‘Dear Ask a Montessorian, my Lower Elementary child recently shared that she wants to be a vegan like she’s seen her uncle and aunt doing. I’m worried about her getting enough nutrition. What would you recommend?‘
I share your concern regarding your daughter’s interest in becoming a vegan and meeting her daily nutritional requirements. It is always a concern with “non-vegan” children as well! Essential nutrients contained in animal meat and by-products and fish are critical to development – some essential -meaning they must be eaten on a daily basis because the body cannot manufacture them from other nutrients. An example would be docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a structural Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish. This structural fat integrates into the cell membrane and myelin for cell signaling and activating the action potential between 2 neurons. This highly unsaturated fatty acid also builds a fluid, flexible, permeable cell membrane for optimal absorption of nutrients – and the ability for the cell to move about the body freely. So, it’s good for all body systems throughout life including vascular, metabolic, and reproductive.
Because of the requirement of DHA in brain development and function many vegans do take fish oil supplements. If not, I recommend algal oil which contains DHA. This is sourced from algae – what the fish eat to obtain their DHA.
If there are any dietary restrictions and preferences, feeding every human cell in the human body must be well-informed and intentional – whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or eat everything. The cell membrane, mitochondria (energy center), and nucleus (DNA – requiring protection for healthy replication) need specific nutrients for optimal health and functioning.
To add to the complexity of nutritional adequacy, even if we eat specific foods containing nutrients needed for physiological processes, they will require co-factors from other foods to metabolize. Zinc is the major co-factor in fatty-acid metabolism. I recommend pumpkin seeds every day for my patients because they are rich source of zinc and manganese which are trace minerals many of us are lacking.
And then of course, there’s the issues of iron and B12 for vegans.
The bottom line is we can express our concerns to our vegan-interested child, talk about nutritional needs being met and make an appointment with a knowledgeable nutritionist- or simply set a boundary should you want to postpone this decision until your child is older. If becoming vegan is a passing fad, a cool thing to do, or just curiosity – it’s vital to educate yourself and your child about the importance of composition of foods throughout the day to meet nutritional requirements for physical and mental health. This is a conversation of paramount importance for all families.
I’ve often said that “people who love children change the world by teaching them how to eat.”
Jan Katzen AMI, CFP, CN is a former pre-primary Montessori educator. She is now a nutritional therapist working with developmental pediatricians in Phoenix, Arizona. Jan is a certified nutritional educator and instructs Nutrition for Learning Intensive, a 4-week professional development course offered by CGMS.
Jan’s newly released children’s eBook, Humdrum Hannah was Eating Junk, contains an audio book, coloring book, recipes and a story that will entertain and teach children (and adults) about nutrition basics.