Plant-Based Parenting: Got mylk?
Vegan parenting needn’t lack any of the necessary nutrition, or puns, of other parenting styles, as Jennifer Dutton explains: “My milk chat brings all the soys to the yard”.
While pregnant with my first, I wanted to find out all I could about plant milks to give my mini-person the best start. As I was no cow, I didn’t intend on pouring udder-pumped bovine milk into her. I would encourage going to a pro for personalised advice, as I’m not a dietician or nutritionist, but what I am is a reformed cow’s milk enthusiast who didn’t want to drop the parenting ball. I wasn’t raised vegan, so I wanted qualified advice to inform my choices: Plant-Based Juniors (www.plantbasedjuniors.com) is an American organisation of registered dieticians and has great info on different plant milks.
When your little one is fresh from the oven, official guidelines promote breast milk for a year or longer. Breastfeeding is a learned art that can be challenging but very rewarding for those it works for. Should you be scrambling for access to breastmilk, there are free donation networks around Aotearoa. Donor breast milk from vegan mothers can be harder to find and is often in hot demand to support babes with allergies to animal-based foods, but it is out there; I’ve shipped my donated vegan milk all over.
As your baby grows or parents choose different feeding approaches, an infant-specific formula can come into play. At the time of my first tot, a strictly vegan formula wasn’t available. So we went with the most practical option of dairy-free soy formula (though it did frustratingly contain some animal bits in additives). In good progress news, New Zealand now has a fully vegan and allergy-friendly formula called Sprout.
When it’s time to move beyond just breastmilk or formula, scrutinise the nutritional info and ingredient panel on the boxes. All plant milks are not created equal. You’re looking for calcium (shooting for 160mg per 100mls), protein (around 3g per 100mls), fat (compared to around 3.5g per 100mls in cow’s milk), and other added goodies, known as fortifications, like vitamin D and B12 [for more on the nutrition of non-dairy milk, see Growing Good on page 60]. Ideally, also avoid added sweeteners. All of this is, of course, tempered with what you can access and afford. It is worth reiterating here that no plant milk is an appropriate milk replacement for babies, so at this stage of things we’re talking milk for the over-ones.
In terms of packing the biggest nutritional punch, unsweetened soy is usually top billing, as it provides a similar amount of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 to moo juice. This is why, overall, soy is most commonly recommended. It is worth noting that it’s lower on the fat front though, and as growing is a tiring business needing lots of fat fuel, your little ones would benefit from additional veggie fat sources. If soy is an allergen, oat can be a good second place option, often coming with decent calcium, fat, vitamin fortifications, and overall calories, but it is usually lower on protein, so that needs to be balanced out.
As children can be fusspots with small stomachs, aim for efficiency with the most nutrient-dense options of soy, or oat if required, as usually the best choices. All other various plant milks have their place and can provide variety, but are generally not recommended as the main milk for toddlers. Coconut is a heavy hitter on good healthy fats but is much lower in calcium and protein. Almond milk has overall low levels of all the important bits, although some brands do have good calcium or B12. Less common milks like peanut and hemp are emerging options, but so far generally have lower levels of all the main areas we’re looking for. I hear very good things about pea milk boasting an amazing nutritional profile, however, I’m yet to see it available domestically. Fingers crossed we will see some on our local shelves soon.
When selecting your plant-based fortified milk, know you’re just like everyone else. A lot of Kiwis consume fortified foods without realising it. Many dairy products like yoghurts are fortified with vitamin D or extra calcium, and further up the chain, many farmed animals receive supplementation, either in their feed or via medication, such as B12 with selenium booster injection for heifers. It’s a good bit of pocket knowledge to draw on if your vegan food is challenged as ‘lacking’. Many omni foods are boosted too. We vegans are just skipping over the animal for fortified nutrient delivery. Which is the whole MO of veganism — leave the animals out of it.
So when choosing plant milk for your toddler, select with informed confidence you’re nourishing your baby beastie with vegan love.
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.
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