Last week, I talked about good oils. The other big one for vegans and (to a lesser extent) vegetarians is protein. We all need protein for repair and replacement of all cells in our body, for building muscle, for making hormones such as insulin, thyroxin and the sex hormones and for brain chemicals that control mood including serotonin and dopamine. If your vegan child is still growing, a good amount of protein is especially important. Ideally aim for around 50g protein per day or maybe a little more.
You can easily get enough protein from a plant-based diet, but it is important to think about it more than if you eat animal protein. This is because no one plant protein contains all the essential amino acids. As such variety is key, as that way you will get different amino acids from your different foods. For example, combining brown rice and a lentil dahl gives complete protein. Vegetable proteins tend to provide lower absolute levels than meat. For example, a chicken breast contains about 27g protein, an egg has 6g, ½ cup of quinoa has 12g, 100g lentils has 9g, 100g peas has 5g and 12 almonds have 3g. Do help your vegan child to include protein at each meal or snack. The good news is that many vegetable proteins are cheap, easily available and simple to add to a range of dishes. Tinned beans are simpler to use than dried beans, they are just as good for you and in fact for some people may be easier to digest.
Some of my son’s staples include:
- Nut based muesli with a tablespoon of ground seeds added
- Peanut butter on rye toast
- Other nut butters such as almond or cashew on rye toast or a couple of oat cakes
- Lentil, pea or bean soup with bread or rye crackers on the side
- Falafel, hummus and salad in a wholemeal wrap
- Bean, lentil or quinoa salads, sprinkled with a range of seeds to add further protein (as mentioned last week chia, flax or pumpkin seeds are better than sesame or sunflower seeds due to their level of omega 3)
- Vegetable stir-fry with tofu and cashew nuts
- Kidney bean and mixed bean chilli with brown rice
- Quorn and chickpea curry
- An apple and a handful of nuts. A range of nuts such as brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans will provide greater breadth of amino acids, minerals and good oils
- Hummus or other protein dip with carrot sticks or rye crackers
- Soya yoghurt and berries
When making meals for the whole family, it is worth thinking about whether you can start with similar ingredients for everyone. For example, have a meat and vegan chilli on the same night and just separate them on the point of adding the meat.
A quick word on soya. Whist it is a good source of protein (tofu has 9g in a block), I would advise eating this in moderation, maybe twice a week. Soya contains phytoestrogens which have a weak oestrogen like effect in the body, which in excess may not be ideal, especially for boys. The best forms are the fermented options such as tofu, tempeh and miso. Highly processed forms such as soya milk or textured vegetable protein maybe harder to digest and are more likely to be genetically modified.