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NBSV 102


Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 102

Alexandra Caspero of Plant-Based Juniors busts myths about vegan diets for children

Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast episode 102. Alexandra Caspero from Plant-Based Juniors speaks with me today about the benefits of and myths about plant-based diets for kids.

Hey, welcome to the show, and thank you for joining me. I'm Karina your go-to, no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. I'd like to give one of our amazing coaching clients, a quick shout-out as she finishes her work with Coach  Zoe and myself, and goes off on her own to continue the bulletproof fitness and nutrition habits she's built for herself. Hannah says, “thank you both times 10 trillion for everything you've done for me, your kindness and encouragement and genuineness and thoughtfulness and funniness. I don't know what I’d do without you two. Thank you.”

So moving forward, Hannah is going to apply our quote, ”infinite knowledge and wisdom and badassery,” to her life as she continues her fitness journey. Hannah, huge congratulations for everything you've accomplished with your strength training and beyond. Coach Zoe and I are so proud of you and we cannot wait to see what comes next for you.

If you're thinking about leveling up your own fitness and plant-based nutrition, check out our three coaching programs at We currently have a few spots available for new clients. So if you're interested in starting or furthering your strength training, making sure your plant-based nutrition supports your fitness goals and working with two long-term vegan coaches and a community of worldwide vegans, we would love to have you on our team. So again, our programs are at

Introducing our guest for today: Alexandra Caspero. Alexandra is a registered dietician nutritionist, mom, and together with Whitney English, the creator of Plant-based Juniors, a community helping parents get more plants on the plate. Their new book, The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler is the first of its kind. An evidence-based nutritional guide for parents and professionals focused on those critical early years of growth and development. Alexandra's favourite vegan meal is tofu parmesan. 

Hey Alexandra, nice to meet you. Thanks for coming on the show today.

Alexandra Caspero: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. It's an honour to be here.

Karina Inkster: Well I'm glad we could chat. We are going to jump right in. I'm sure our listeners are itching to know about Plant-Based Juniors. So can you tell us a little bit about this community that you've built with Whitney and what you guys do?

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah so, Plant-Based Juniors is an online community really for all parents who want to help get more plants on the plate. Whitney and I have been plant-based for a long time and when we were pregnant with our sons, you know, we just had a lot of questions about our diets, and the safety, and whether or not what we were doing was really the best thing that we could not only for ourselves, but obviously for our children as well. Whitney and I are both dieticians, and so we just sort of went to the research. We just were having a really hard time finding credible information that was recent out there. And so we sort of started to dig into everything ourselves and figured, okay, if we're having all these questions and sort of navigating through this body of literature, we're sure that other parents do as well.

And that's really how we started Plant-Based Juniors. And I say that our mission is to help get more plants on every child's plate, because while we are here to sort of support vegan parents and vegetarian parents, we also know that we need all of us eating more plant-based. And so we want to be as inclusive as possible to all parents who are hearing things like, hey, you know, I'm hearing the benefits of a plant-based diet, or, I perhaps want to eat this way, you know, can I get my kids to eat this way? And perhaps, you know, my kids don't want to do this, but you know, there's so many avenues that parents take and that children are taking too. We want to make sure that we're really the resource for everybody to say, hey, there's so many benefits in every sort of, you know, spectrum of plant-based eating and we sort of want to be the resource for you.

Karina Inkster: Ooh, I like it. So how does it work? Like if someone is interested in learning more about Plant-Based Juniors, how do they get involved? What do you guys offer?

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah, so we offer a lot of information. We try to make the vast majority of it as free as possible because, you know, like I said before, we really want everyone eating this way. You know, whether it comes to human health, to planetary health, we really know that we need all of us eating more plants more often.

So we have a vast blog of pretty much any topic that you'd be curious about when it comes to children, paediatric, prenatal health and plant-based diets. And then our Instagram page is really sort of a plethora of inspiration and content as well. And then we also have some guides. So we have a pregnancy guide. We have a batch cook ebook, which sort of helps out with meal planning. And then we just released our brand new book called The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler. And that's a physical book and it's really the book that we wanted when I was pregnant. You know, it's the book that I was searching for. It really has everything that you need to know, and then of course, recipes as well.

Karina Inkster: Ooh, that's super exciting. Well congrats on the new book. That's awesome.

Alexandra Caspero: Thank you. Thank you. Yes, we're very excited about it. We've poured a year's worth of research into it. So we're very proud of what we've put out there.

Karina Inkster: And you two have the background clearly to sift through the BS and know what is evidence-based and what isn't. So that's excellent.

