By going veggie, children cut their risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity

veggie kids

Simply by going veggie, children cut their risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity… So what are they eating – and what should they be eating? Here’s some winning tips to get it right! 

World Turned Upside Down!

Just imagine the reaction if a specific diet could produce these headlines: 

  • “Heart disease rates tumble! 40,000 heart patients taken off critical list – misery lifted for relatives and friends. Top heart surgeon says most heart ops avoidable.”
  • “Cancer deaths slump!”
  • “Millions taken off ‘fatty’ list.”
  • “Diabetes figures fall for first time.”

What diet could it possibly be? The same diet that children should be eating now so they enjoy good health throughout their lives – a well-balanced vegan diet.

One thing is certain, research showing that meat-based diets can reduce the risk of cancer, heart and other degenerative diseases by up to half  simply doesn’t exist. But it does for vegan and vegetarian diets! What’s all this got to do with your littl’ uns – those fussy eaters, messy eaters, must-have-chips-with-everything eaters? It’s got everything to do with them because all major health advisory bodies say the same thing – what you feed your children today will determine their health in the future. 


What Should They Eat?

Simple fact - animal products promote disease. They are laden with artery-clogging saturated fats, contain too much animal protein, have no fibre, no starchy carbohydrates and little or no vitamins C, E or beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A).

These ‘ACE’  vitamins are vital antioxidants and a lack of them, combined with low fibre and high levels of saturated fat, animal protein and cholesterol, are risk factors for many types of cancer, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, gallstones and several other diseases. A meat or cheese-based lunchbox is not the healthiest by any stretch of the imagination.

A varied, veggie lunch-box, based on fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds, is bursting with all the ingredients known to be health promoting and health protecting. 


What Do Children Eat?

The UK government’s Department of Health and Food Standards Agency, published the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in 2010. It reveals the eating habits of young people aged 1.5 to 18 years in Great Britain and makes grim reading! 

The survey finds:

  • Almost one-third of boys and girls are overweight or obese.
  • Only seven per cent of girls and 22 per cent of boys aged 11-18 meet the five-a-day target for fruit and vegetables.
  • Calories, animal protein, salt and saturated animal fats from red and white meats, burgers, kebabs and sausages are too high. In fact, over 90 per cent of children are eating too much saturated fat and over a half consume more than the recommended amount of salt.
  • Sugar and honey intakes are too high.
  • Fibre intake is well below a healthy level.
  • A third of children do not have a daily bowel movement.
  • Too much vitamin C comes from fruit juice and soft drinks and not fresh fruit. 
  • Half of all older girls eat diets grossly deficient in iron.
  • Average intakes of magnesium and potassium fall below the recommended levels for good health in both boys and girls aged 11-18.
  • Average intakes of zinc, calcium and iodine levels fall below the recommended levels in girls aged 11-18.
  • Nuts and seeds are eaten as snacks by far too few children (one in five boys and one in 10 girls).
  • With 11-18 year old boys, more chips and potatoes are eaten than all vegetables put together. Girls fare little better! 
  • Almost 90 per cent of 11-18 year olds eat white bread; only 23 per cent eat any wholemeal bread.

The statistics for diseases amongst today’s adults are alarming enough and although previous generations may have had their own problems, rampant heart disease, obesity and cancer weren’t among them. One reason why these diseases have now become epidemics is likely to be the diets people ate when they were young – the high (bad) fat, low vitamin syndrome. The diets being eaten by today’s children are far worse even than their parents’ did and so the prospects for their future health are pretty grim.


Veggie Kids Are Healthier

A balanced vegan diet is perfect for perfect health! But is it suitable for children? Of course it is! After the age of two, children should eat the same kinds of foods as their parents while below this age they need more fat than adults. 

There has been a wealth of research and it consistently shows that vegetarian and vegan children obtain all the protein, energy and vitamins they need. Fat intake is nearly always at a healthier level and intakes of vital vitamins beta-carotene, C and E, as well as fibre, iron and folate, are usually higher in veggie kids. So why are fruit and veg so vital and how do we persuade our kids to eat them?


Fruit And Veg For Kids

All of us have molecules called ‘free radicals’ in our bodies and brains that run around like mad hooligans causing inflammation and disease, such as heart disease, strokes, arthritis and cancer. Fruit and veg contain antioxidants - the health warriors that come to our rescue. They include beta carotene (which makes vitamin A) and other carotenoids, vitamins C and E and flavonoids.


Flavoursome Flavonoids

Flavonoids are chemical compounds that plants produce to protect themselves from bacteria and damage to their cells. In humans, they reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, aid memory and concentration and can be helpful in treating attention deficit disorder in children. Over 4,000 flavonoids have so far been discovered and are found in abundance in plants, fruits and vegetables.


Crackin' Carotenoids

There are over 500 carotenoids in plants – the pigments that make fruit and veg yellow, red, green and orange. The most well known is beta carotene (vitamin A) but all are protective, including lycopene, which is rich in tomatoes and protects against prostate cancer. Others include cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Plants contain thousands of natural chemicals that not only fight human diseases but help protect against them ever happening. You can’t cheat by just popping a vitamin pill as pills contain just a fraction of the goodness we obtain eating fruit and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and peas, bean and lentils. All these plant foods protect our health.


