Food tips for vegan teens

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Dietitian Heather Russell gives her top food tips for vegan 11-18 year olds, whose dietary requirements differ from children and adults.

BreakFEAST and beyond!

You might have heard people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, some people are not used to eating first thing in the morning, or struggle to find the time. Research suggests that about one out of three 10-16 year olds skip breakfast some or most mornings, which may make it difficult to concentrate later on.

Done right, breakfast can be an impressive kickstart to your daily diet, so it’s well worth finding a way to work it into your routine. Keep reading for nutrition facts and meal ideas.

What is omega-3 fat?

Omega-3 fat is an essential nutrient. This means that you need it in your daily diet because your body can’t make it. If your breakfast includes cereal or soya yoghurt, why not stir in some chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground linseed or walnuts? If you’ve chosen a breakfast that requires the frying pan, use a small amount of vegetable (rapeseed) oil.

Protein, iron and zinc

Your body uses protein, iron and zinc for both general maintenance and growth, so you need plenty of these nutrients. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soya alternatives to milk and yoghurt and peanuts are good sources. Nuts and seeds also provide these nutrients. Some of these foods are great breakfast options. It’s also useful to know that you may be able to increase the iron absorbed from your meal by adding sources of vitamin C, such as kiwi fruits, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit, orange juice and pepper.

Calci-yum! 

Scrambled tofu

At some point between 18 and 25 years old, your bones will stop developing. This means that you can do a lot to strengthen your skeleton. You may have heard that calcium is important for bones and teeth. So, how do you know if you’re getting enough? Depending on your size you should be getting between 800-1000mg (milligrams) of calcium a day. For example, that's four or five 200ml cups of calcium fortified plant milk a day. Which type of vegan milk is your favourite? You can then add it to cereal and hot drinks, as well as drinking it straight. Choosing fortified chocolate plant milk can be a fun treat, too.

Calcium-set tofu is another good source. Have you tried scrambling it? It is strongly recommended to include these foods in your daily diet in order to help you hit your daily calcium target. Also, look out for bread with added calcium, such as Burgen Soya & Linseed, which contains 121mg per slice.

5-a-day

By making nutritious choices first thing in the morning, you can be well on your way to 5-a-day. It is recommended that fruit and vegetables are one of the biggest food groups in your diet because they are excellent sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Also, fruit is a source of slow-burning energy that can help to keep you going during a busy morning.

Breakfast ideas

5-a-day portions

Porridge or fortified wheat biscuits with walnuts, 1 heaped tablespoon of raisins and 150ml of orange juice 2
Peanut butter on wholemeal toast and plain fortified soya yoghurt with ground linseed, 1 medium banana and 7 peach slices (canned, in juice) 2
Scrambled calcium-set tofu, 3 heaped tablespoons of baked beans (ideally reduced salt and sugar), 2 plum tomatoes (canned) and wholemeal toast 2

Not sure what counts as your 5-a-day? There's a handy list here.

Newbies

If you’re new to the breakfast routine, start small. It will take time to get used to it. If drinking is more appealing than eating, try making a smoothie.

Breakfast to go

If you’re super-organised, make a peanut butter and banana sandwich, pour some fortified milk alternative into a container, and keep them in the fridge overnight ready to grab on the way out. You could also try overnight oats. If you stock up on oatcakes, fruit, nuts, small cartons of fortified milk alternatives and small pots of fortified soya yoghurt alternatives, you can leave your home with a balanced breakfast in your bag even if you’ve got no time to make something.

Nice and easy options

Some breakfast options are both simple to put together and packed full of nutrients. Are you a fan of cereal? Eating cereal in the morning provides an opportunity to use a milk alternative fortified with lots of nutrients, and add delicious and nutritious whole foods to your daily diet, such as fruit, nuts and seeds.

Cereal toppers

Key nutrients

Raisins, chopped dried apricots/figs Iron
Chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds Omega-3 fat, protein, iron and zinc
Walnuts Omega-3 fat, protein, iron and zinc
Fortified soya milk/yoghurt alternatives Protein, calcium and more (check label)

Time to cook 

If you’ve got the time, why not make a cooked breakfast? Here are some more ideas:

Beans on toast

• Baked beans (ideally reduced salt and sugar) on wholemeal toast and a fruit smoothie

• Pancakes topped with fresh fruit

• Wrap filled with scrambled calcium-set tofu and vegetables

Enjoy creating your own breakFEAST!

Beyond breakfast

Whenever possible, aim to get your nutrients from food rather than supplements. Obtaining nutrients and fibre from a wide range of foods helps you to get the most out of your vegan diet. However, fortified foods and supplements play important roles. Here are a few tips to help ensure that you are getting everything your body needs:

Vitamin B12

It is essential for every vegan to eat foods with added vitamin B12 (fortified foods) or take a supplement:

A. Fortified foods:

• Vitamin B12 is added to some milk and yoghurt alternatives, vegan spread, nutritional yeast flakes and breakfast cereals

• Eat fortified foods at least twice a day providing at least 3mcg (micrograms) in total for that day

B. Supplement options*: at least 10mcg daily or 2000mcg weekly (look for cyanocobalamin)

Iodine

Every vegan needs a reliable source of iodine in their diet. Arguably, a supplement is the best option* as it is impossible to gauge the amount of iodine in our food, hence why in the UK iodine is fortified into dairy milk. 11-14 year olds need 130mcg per day, and 15-18 year olds need 140mcg per day.

Vitamin D

Everyone in the UK, not just vegans, should consider a daily 10mcg supplement of vitamin D during autumn and winter*. People who do not regularly expose their skin to sunlight and those with darker skin should consider taking a supplement all year. Vitamin D3 from lichen and vitamin D2 are vegan-friendly.

A daily vitamin and mineral supplement designed for vegans might be a convenient way of ensuring that your diet contains a source of vitamins B12 and D and iodine. VEG1 is formulated to include these.

*Please talk to a health professional about supplements to ensure that they are suitable for you.

By Heather Russell

Got a nutrition question? Email info[at]vegansociety[dot]com. If you would like an individual nutrition assessment, please ask your GP for a referral to a registered dietitian.

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