Alexandra Caspero: Well, and it's hard.  I mean, this is sort of both of our areas and you know, even combing through the data, I mean, there's a lot of things that you have to consider when you're reading these studies and what things are sort of true and things that we're seeing over and over again in various studies, and which ones are sort of outliers. And so you know, we sort of say this to all parents, like we know nutrition can feel really confusing and hard sometimes, and we just try to make it as easy and sort of digestible, no pun intended, as possible.

Karina Inkster: I like it. So can you tell us a little bit more about the book? So it's an all-around guide for nutrition. It's got recipes - what's the deal? How’s it different from what's out there already?

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah, so it really focuses on sort of those critical years of growth, right? Whether we're talking about prenatal nutrition a little bit, but really sort of the infancy, early toddlerhood years. We found that when we were talking to not only other parents, but also medical professionals as well, that was sort of this period of time where we got the most questions on. We got the most sort of, you know, there's not a lot of data out there for lots of reasons on this population group. And so a lot of it was, you know, how do you know this is true? What do you say to these parents?

And so we really wanted to put together the most comprehensive guide that we could, specifically on sort of the zero to three age group. You know, the nutrition section alone is really sort of a plant-based approach to nutrition for kids of all ages.  The nutrition sort of stays the same. The amounts do vary, of course, as the kids get older, but for the most part, the nutrition information is going to be the same for all kids. But we also go into a lot of sort of specific things around this time. 

So we talk a lot about, you know, picky eating. We talk about how to introduce solids. We talk about infant nutrition, whether that's breastfeeding or formula feeding and mom's diet in that. So we really wanted it to be this place where parents could say, okay, from the very start, I'm going to feel as confident and as empowered as possible in eating this way and what that's going to mean for the health of myself, but also for my children.

Karina Inkster: Mm, amazing. This seems like a book a lot of people are going to find useful. That's awesome. Well, let's talk about some of these concepts that you just mentioned. So you did just say, you know, there's not a ton of research out there on this specific age group when it comes to plant-based diets, but what is out there? Like, do we know that there are certain benefits of plant-based diets for kids this age?

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah. And I think it's really important to say why there's not a ton of data out there on these age groups. Every study has to pass an ethical board. And so it would be very hard to go to a board and say, okay, I want to put these children on this diet, and these children on this diet, and then watch them.

Karina Inkster: Mmm. Good point.

Alexandra Caspero: I mean, especially when we're talking about these like critical sort of development stages, because essentially if you're testing a hypothesis and you think one might be better than the other, it's really unethical to say we’re going to put one group of children on this and one group of children or the other, and then study. So instead what we have to do is we naturally look at sort of, you know, where these kids, who's eating this way and then sort of afterwards study them and see what outcomes they have, because you're not really randomly assigning diets to kids. You are instead being more observational.

Cause we hear that a lot. Like, well, why isn't there? Well you know, if I was going to wave a magic wand, my perfect diet would be to assign women before they got pregnant and really study them throughout the whole life cycle. But you know, we can't do that either. So what we do have is studies that look at various plant-based diets and I'll sort of use that umbrella term because we have a lot of data on vegetarian diets for kids. We have some data on vegan diets. And then we also have some data on sort of a mixed approach. The biggest benefits hands down is that we see that these kids eat more servings of fruits and vegetables, which is really important. Here in America, only about one in 10 kids are currently meeting their produce recommendations.

So when we look at vegan children, we look at vegetarian children, we look at, you know, an overall sort of quote unquote plant-based kids, we see that they are meeting or exceeding those produce recommendations, which of course is going to mean, you know, more antioxidants. We see they have higher levels of vitamin C, higher levels of folate, higher levels of fibre overall. We also see that these children tend to have lower intakes of really highly processed foods, and high sugar and high fat foods. So in general, we know that kids who are eating more plant-based tend to have overall healthier diets.

There are some things that perhaps also come out of the literature that we want to educate parents on. So really making sure that you're giving your children the adequate supplementation. So really focusing on B12, likely vitamin D. Sometimes we'll see lower amounts of these in various studies. Also focusing on calcium. That sometimes can also be a little bit lower, especially in vegan groups and some of the studies that we do have, but none of this is prohibitive.

All of this to me just says that we need to talk to parents about sort of things they need to consider as they raise their kids this way, just like I would talk to any parent when it comes to childhood nutrition.  But then also really focusing on the benefits. The other benefit I'll also say is that vegan children, vegetarian children also, tend to grow at similar rates. So height differences really are very, very small when it comes to omnivore children, but they do tend to be lower BMI while still being within a normal range. And this is likely really beneficial. You know, we see sort of the rates of obesity, these sort of adult-onset chronic diseases that we're seeing in younger and younger populations, they're really almost absent in the vegan and even the vegetarian age groups.

