Is a vegan diet healthy for kids?

Is it safe to bring your child up as vegan? Our dietitian, Emer Delaney, explains what you need to know...

Pregnant woman and her child buying vegetables

The short answer is yes, with the right planning and knowledge, a child can get everything they need following a vegan diet. The biggest concern with vegan diets in early childhood is nutritional inadequacy. Parents therefore need to be very well informed, otherwise there's a risk some nutrients might fall short, such as vitamin D, calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and possibly vitamin B12 deficiency.  

So what are the most important points parents have to remember when feeding their child a plant-based diet. Read on to discover more. 

For more on vegan diets, we've collaborated with BBC Future – read more below:

The health benefits of going vegan – BBC Future
Why vegan junk food might be even worse for your health – BBC Future
How a vegan diet could affect your intelligence – BBC Future
The hidden biases that drive anti-vegan hatred – BBC Future
The mystery of why there are more women vegans – BBC Future
Why the vegan diet is not always green – BBC Future
Which milk alternative should we be drinking? – BBC Future


Breastfeeding is encouraged for at least the first six months, as the milk is a rich source of nutrients. Many parents continue breastfeeding until the age of one or beyond. However, breast milk shouldn’t be the sole source of nutrition, and weaning should begin from six months. If parents decide to stop breastfeeding at six months, a formula fortified with iron, calcium, vitamins B12 and D is recommended. Speak to your GP, dietician or health visitor for an appropriate recommendation. 

Soya and oat 'milks' are not appropriate for babies less than one year old, as they don’t have the right ratio of carbohydrate, protein and fat. They also lack the vital nutrients for growth and development. Rice milk should also be avoided for all children under 5 years, it is low in protein and fat and these products contain levels of arsenic.

Vegan weaning

Vegan weaning puree recipes
During weaning, an iron-fortified infant cereal is a great option for a first food. The cereal can be mixed with expressed breast milk or plant-based formula for a thin consistency. A variety of foods are to be encouraged when weaning, including vegetables, cereal foods, pulses (peas, beans and lentils), tofu, ground nuts, seeds and fruits. As long as your baby doesn't have an allergy, nuts can be given from six months old, but make sure they are finely ground. Children under five years old should not have whole nuts because of the risk of choking. Naturally sweet fruits (such as apples or bananas) or vegetables (such as carrots, sweet potatoes or butternut squash) can be used to sweeten foods in place of sugar. Never add artificial sweeteners, sugar or salt to foods for infants.

It's worth bearing in mind that as your baby's intake of breast milk or formula decreases, you may need to consider supplementation – speak to your GP or health visitor about the Department of Health's recommendations for children under five years old.

Eating for energy

Vegan diets tend to be less energy dense, so children need to eat larger quantities to get enough energy. We know that children typically have small appetites, so achieving their daily calorie needs can be a challenge. Adding healthy oils to food, such as soya bean or cold-pressed rapeseed are key, as they add more calories to meals and encourage the production of important fatty acids, which are needed for brain development.

Focus on the following nutrients from the age of one:


Protein is a key nutrient for growth and development and is essential in every child’s diet. There are plenty of protein-rich foods suitable for a vegan diet, and these include a variety of pulses, beans and lentils which will ensure a good mix of amino acids. Grain-like food such as quinoa as well as nuts and nut butters are good sources of protein, provided your child has no allergies. Egg replacers are available in health foods shops and some supermarkets, and can be used in cooking and baking. Aim to include three portions of vegetable protein per day to ensure adequate nutrition. 

Calcium and milk alternatives

Vegan milk alternatives on a table

Calcium is key for maintaining healthy bones, and approximately 45% of our bone mass is accrued before the age of eight years. A further 45% is laid in the next eight years, with the remaining 10% in the following 10 years. It's therefore essential that calcium requirements are met for children eating a vegan diet. 

A plant-based milk (about 300ml per day) that’s been fortified with calcium and vitamin D is a good choice, and you may wish to include soya yogurts and calcium-rich cereals in your child's diet too. Oat and coconut 'milks' are another option – they’re both available in a fortified form with calcium (but not all are fortified with vitamin D - so check labels). Fortified rice milk can be used as a main drink for children but only from the age of five. 

Plant-based spreads can be used. Almonds, calcium-set tofu, beans and green leafy vegetables are also good sources of calcium, and should be regularly included in your child’s diet. It’s important that parents check the calcium recommendations for their child as they vary with age.

Calcium requirements vary for children according to age:


  • Under 1 year old – 525mg calcium per day


  • One to three years old – 350mg calcium per day
  • Four to six years old – 450mg calcium per day
  • Seven to 10 years old – 550mg calcium per day


  • 11 to 18 year old females – 800mg calcium per day
  • 11 to 18 year old males – 1000mg calcium per day


Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells. Good sources of iron, such as pulses (including beans), lentils and peas, dark green leafy vegetables (like broccoli, okra, watercress or spring greens), wholemeal bread and flour, nuts, wholegrains and fortified cereals should regularly be included in their diet. Dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and figs are also good choices. By combining an iron-rich food with a vitamin C rich one you will increase your child’s uptake of iron; try orange segments on a fortified breakfast cereal or peppers with lentils in a vegetable casserole. 

