pli­cated topic, and re­ly­ing solely on plants adds ex­tra lay­ers of nu­ance. But any diet — ve­gan, veg­e­tar­ian or om­niv­o­rous — can be un­healthy if a lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach is taken.

“Nowa­days we have to earn our health,” Deasley says. “Not car­ing about the diet at all is prob­a­bly the big­gest chal­lenge.”

An­drea Car­pen­ter, a reg­is­tered di­eti­cian from Toronto, says that, if the proper pre­cau­tion­ary steps are taken, a ve­gan diet can be just as healthy as an om­niv­o­rous diet — pos­si­bly even health­ier. But the task shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“You not only have to make sure you’re get­ting all the nu­tri­ents, you’ll also have the child’s pref­er­ences and picky eat­ing ten­den­cies that you’ll have to work through,” she says. “It can be done, but it doesn’t come with­out chal­lenges.”

Ed­u­ca­tion, she says, is cru­cial. It’s not sim­ply about avoid­ing meat, eggs and dairy. It’s about un­der­stand­ing im­por­tant nu­tri­ents — such as cal­cium, iron and vitamin D — and how to en­sure they are all suf­fi­ciently present.

“Veg­e­tar­ian or ve­gan di­ets can have a healthy role in a grow­ing child,” Car­pen­ter says, “but we have to be care­ful that the diet in its en­tirety is looked at.”

As for Upes­lacis, she has no re­grets with her de­ci­sion to keep an­i­mal prod­ucts off the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble not only from a nu­tri­tional stand­point, but also from an eth­i­cal one.

“Even as a child, you un­der­stand: why would you kill a cow and eat it?”

Is­abelle (left) and Ben are healthy kids on a ve­gan diet

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