So, you know, just sort of other benefits, the things that we know and that we have really good data around in adults, we are seeing similar things in children. And we can sort of say from that, okay, if these kids are going to be eating this way throughout childhood, then they're likely going to be having the same benefits as they get older.

Karina Inkster: Right. Lots of awesome points here. And I suppose kids aren't able to give informed consent. So you can't assign them to experimental groups like you're talking about. You know, if you're an adult you can consent to do whatever the heck you want.

Alexandra Caspero: Yes.

Karina Inkster: So that actually is not a point I considered for one of the reasons why we don't have a lot of research here in the first place.

Alexandra Caspero: I will say we're starting to have more too only because there are more and more families that are eating this way. And, you know, the larger data groups that you have the better, right? Because if I'm looking at a study, whether it's a good outcome or a bad outcome, but I only have six participants, it's really hard to make sort of sweeping considerations from that. But we're starting to see larger and larger studies. So I'm really encouraged and excited by sort of the research that's coming out on these populations.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. So on this topic of the research that's out there and, you know, some of these really important benefits that we see, we all know that there are a ton of myths out there as well, sometimes within veganism itself, but often from folks who just don't know, and they immediately become a qualified nutritionist when you tell them that your family is vegan. So let's go through some of the myths and the solutions or the realities related to them when it comes to plant-based diets for kids specifically. So there are a couple like, you know, growth rates, you just mentioned. Protein is a big one. Everybody always talks about protein. Iron I'm sure is something else. We all hear about soy, pros, cons, et cetera. So what are some of the big myths that you and Whitney see a lot that you're particularly fond of busting?

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah, so let's just quickly address the growth concerns because I did just bring that up earlier, especially in light of the recent Polish study that came out that was making like sweeping headlines.

Karina Inkster: Oh yeah.

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah, so the big data that we have currently on vegan children, one of the best studies is the Farm Study. So the Farm Study is sort of this cohort of 404 vegan children and really sort of tracked them as they grew. They found that they had about two, one to two centimetres shorter than their matched omnivore counterparts. So sometimes you'll see headlines that will say things like stunted or shorter. Like, okay, yes, but we're talking about two, maybe,  centimetres, one centimetre, sometimes it's 0.5 centimetres. You know, these are really, really small variances.

And again, height doesn't necessarily equate to health. That's sort of more of a society status thing, but by and large, we see that these children are not only healthier than their omnivore counterparts.  The height issue is such a small thing that, you know, we hear shorter, but it's really not a thing. And that also was shown in the Polish study too. They were slightly shorter, but again, only by a centimetre or two. And also that's sort of the last thing I'll say on this is really the importance too of both vitamin D and calcium, because in that Polish study, the children were deficient in both of those. So that may play a role in overall growth as well.

Actually in vegetarian children, we tend to see that they are actually taller than omnivores. And there's a lot of hypotheses about why that is, but sort of the driving thought is related to the insulin like growth factor that is found in milk, and perhaps having sort of that metabolic programming, that higher height.  And also of course, because milk is just a more concentrated source of calcium and then also vitamin D if it's added. So my tangent on growth, uh, check that box.

Iron. So let's talk a little bit about iron because this is a really common question and really, you know, for good reason. Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency for all children. So whether I'm talking about an omnivore child or whether I'm talking about a vegan child, I want to ensure that iron is going to be met with both of those diets. The reason that I think vegans tend to get sort of a bad rap, or when you'll see in books, they'll have sort of that asterisk around the vegan vegetarian diet. And they'll say things like, you know, you have to really be concerned about your iron, is the fact that the heme that is found in plant foods is called non-heme, the iron, and that is less bioavailable than the heme or the iron that is found in animal foods. This is not really an issue when we look at use pairing non-heme. So plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C, that's going to increase absorption by about three to six times. And also where possible offering things like sprouted or soaked grains or beans. That's also going to increase bioavailability.

We also know from studies that vegan children actually tend to get higher levels of iron in the diet. And that really is because iron is so widespread in a plant-based diet. It's found in whole grains, it's found in, you know, legumes and nuts and seeds. So if we're eating a lot of these foods, we're actually likely going to get higher levels than omnivores. When it comes to children specifically, especially sort of this older infant, younger toddler, the iron needs are very high. A seven-month-old needs more iron than an adult male.  And that can be a problem sometimes when we're talking about, you know, small little bellies that are still learning how to eat, that maybe have different preferences. It's going to be hard to meet that 11 milligrams of iron. That's the RDA here in America. Whether we're talking about an omnivore or a vegan child.