Vitamin D

Required for absorption of calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, vitamin D is found in a very limited variety of foods, with the best source being sunlight absorbed by the skin. Dietary sources for vegans are limited, so fortified plant-based milk, spreads and cereals are the best options. The Department of Health recommends that all children between six months and five years take a vitamin D supplement. The dose will depend on the child’s age. But, not all vitamin D supplements are suitable for vegans, so check the label before you buy.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These essential fats are vital for brain development and help keep the brain healthy and functioning optimally. They're also important for vision and heart health. Plant sources include chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp and walnuts. However, because plant foods are not the richest source of these essential fats, some vegans, including pregnant and breast-feeding mums, choose to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids derived from microalgae. 

Vitamin B12

Essential for the formation of red blood cells, vitamin B12 is key for brain and nervous system formation. It’s widely recognised that vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal sources, but fortified breakfast cereals and some low-salt yeast extracts contain B12, as do fortified plant milks and soya products. It’s important that a combination is included in your child’s diet. If not, a B12 supplement may be required. A reliable source of iodine is also important, and a supplement is typically recommended.


High-fibre foods tend to be very filling and can often cause children to become full before they've got all of the calories and nutrition they need. Opt for nutrient-dense foods that also contain fibre, such as avocados, nuts and dried fruits. Remember: it’s good practice to encourage children to brush their teeth after eating dried fruits to minimise the chance of tooth decay.

In summary, vegan diets can be safe for children as long as parents and guardians are well informed about the key nutrients required for growth and development. Furthermore, parents of vegan children must be extra cautious to ensure they're eating a balanced diet and seek professional guidance, where necessary.

You might also be interested in:

Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea. This article was last reviewed on 22nd January 2020 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens. A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, and the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Are you bringing your child or children up as vegan? Let us know how you're getting on in the comments below... 

