Live Chat: Plant-Based Eating for Kids with Alex Caspero and Whitney English
In this Live Chat, Sharon and registered dietitians Alexandra Caspero and Whitney English talk about plant-based eating and their best nutrition advice for plant-based eating for kids, including vegetarian, vegan, and flexitarian.
I am so excited to have fellow dietitians and friends, Alex Caspero and Whitney English, who are experts in the area of plant-based diets for children, on my Live Chat! Thanks for listening on our conversation, as we discuss all of the nuances, myths, and tips for plant-based diets for children. Whether you’re trying a vegan or vegetarian diet for your children and family, or just trying to fit in more plants into your daily diet, we are dishing on our best nutrition tips for healthy, balanced eating to promote optimal health. You’ll learn everything you need to know about plant-based eating for kids in this episode of my Live Chat.
Alex and Whitney are founders of Plant-Based Juniors (PBJs), a community for parents and educators interested in properly implementing plant-based diets for children. PBJs is dedicated to filling the gap in credible pediatric nutrition information for plant-based infants and children. They promote an all-inclusive “predominantly plant-based” approach, supporting all families from vegan to vegetarian to flexitarian. Basically, if parents want to get more plants on the plate, PBJs wants to help! PBJs has multiple resources available to support the feeding journey including their new book, The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler (Avery, May 2021), The Predominantly Plant-Based Pregnancy Guide, First Bites: The Definitive Guide to Baby-Led Weaning For Plant-Based Babies, and PBJ’s Batch Cook Ebook.
Alex and Whitney’s Resources
- The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler
- The Predominantly Plant-Based Pregnancy Guide, First Bites: The Definitive Guide to Baby-Led Weaning For Plant-Based Babies
- PBJ’s Batch Cook Ebook
Things You Will Learn in This Episode
- How to get started eating a plant-based diet for the whole family.
- Health benefits of plant-based diets for children.
- The basics for planning health plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets for children, from infants and toddlers through adolescence.
- Ensuring that you meet your nutrition needs during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
- How to plan for supplements for plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian diets for children.
- Urban legends and myths surrounding plant-based eating for children.
- How to combat picky eating among kids.
- Tips for planning healthy, kid-friendly, plant-based meals.
Check out our Live Chat here.
Plant-Based Eating for Kids with Alex Caspero and Whitney English
Q: How did you get started down the plant-based journey for both yourselves, and your children?
A: Whitney started eating plant-based after taking a course in her dietetics program led by the world-renowned longevity researcher, Dr. Valter Longo. He presented the evidence supporting a plant-based diet for disease prevention and longevity in such a clear and unequivocal way – there was no turning back for her!
Alex became plant-based in college after dating a protein-obsessed bodybuilder who regularly ate cans of tuna in the middle of the night! She wanted a fresh start after their breakup and ditching meat after ditching the meathead just felt like the right move!
When we both became pregnant around the same time, we knew we wanted to raise our children this way as well and began investigating the research on plant-based nutrition for kids. We were pleased to find that – similar to adults – eating a diet rich in plants is not only safe but immensely beneficial for children.
Q: What are some of the main benefits children and families can derive from living a plant-based lifestyle?
A: Children who eat plant-based diets have a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and important nutrients like fiber, folate, and vitamin C. They also have a lower risk of childhood obesity and lower cholesterol levels.
Q: What are some of the biggest concerns you hear from families about meeting the needs of their young children when they are eating a plant-based diet?
A: Many parents are afraid they won’t be able to meet certain nutrient needs on a plant-based diet. Protein and iron come to mind first. However, research shows that plant-based kids typically get double the protein they actually need. All whole plant foods contain protein, so as long as you’re providing your child with varied sources of plant protein (legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains), you’ll easily meet their protein needs. As for iron, plants contain similar amounts of iron as iron-rich animal based foods like beef. Though the bioavailability of non-heme iron is lower than that from animals, this can be overcome by pairing iron-rich foods with a good source of vitamin C to increase absorption. Regardless of diet, all kids should be fed iron-rich foods right from the start as iron deficiency is the leading nutrient deficiency in kids and adults alike.
