Meet The UK Dietitian Helping Parents Raise Healthy Vegan Families

With veganism hitting the mainstream and more parents choosing to raise their children on a plant-based diet, it can be overwhelming knowing where to start.

Feeding your Vegan Child – A Practical Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition written by National Health Service (NHS) Dietitian Sandra Hood RD is packed full of everything parents need to raise a vegan family with confidence.

The exceptionally detailed and practical advice includes nutrition and dietary essentials, varied menu ideas and recipes, and stories from vegan families to highlight the benefits and potential pitfalls of adopting this way of eating.

A vegan for more than 40 years, Hood is an honorary dietitian with The Vegan Society and worked closely with Plamil Foods (the first UK soya milk company) in the 1980s to produce infant case histories to prove the efficacy and benefits of a plant-based diet for infants.

Hood shares her stories and tips with Elizabeth Bowie.

What was your inspiration for writing this book? And why now?

Although plant-based eating has grown rapidly over the last few years, I didn’t feel there was enough information on raising a vegan child.

I wanted to provide the latest evidence and practical advice in an uncomplicated ‘go to’ book to show that a vegan diet was safe and could be health protecting.

The aim of the book was to ensure good nutrition for optimal growth and development covering all stages from preconception through to adolescence.

Do you have any interesting stories from your 40-plus years as a vegan?

Eating out in the 1970s was pretty challenging. I was frequently just provided with salad and potatoes or bread or a plate of boiled vegetables.

As for a dessert or a piece of cake, that just wasn’t heard of.

I embraced veganism with great enthusiasm as it was just a relief to know I no longer contributed to the suffering of animals for my palate.

I remember was when I went out with my student friends for a curry. I ordered a vegetable curry and when it arrived it contained meat.

The waiter was very enthusiastic and thought he was really doing me a favour when he told me “It’s a treat, no extra charge.” He obviously thought I was depriving myself or I couldn’t afford meat.

I was also very fortunate to live near Eva Batt, who wrote the first published vegan cookbook, What’s Cooking. Eva was a great inspiration and we shared many meals where I learnt about different foods which complemented each other.

What is the feedback you get from parents wanting to raise vegan children? Is there more acceptance now veganism is more mainstream?

There is much more acceptance and with the growth of vegan meals available in every supermarket and restaurant it demonstrates this.

In addition, health professionals are now accepting the benefits of plant-based eating for children and adults alike.

Nevertheless vegan parents are still a minority group and understandably when they are challenged by non-vegan parents, it is very easy to stir up emotions.

This can cause a parent, particularly if they are isolated from other vegans, to question whether raising a vegan child is ok.

The case histories in my book provide an insight into how parents have managed raising their children on a vegan diet and provides reassurance and also tips for tricky situations.

What are some of your leading tips for parents raising vegan children? 

Living by example is one of the most important things as children learn from us as soon as they are born.

Having a happy home and providing a positive environment contributes to a healthy life.

Try to eat a variety of foods to encourage your child to do the same.

Children should be involved in preparing and cooking foods. If you are fortunate enough to grow your own fruit and vegetables, this can also help children develop an appreciation and respect for food.

Do you recommend supplements?

Throughout all life stages, vitamin B12 is essential either through fortified foods or as a supplement.

Vitamin D is a nutrient that may be needed at different stages of life.

However, all other nutrients should be met with a varied diet that meets energy requirements.

What are some of the most common myths you have encountered?

There are two common ones I come across regularly.

The first one is regarding protein. Well-meaning omnivores may suggest that animal proteins are superior.

This argument is problematic since animals build up their proteins from plant sources. All the essential amino acids come from plants.

The other myth is that fish is essential to provide the long chain fatty acids (LCFA). These LCFAs have been shown to be important for the baby’s brain and the nervous system.

The reason that fish contain these fatty acids is because they eat plants. So just cut out the middle man – the fish – and go straight to the plant source.

It’s important for children to be involved in making food, says Sandra Hood. Credit 123rf.

How important is it for children to understand where their food comes from? 

This is very important as it encourages children from an early age to take an interest in food.

Developing healthy eating habits very early in life is a big part of lifelong good health, alongside, of course, nurturing love and happiness.

Discussing meat and other animal products with a little one can be difficult. This should be done in a gentle and age-appropriate way.

It should be remembered that the majority of their peers and also lots of family members will be meat eaters so you don’t want to portray these people as “bad”.

Instead explain that these people may not understand and are still learning and that we need to be kind to them and hope in time they will change.

How can children handle the peer pressure to eat animal products?

Peer pressure is a very powerful thing and how a child can handle this depends on the confidence and age of the child.

Older children would have learned from their parents and be more than capable of looking after themselves.

For the younger child attending social events and parties, it helps to speak to the organiser concerned. Find out what food will be available and whether perhaps you can contribute.

For example, there have been many occasions where parents have taken along vegan dishes and this has ended up being more popular than the conventional food.

Nevertheless some children may choose to deviate from the vegan diet when they go out. This can be very upsetting to parents but by providing support, kindness and love, it is likely that your child will in time make the decision to stay vegan.

More young people are embracing compassion towards animals. Credit 123rf.

Do you feel hopeful that the next generations of children will be more conscious and compassionate when it comes to food and lifestyle choices?

Yes! There are so many young people in their teens and early 20s moving to a vegan diet and committed to the vegan cause.

It has been stated that the 18-23-year-olds are the most meat-free generation in the UK.

This gives me great optimism for the future for a more compassionate world. As someone said to me once: No other diet connects everything – our health, compassion and the planet.

Anything else you would like readers to know?

Just to say that although we know we have got something right in our lives – that we shouldn’t kill and eat animals – we should not be self-righteous.

The person in the queue in front of us with the perfectly packaged pork chop may be streets ahead of us in other areas of their lives.

Veganism is all about compassion. We need to educate, not condemn.

Feeding Your Vegan Child: A Practical Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition by Sandra Hood is available now. 

Images of Sandra Hood & book cover – supplied.


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