Just sort of, for comparison, you would need 14 ounces of sirloin steak to meet that 11 milligrams of iron. And obviously no seven-month-old is eating that, nor would we recommend that. So, you know, for people to say, this is a vegan problem, no, it's a baby problem, right? That's why we're such big fans of using perhaps some fortified oat cereals to help to meet that need and really encouraging parents to offer as many iron-rich sources as possible. Our book goes into a lot of detail on this. All of our recipes you know, try to combine a source of plant-based iron with vitamin C to make this as easy as possible, but it is something that is important for all age groups. And, you know, it's not only a myth for vegan kids. It's sort of an important thing that we all need to be focused on.

Karina Inkster: Right. That's actually a lot of real good info right there. Some of it is practical, you know -  fortified cereals that are going to be easily digestible for a young one. And some of it is just serious myth-busting which we all need sometimes.

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah. Yes, yes, yes. I know. And I’m so like long-winded and I just like to explain. I think sometimes I get so frustrated because, you know, you'll see things, whether it's online or social media and it sort of just these like, you know, sound bites and it's like, well, that's partially true, but that's not the whole story. And so I think that when we sort of step back and explain, like what is sort of the overall thought process on these various myths? It's helpful to say, oh yeah. If you just pulled out the fact that plant iron is harder to digest than animal iron well, yes, that's true. But there's also ways to get around it. And the fact that again, like when we're talking about iron and young children, this is a concern for all of us. It's, it's the, you know, it's yeah.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Well that's a really good point. It's a human issue. Not necessarily a vegan issue.

Alexandra Caspero: Yes. But it tends to be thought of as a vegan one. It drives me nuts.

Karina Inkster: Well, you have a really good point actually. Like in general, the sound bites, the social media posts, the headlines, they're all so oversimplified. They never show the entire picture. It's always a yes-but situation and they are very biased. Yes, absolutely.

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah. Yeah. And listen, I get it. Like I know as a parent that sort of like, you know, fear and gut check when you see these things and the questioning that comes out. I mean like I said, Whitney and I were already dieticians, we had already sort of studied this and then we got pregnant and there was a lot of questioning that went on. You know, we really had to sort of make sure that what we were doing was the best, because I think that the moment you're responsible for anyone else's life, you do start to sort of reevaluate things.

And so that's really why we wanted to start PBJ’S was to say like, look, we're evidence-based. You know, here's the science, here's what it says, here's what we recommend, you know, however that looks for you, great. But I think it's important to sort of acknowledge the fact that like, yeah, I get it. You know, it's hard when you're scrolling through social media and you see things and you're like, wait a minute, what is that about? And then you read the study and you're like, oh, that's not actually what the researchers were saying at all. And again, that sort of that just like headline, you know, clickbait world that we're living in.

Karina Inkster: Clickbait, yes. Oversimplification, just like not the whole story, but not everybody is going to go and look up the actual peer-reviewed journal article and take a look themselves, which is part of the problem.

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah. Well, and you know, to be fair, even if you do it, can be hard to sift through statistics and figure out like, well, was this a good study, study design? I mean, listen, if I want a certain outcome, it is a lot easier perhaps than people realize to design a study to get that.

Karina Inkster: That's a really good point. Yeah. Cause then you have to look at all the other factors like who's funding it? Who's leading it? Are there any sort of affiliations involved? who are the participants? There's a lot of questions.

Alexandra Caspero: Yes. And you know, the thing that we always have to be asking ourselves when we're looking at really nutrition evidence is compared to what?

Karina Inkster: Yes!

Alexandra Caspero: Because if I could design a study that shows perhaps let's say like eggs are beneficial, if I'm comparing it to perhaps a standard American diet that's already very high in saturated fat, adding in two whole eggs a week, or even, you know, an egg a day to someone who's already eating a high level of saturated fat and cholesterol, actually isn't going to make their markers change much. And so I can say see, it's healthy! It doesn't change heart outcomes. But when I take that same study design and put it against a whole food plant-based diet, or even a diet that's very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, we're not going to see the same outcomes. But the headline is going to be the thing that people are going to see like, oh, see eggs are healthy. Well no. Compared to what? And listen, you know, it's tricky. I'm not trying to get on this train of nutrition evidence, but just sort of the overall caveat to say, like I get it. It can be hard and it can also be hard to sort of sift through what's true and what's not.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. I like that. You said compared to what - that's my favourite question. It's true. Episode one of this show and we're coming out with a hundred tomorrow. So like the very first episode was eight questions to ask yourself about like research and how to interpret it. And it was either the first or the second one, I can't remember, but it was compared to what? So I love that you brought that up. It's super important.