Comments, questions and tips

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21st May, 2019
I understand what you r saying is that a plant based diet can be adequate for all ages of life. According to the books? It does require some knowledge, time, and money. If it is just 1% of the population I would imagine it might be difficult to get a result (2 yrs/ 5 yrs) of how adequate it really is. I hope all the young moms who want a better life via better health, are smart enough to do your best to learn nutrition and the digestive systems of your babies and yourself . It may be wiser/safer to be a little flexible during this crucial time of development. I do believe a goal of Vegan was to end suffering of animals which includes human babies.
Cristina Leonard's picture
Cristina Leonard
3rd Sep, 2018
I didnt like how you recommend soy to infants thats a hormone inhibitor and can cause several adrenal issues nd thyroids malfunction. I believe that a plantbased formula will be better or goat formula just for that stage.
14th Sep, 2017
I've come to learn that vitamin B12 used to be abundant in our soil years ago, therefore vitamin B12 wasn't needed through injecting the cows with this supplement. People don't know that you either supplement with B12 if you're vegan or eat a dead cow that's been supplemented. My family are all vegan, haven't been for that long actually, but I feel a huge difference in my energy and wellbeing. I notice Emmy child sleeps better and behaves better. Like any way of eating, a vegan diet can be unhealthy. If you have processed carbs 3x a day then that's not healthy, as is bacon for breakfast, chicken nuggets for lunch and fish fingers for dinner. It makes you more organised as a vegan parent, more conscious of food. You eat 10+ servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and let me tell you, that makes you feel good. I don't know whether I agree that humans ARENT supposed to eat meat, I just know it wasn't the staple and it certainly wasn't reared or killed in the way it is today. Anythinf that you get from meat, you can get from vegetables. Calcium, vitamin D, Zinc and vitamin B12 are all in sea vegatables, legumes, nuts, seeds and lentils. Dairy had been directly linked to many health concerns. Diabetes, eczema, asthma, cancer and automimmine disease to name a few. I do not like obtaining my research from forums or websites constructed by biased individuals or organisations. I like to get all information and studies regarding nutrition from NCBI as I am a health professional. A standard health meal for a meat eater may be chicken breast, grilled vegetables and a jacket potato. A HEALTHY vegan will have a lot more colour and variation of their plates which of course outruns a healthy meat eating diet. The way dairy is farmed is disgusting. It's no wonder 70% of the world is lactose intolerant. A cow cannot lactate without giving birth. They are artificially inseminated with bull sperm. A bull has a device attached to them causing them to ejaculate into another device. This device is then injected into a cow who will then undergo a strenuous pregnancy and labour JUST like us humans. They will then deliver. They undergo a hard labour JUST like us. Their young are taken away 12-46 hours after delivery. The cows bellow for their calves for days. They are then attached and chained up to a machine that milks them dry several times a day. Of course, unnatural extraction of milk causes mastitis and sores on their users which often lead to serious infection. Antibiotics are pumped into them daily to counteract this. Pus from their sores often passes through to the finished product of milk but that's ok as the government allow 5% of the milk we drink to be puss. There is a reason why the enzyme lactase (used to break down and utilise lactose) is almost non existent in our bodies after the age of 5. This is because humans aren't supposed to drink human milk after age 5, let alone cows milk! I think it's pure greed to treat animals the way we do and consume their products on such a large scale. Other food is abundant. It's not like we have been living in the jungle starved for days and therefore had to hunt down a deer. We have the luxury of choice, so we should choose the right thing to do, for these animals, for our health and for the world. The hormones pumped into animals to make them big and juicy consists of testosterone and oestrogen, both of which convert to oestrogen. This directly contributes to cancer. As cancer cells thrive through these hormones. These poor animals go through such stress to provide us with unnecessary food. This releases Cortisol into their blood and flesh. What you may or may not know, cortisol cannot be killed through cooking. Cortisol is a stress hormone and makes us ill. Not just physically but mentally also. Therefore contributing to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. If you don't care about your health then it's understandable to eat a meat and meat produce diet. However the sheer mass production of these products causes a massive amount of Co2 emissions and uses up a lot of water! (Watch cowspiracy). the food that feeds our cows are grains from Africa which we have traded for poor amounts of money; ripping off the poor communities. The grains are fed to the livestock to make them huge. We could be saving our planet instead of stuffing these cows and fuelling our complete greed and gluttony. I honestly do not think meat eaters and dairy consumers are bad peoples... I just think they are misinformed and do not realise the massive difference their small actions can make. Just one person to go vegan for one whole year saves 10,000 gallons of water. A family of 4; 40,000. That's water that maybe we could supply to third world countries and save the starving.
Dawn Carr
25th Aug, 2016
My 7 year-old daughter is the picture of health and has been a thriving vegan since birth. I’d have worried too much about her health and happiness if I were feeding her flesh, eggs and animals’ milk, as the dangers of feeding those foods to children are very well-documented. There's so much suffering and hardship in the world that we have a limited ability to change, but we can easily do something to make the world a less violent place every time we sit down to eat: we can choose healthy vibrant plant based meals that do not contribute to the misery of cows on dairy farms or the disappearance of fish from our oceans. Teaching our children about compassion is important as well as teaching them about healthy eating.
23rd Aug, 2016
My husband is vegan & we have had this debate since our son was born 7 months ago.he wants to raise him vegan whereas I do not.not because I think it's unhealthy,but just because of how restrictive it can be!i believe the best option is to educate your child about where meat & dairy comes from so that when they're older they can make informed choices by themselves.I also feel that feeding your children a diet of processed junk is a million miles more unhealthy than a vegan lifestyle!
15th Oct, 2016
Vegan diets are not restrictive at all. Your logic would indicate that you should raise your child vegan, then let them choose if they want to consume the flesh of animals after they learn where meat / diary and such products come from and how animals are treated. Forcing them to consume these products then teaching them is much more abusive.
22nd Aug, 2016
Why don't these GoodFood articles have published dates stamps on them? I think these type of articles should, if someone is trying to compare online resources to find the latest information, they shouldn't have to guess by the comment statement dates or go digging in the source pages for the info.
22nd Aug, 2016
Wow... This article is irresponsible at best, dangerous at worst. To state that a vegan diet is healthy for children, but only under the stipulation that they might need fortified foods, and will definitely need a B12 supplement is outrageous. If you need supplementation to complete your diet, no matter what age, then your diet is deficient in something. If B12 is essential to humans, and it must come from the food we consume, then any diet that excludes it is dangerous. Sure veganism is trendy, but there is a reason why so few of the world's top athletes, and high performance power athletes in particular, are vegan. It's simply incomplete and it's irresponsible to advocate supplements to children as a means of filling the dietary gap left by excluding meat from the diet.
15th Oct, 2016
What are your credentials to make these claims? And please post citations for your claims, it is truly amazing how many people are "experts" with no real knowledge. Do you know historically where B12 was obtained in our diets? B12's main source was untreated water, since we treat water the B12 is lost. B12 is mainly produced by soil born bacteria and within the colons of many animals, this B12 is excreted in the faeces so is not of direct use. Grazing animals such as cows, would obtain there B12 from grass which has B12 from faeces and bacteria. Modern factory farmed animals require B12 supplements / injections .... how very natural! B12 deficiency is rampant in meat eaters with modern agricultural practices destroying soil ecology.
Yogabirds's picture
24th Aug, 2016
'Outrageous'? Really? Most, if not all vegans I know are the most nutritionally informed people I know. Not to mention the amount of veg naturopathic doctors. Vitamin B12 is available from nutritional yeast and off organic vegetables grown in soil.


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