Ask any vegan what the most common question they get about their diet is, and many of them will probably say, “where do you get your protein?”
There’s a huge misconception around plant-based eating as far it being a protein-restricted diet, which likely stems from our societal obsession with eating excessive amounts of protein, mostly from animal foods. It’s not uncommon to see someone at the grocery store with a cart packed full of eggs, packages of lean chicken breast, and canisters of protein powders when perhaps looking to build muscle. Or maybe we’ve been there ourselves. Amiright?
So, when raising a vegan child, where are they going to get their protein and, more importantly, how much do they actually need?
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for protein by age and approximate weight can be found here. Children ages 1-3 years old require an estimated 1.2 grams/kg of body weight, whereas children ages 7-10 years old require around 1.0 gram/kg of body weight. This amount is highest in infancy (around 2.2 grams/kg body weight) and then generally tends to decrease with age, depending of course on individual health conditions or unique scenarios requiring additional prescriptions of protein. But enough math. In plainer numbers, for a healthy 22 pound (10 kg) one year old, this would amount to approximately 12 grams of protein per day.
Having this information, how do you make sure your child is eating enough protein on a vegan diet?
For starters, don’t panic – but DO pay attention. Protein isn’t lacking in plant foods as long as you do some appropriate planning. Remember that consistently offering a child a wide variety of protein-rich foods is key, just like with any other nutrient – even for kids not being raised vegan. A child will generally eat what he or she needs calorie-wise but, of course, your pediatrician will be able to evaluate for signs of nutrient deficiencies, so be sure to stay current on medical appointments. For any child, always seek the assistance of a registered dietitian and/or physician trained in nutrition for specific recommendations if you are uncertain.
For quick reference, here are some ideas*:
1 slice whole wheat bread = 4g
2 Tbsp hummus = 2.5g
1/4 cup canned white beans = 5g
2 Tbsp peanut butter = 8g
2 Tbsp cashew butter = 6g
2 Tbsp tahini = 5g
1/4 cup cooked quinoa = 2g
1/3 cup whole wheat pasta = 3g
1 cup soy milk = 7g
1 cup hemp milk = 2g
80g cubed tofu = 8g
1/4 cup edamame = 5g
1/4 cup cooked rolled oats = 3.5g
2 Tbsp hemp hearts = 7g
3 Tbsp chia seeds = 2g
2 Tbsp ground flax seed = 3g
1/2 cup mashed sweet potato = 2.25g
1/4 cup cooked zucchini = 0.65g
1/4 cup cooked green lentils = 4.5g
1/4 cup cooked spinach = 1.5g
1/4 cup cooked green beans = 0.6g
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast = 3g
1/4 cup sliced banana = 0.5g
1/4 cup cooked green peas = 2g
1/4 cup cubed seitan = 16g
1/2 cup cooked broccoli = 2g
*Nutrition information obtained from the USDA Food Composition Databases