Kiddies Portion Sizes 

It’s not just adults who should eat at least five varied portions of fruit and vegetables a day (see below) but children, too. Their need varies with age, body size and physical activity but as a rough guide, one portion is the amount they can fit in the palm of their hand. 

Portion sizes increase gradually as children become older and more active. 


How Much Do They Need?

Children aged from 2-6 need five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

  • Those aged from 6-12 need seven portions. 
  • Teenage girls need seven to eight portions.
  • Teenage boys need nine portions.

Can they love broccoli?


Try These Quick Tips

Keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table for a quick, easy snack. 

  • Always have freshly cut vegetable sticks in the refrigerator. 
  • Add bananas and other fresh or dried fruits to hot or cold cereals. 
  • Buy frozen mixed berries, defrost and add to your child’s daily cereal.
  • Use a homemade salsa made with tomatoes, mangoes, avocados, red onions and lime juice to top foods such as veggie sausages or burgers. 
  • Add bananas and/or berries to pancakes. 
  • Provide dried fruit instead of sweets. 
  • Keep a bag of frozen vegetables in the freezer and add to stews, casseroles and stir-fried dishes. 
  • Serve frozen bananas, grapes or other fruits as a treat. 
  • Whilst many kids won’t eat a whole fruit, they will scoff chopped fruit salads, particularly if served with a little rice or soya ice cream (sold in supermarkets and health shops)
  • Always include fruit in a child's lunch box. 
  • Use your imagination! A child who says 'Nah,' to an apple may eat it if sliced thinly and fanned out. Make fruit faces or veggie monsters, which young children love and will often reward your efforts by gobbling them up and demanding more. 
  • Think rainbow and put colour on your plates. When you think of five a day for kids, think of five colours. It’s antioxidants that provide these different hues and protect your child’s health.
  • Smoothies are a great way to add healthy foods to children’s diet - without them thinking it’s healthy! Try adding berries, banana and ground cashew nuts to soya milk and whisking!


Empower Your Child

  • At the supermarket, let your child choose the fruits or vegetable that are appealing to them. 
  • Involve your child in preparing meals so that he or she can become familiar with different foods. Involvement is the surest way to get them eating. 
  • Have both raw and cooked vegetable options so that your child can choose the one he or she likes best. Some children prefer a crunch while others savour soft and mushy. 


Don't Give Up

As you know, children can be very picky. You may have to try new foods as much as 10 or 15 times before they are willing to accept them. 

  • Think about colour, smell and texture when introducing a child to a new food. They may prefer crunchy broccoli to cooked or soft, canned peaches to fresh sliced. 
  • Be a positive role model by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables yourself. 


Be Sneaky

  • Add broccoli florets or julienne carrots to pasta or potato salad. 
  • Add spinach, mushrooms, courgettes and other vegetables to spaghetti sauce. 
  • Add mashed beans, sweetcorn and chopped carrots to veggie chilli. 
  • Use plenty of vegetables, lentils and other pulses in pureed soups. 
  • Cook carrots, swede or turnips with potatoes and then mash them together.

Note: Raw fruits and vegetables, such as grapes and sweetcorn, may pose a choking hazard for children under four years of age. Cut grapes in quarters, grate carrots and remove strings from celery for younger children.

For more info and tips see the new Healthy Veggie Kids by the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation. It tells you every nutrient a child or teenager needs and how to get it. An excellent guide for parents showing why vegetarian & vegan diets are health-giving, nourishing and protective for children. Forty colourful and easy to read pages for only £1.50 (+ £1 p&p) from VVF. Order on 0117 970 5190 (Mon-Fri, 9-6) , online in the shop, or send your order, name and address, with cheque, to ‘VVF’ to VVF, 8 York Ct, Wilder St, Bristol BS2 8QH.


Recipe Ideas from Healthy Veggie Kids 

Frozen Fruit Kebabs

Frozen fruit kebabs

What You'll Need:

  • Melons, pineapple, berries and grapes 
  • Skewers without sharp points such as a popsicle stick 

Cut the large fruit into chunks and with the other fruit, skewer them on safe sticks and freeze until frozen.

These are great for an afternoon snack on a warm summer day. 


Strawberry and Banana Kebabs

strawberry and banana kebab sticks

What You'll Need:

  • Banana and a few strawberries

Slice the banana and skewer with the strawberries and add a little dark chocolate sauce.

Simple and delicious!


Ants on a Log

Ants on a log food

What You'll Need:

  • 1 tbsp. peanut butter 
  • 5 to 7 raisins 
  • 1 celery stick 

Spread peanut butter inside the curve of a celery stick and place the raisins on top of it.


Butterfly Sandwich

Butterfly Sandwich

What You'll Need:

  • 1 slice wholewheat bread 
  • 2 tsp. peanut butter 
  • 1/2 banana 
  • 1 celery stick 

Spread peanut butter on the bread and place sliced bananas on top.

Cut the bread diagonally into two triangles and place them on a plate with points touching so they look like wings.

Fill the celery stick with peanut butter and place it between the wings to make a body.



About the Author

Juliet Gellatley

Juliet Gellatley BSc, Dip DM, Dip CNM founded Viva! in 1994, and is the Charity's director. She has a degree in zoology, is a qualified nutritional therapist, and is an authority on vegan health and nutrition.

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