tips from a vegan mom: eating protein

Being a vegan, in general, always raises the 'protein' flag; where do we get, how do we know we're getting enough of it, and are we combining it properly. Add in a child, and it's sure to be the primary subject in conversation. So trust me when I say, I get it. Protein is important! It helps in growth (which children do a lot of!), repairing muscle tissues, and plays an intricate part to our diet. It comes up in subject not because people are challenging me, but because they care, which is a good thing, so I appreciate it! That's why I'm here to give you the scoop on providing protein in a vegan child's diet. Also, because I am pretty confident that Nia is getting in the right amount of protein that she needs, so I wanted to showcase those ways.

(Disclaimer: I am NOT a registered health professional. Although I have my B.A.Sc. in Applied Human Nutrition, I am only informing you on what works for my family, and passing along this information to you. As always, check with your healthcare professional before making any sudden changes, or if any problems occur.)

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(This is the second post in this series, here is the first one in case you missed it: eating vegetables.)

I'm going to try to not go into too much detail here, but just outline what we do. First off, I'll be honest and state that I don't ever monitor the amounts of protein. I try to feed my family a balanced diet, so protein amounts have never been a concern of mine. We've all been thriving so far, so I'll take that!

First off, I'm not sure if people truly recognize that vegetables actually contain protein. I KNOW!!!!!! It's amazing.

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It definitely helps us vegans out, that's for sure. As a mom who tries to pack a lot of veggies into meals, especially dinners, this is like the Robin to my Batman in the protein department. Just keep that in mind as I inform you about the rest!

So instead of babbling away, I thought I would start by going over the proteins we eat, then some protein requirements, which will help lead to the tips!

Some of our favourite ways to get protein in.

Here are some bullet points on what vegan proteins we typically include in our dinners, lunches, and sometimes breakfasts too!

  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • quinoa
  • brown rice (basmati, long, and short grains)
  • lentils (green and red)
  • chickpeas
  • black beans
  • nut butters
  • hummus
  • hemp seeds
  • spirulina
  • sprouted grain breads (and bagels)
  • veggies
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Just to clarify, these are the main proteins that we eat in our diets on a weekly basis. It's not limited to just these, but I didn't want to include everything that we may eat (or I cook/bake with), especially if not regularly.

I think given the variety above, and the fact that sometimes proteins are mixed together (a tofu dish over brown rice or a tofu scramble with black beans, for example), we are covering our toddler's protein needs.

 
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Understanding requirements.

I think the most important thing that people think about when eating proteins, especially vegan sources, is complete vs. incomplete proteins. Most people recognize that vegan protein sources are typically incomplete proteins, with the exception of quinoa (I also think there is another one, but I'm drawing a blank - enlighten me?). And for a while, it was thought that you had to combine proteins in that meal to make complete proteins. The truth is though that as long as you're eating a varied diet, your body utilize the proteins eaten throughout the day to make complete proteins, even if those incomplete proteins are not eaten at the same time.

This is yet another reason why I don't worry about Nia's diet. Especially if we take a look at her meals from the other day, to get an idea at what her varied diet looks like (I'm not including amounts, but know that most meals were enough to fill her):

  • breakfast: whole wheat cinnamon cereal with almond milk, banana, apple
  • lunch: leftover lentil sloppy joes (lentil mixture which contained red and green bell peppers, onion, carrots, celery, and mushrooms) & veggie chips (beet, parsnip, and carrot), kombucha
  • dinner: smoky tempeh triangles and a slaw (candy cane beets, purple cabbage, apple, raisins, carrots, in a basic vinaigrette)
  • snacks throughout day: Vega snack bar, 1/4 pomegranate, coconut yogurt with wild blueberries, maple cookies, breast milk (in early morning), orange, green superfood smoothie (almond milk, dates, maca, chia seeds, spirulina, omega 3-6-9 oil, banana, strawberries, and boysenberries)

[Side note: For Canadians, according to a 2012 Health Canada study, for children aged 1-3 years, 96.4% were within the AMDR (acceptable macronutrients distribution ranges) for protein. (source)]

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So having said all that and not having any issues with Nia's eating what we give to her, what can you take away from this post?

1. There are many vegan protein options. Many more than I listed above, but again, this is what we eat in our family, so it may be very different for yours! And always investigate more!

2. Since there are so many options, chances are your children will find some they like. I happen to live with a tofu, chickpea, black bean, and lentil lover.

3. Feed them a variety of foods (proteins or not!) throughout the day to help maximize on their requirements. This goes for any diet, not just specifically vegan ones.

Final thoughts.

If you are vegan or trying out more vegan protein options, I think it's also important to be open to trying new things. I know that we quickly become creatures of habit, so in order to break that (i.e.: for us: steering away from always eating the main protein sources we normally do), try adding in one new item each week. For example, the other week, I added in millet since it's not something we eat regularly, which was a nice and needed change! Or, with the cooler months on the way, I'm more likely to use different beans to make soups, stews, and chillis.

And finally, just remember that the protein requirement for children aged 1-3 is 5-20% of their daily intake. So when we really think about it, that means that 5-20% of their meals should be protein, and the rest, fats (30-40%) and carbohydrates (45-65%).  

I hope I was able to provide a little more insight into our vegan kitchen when it comes to protein, but if there's anything I missed, give me a holler!

What is your favourite vegan protein to cook with for your family?

Do you do many meatless meals?