Veganism is on the rise in South Africa and worldwide and more and more people, many of them parents, are turning to a plant-based diet. This leads to many questions and concerns about what is a balanced protein and calcium intake for themselves and their families.
While we don’t want to get into the thorny debate about vegan diets for children (parents, please consult with your pediatrician on this topic), there are many plant-based food options that are healthy and rich in protein and calcium.
Before we dive in, remember that plant-based foods can be as toxic as meat-based foods if prepared incorrectly – so do yourself a favor and avoid vegan junk food that has started to become incredibly popular.
There is a variety of plant-based protein sources from whole foods such as:
- chickpea, beans, lentils, peas, edamame
- vegetables: mushrooms, broccoli, sun dried tomatoes, kale
- nuts: almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts
- seeds: chia, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp hearts
- fruit: figs, tangerines, apricots, guava, kiwi, blackberries, bananas, avocados
- grains: quinoa, wild rice, oats, buckwheat, etc.
- Other foods: tofu, tempeh, spirulina
You can start the mornings with protein packed meals like pancakes made from millet flour, ripe bananas and blended soaked cashews, a scrambled tofu or soy yoghurt with oats, nuts, and berries.
You can even make a healthy chocolate spread from chickpeas, cocoa powder, a sweetener of your choice, a few table spoons of peanut butter, oil, and water all processed together.
Usually the store-bought chocolate spread is calorie dense with lots of sugar and fat. This home-made version is nutrient dense and rich in fiber and protein due to chickpeas being the main ingredient. It also contains calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, and B6. Moreover, chickpeas are a complete protein containing all 9 Essential Amino Acids.
Burgers? Yes please! Beans and beetroot are great for making vegan burgers, stews, burritos, loafs, and fritters. Here is a list of 35 ideas for delicious and appealing burgers that the kids will love.
Nutrient dense desserts
Many vegan desserts are packed with all the nutrients a human body needs. Chia seeds, which are the main ingredient for this delicious chia seeds pudding, have omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium.
How about making the richest, fudgiest and darkest brownies from ingredients, (black beans everyone?) that I bet you haven’t even thought of using for desserts? The result is decadent, delicious, and healthy too.
Whole foods like dark leafy greens, especially bitter ones, and cruciferous vegetables are important plant-based sources of calcium: collard greens, Bok choy, turnip leaves, watercress, kale, spinach, mustard greens, artichoke, leeks, okra, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Another great calcium source and one of the cheapest finds in the grocery stores with lots of recipes featuring them are the humble beans. Plus, they are excellent sources of fiber, protein, and iron too.
Essential to calcium absorption is Vitamin D, primarily provided by 15 minutes of daily sun exposure. However, during the cold season additional intake of Vitamin D supplements or fortified foods like plant-based milk may be necessary.
Tofu is a precious source of calcium too and very versatile to cook with. From frittata to “fishless fingers”, Mediterranean vegetable pie to stews and salads. Only a half-cup of tofu will cover between 40 to 86 percent of daily calcium needs, depending on the brand used.
Fishless fingers are very delicious, crispy, and good copy cats. Use smoked tofu for extra flavor. Cut the tofu into finger-sized sticks and then wrap two times in nori seaweed sheets previously oiled or wiped with lemon juice. Cover them in a batter made of water, chickpea flour, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. For the crispy effect, cover with cornbread or bread crumbs and then fry on each side until nicely brown. They go best with a vegan aioli sauce.
One kids’ favorite is tapioca pudding. Tapioca is packed with iron, calcium, folic acid, potassium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, omega 3, and omega 6.
A simple and delicious meal can be made with spinach when you cook it with a handful of cashew nuts that have previously been soaked and blended to turn them into a thick paste resembling sour cream. Add 2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic and salt to taste and that’s it!
Health tip: avocados are helpful for the optimal developing of the children’s bones. And remember that you can do an awesome chocolate mousse with avocado that the kids will love.
Last but not the least is the vegan alternative ice cream that is just simply to die for!
Mom tips: Get your kids to prepare meals with you, let them choose ingredients or a recipe. Better yet, take them shopping and let them put in the cart whatever is appealing to them. At the same time you can teach them how the most colorful fruit and vegetables are the healthiest in terms of nutrients and antioxidants. If they are very little, make up a story about antioxidants being the good guys or superheroes inside our body and immune system that fight the bad guys who want to make us sick.