Q: What about for pregnancy and breastfeeding?
A: A plant-based diet is absolutely safe and likely beneficial for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Research shows that plant-based pregnant women may have a lower risk of pregnancy-related complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Moms and moms-to-be should eat a varied, nutrient-dense diet (similar to non-pregnant women, but just a bit more) and properly supplement. We have a free supplement guide on our website that outlines needs. https://plantbasedjuniors.com/plant-based-juniors-supplement-guide/
Q: What are some of the pitfalls that you see parents make when it comes to feeding their children plant-based diets?
A: Some parents think that their adult plant-based diet is adequate for children and may overlook unique needs for kids such as a high intake of fat and total calories. While adults can thrive on a low-fat, plant-based diet, babies and toddlers need an upwards of 40% of their calories to come from fat to fuel growth and development. Parents also may not realize the importance of calorically-dense plant foods for kids. Again, while adults can thrive on low-calorie plant-based foods, kids need to make every bite count in early life. This is why we split our “PB3 Plate” into thirds and only allot 1/3 of the plate to fruits and vegetables versus ½ of the plate like in other plate models. We want to make sure kids are getting enough total calories and not filling up too quickly on nutritious, but low-calorie, produce.
Q: Any urban legends you’d like to bust?
A: That soy is harmful for kids. This is a common myth that just won’t go away! Research shows that babies and children who consume soy develop normally and have no reproductive or endocrinological differences compared to other kids. In fact, young girls may even benefit from consuming soy. Studies show that women who consumed a lot of soy early in life have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Q: What are your top tips for parents—from pregnancy to childbirth to breastfeeding to childhood—who want to feed their families plant-based—whether they are starting, or even have been doing this for a while?
- Educate yourself. The key to any proper diet is appropriate planning!
- If you’re new to this, ease in. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Every bit of plant-based eating counts.
- If you’re getting resistance from your children, try backing off. We advocate for allowing your children to lead the way when it comes to feeding. It’s your job to expose them to a wide array of nutritious foods, but it’s their job to decide what and how much they want to eat. Provide without pressure!
Q: Any supplementation advice?
A: No plant-based diet is complete without thoughtful supplementation. Needs vary according to age and life stage, so make sure to do your homework and figure out what you or your child needs. Again, we have a free supplement guide to help with this!
Alex and Whitney share one of their favorite plant-based recipes, French Toast Fingers with Quick Berry Syrup!
French Toast Fingers with Quick Berry Syrup
- 1 cup canned coconut milk (regular or light)
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 5 thick slices of day old bread, cut into wide strips
- Coconut oil or nondairy butter, for the pan
Quick Berry Syrup
- 2 cups frozen berries, slightly thawed
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, flaxseed, vanilla, and cinnamon. Let sit for 5 minutes while you slice the bread
- In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat.
- Dip a strip of bread into the coconut mixture, then place in the hot skillet. Repeat with more strips, taking care not to crowd the pan.
- Cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.
- Remove the French toast strips from the pan, and repeat with remaining bread slices.
- Serve immediately as is or with Quick Berry Syrup for dipping!
Quick Berry Syrup
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, place ¹⁄3 cup of water, the berries, cinnamon, and vanilla and bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, gently smash the large berries.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the syrup has reduced and thickened. The syrup should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Enjoy with French Toast Fingers.
For other episodes of Sharon’s Live Chat, check out the following:
Live Chat: Loma Linda Blue Zones with Celine Heskey
Learning About Cultural Humility in the Food System with Denine Rogers
A Disease-Proof Diet with Dr. Michael Greger
Hispanic Plant-Based Food Traditions with Sylvia Melendez Klinger
Baby-Led Weaning with Diana Rice, The Baby Steps Dietitian