So we have a couple more myths. Our show has gone into soy before. We have a whole episode on soy myth-busting with Melissa Riley in episode 11, if our listeners want to listen to that. But what about the protein aspect and how does that kind of come up for kids especially? Like, is there a lot of protein related myth-busting you and Whitney need to do specifically for young people's diets?

Alexandra Caspero: Yes. So protein deficiency is just not a thing in the developed world. You know, it's not an issue here in America. It's not an issue in Canada. It's not an issue in the UK. It's not an issue in Australia. You know, it's just not an issue. Even the studies that we do have on vegan kids. So they actually get about two times the recommended amount of protein, and omnivore kids get about three to four times. There is such thing as too much protein too. There are studies that show that children who have the highest levels of protein actually tend to have higher levels of obesity.

Karina Inkster: Hmm. And now is this, animal-based protein or is it plant and animal?

Alexandra Caspero: Those studies are likely based on omnivorous children, because again, the studies that we do have looking at vegan kids actually tend to have lower BMI’s. But in general, the more protein that you're eating, you're likely just eating more calories, so more often, and where you're getting that protein from, right. Because that's gonna matter as well. Again, we're looking at sort of the big picture. Animal protein is comprised of a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol. Plant protein is also going to be found with fibre, antioxidants and that's going to have a different effect too on metabolism. So in general, protein is not an issue at all.  An average toddler needs about 15, 16 grams of protein, depending on their weight. If you're giving your child just perhaps two glasses of soy milk a day that alone is going to meet their protein needs.

So this really isn't an issue. The other thing that we talk about a lot with parents too, is remembering that protein is found in so many foods, right? A cup of whole-grain pasta contains eight grams of protein. So, especially for talking about toddlers who perhaps really love some more of those carbohydrate richer options, you're also going to be getting protein as well. The complete protein myth I think is sort of the one that we hear a lot. So people will say things like, yes, I know that you can get protein on a plant-based diet, but it's not enough, or it's not quality. And, really sort of myth-busting the idea that actually all plants contain all of the essential amino acids, the ones that we have to get from our diet. Some are more limiting than others.

So for example, beans are very high in the amino acid lysine, a little bit lower in the amino acid methionine. Grains are sort of the opposite. So if you're eating a diet that contains both grains and both beans are going to get as much methionine and lysine as you need. It is one of the reasons that we do talk to parents a lot about incorporating things like soy, like beans, like legumes often in the diet, just to make sure they are getting those lysine needs, because it can be a little bit more limiting in a plant-based diet. But in general, we do not see any protein efficiency concerns when it comes to the developed world, even in strict vegans. The other thing I will say about that though, the one caveat is we do not recommend any type of like raw diet, macrobiotic diet when it comes especially to pregnancy, to childhood, to infancy. 

There’s no studies that show those are superior to a vegan diet and they may be lacking in some of those critical amino acids that we need for growth and development.

Karina Inkster: Oh man, that is a whole other podcast episode I would love to do at some point. It's like the vegan diets that have names, you know, like raw till four or whole foods no oil, or like things that are labeled, you know?

Alexandra Caspero: I know I always joke that to get into a big thing, but like, there are a lot of things we need to be talking about in this world. And like, you know, the reality is of sort of the nutrition landscape out there, convincing people to eat less olive oil is just not even a top like 50 concern.

Karina Inkster: Yup. Fully agreed.

Alexandra Caspero: And I also will say just really quickly on that is infants, toddlers especially, need a lot of fat, about 35, 40% of their calories from fat. So it also can be harmful if we're trying to sort of apply these lower fat, whole food plant-based diets on our children. We can debate the merits for adults, but when we're talking about kids especially, there's no need to fear added plant oils, especially because again, we're talking about kids, smaller appetites. They're not going to be able to get all they need perhaps just from like avocados. We need to ensure they're getting lots of fat in their meals. And of course, whole nuts, seeds can also be choking hazards. So offering those in safe ways like nut butters and smaller amounts mixed into foods, really ensuring kids are getting enough fat, especially when it comes to cognitive to brain development.

Karina Inkster: Ah, that's a really good point. So are there other kind of generalized, I don't want to call them rules, but you know, suggestions, recommendations that are specific to the young kids that are really different? Like adults could do fine with half that fat.

Alexandra Caspero: Yes.

Karina Inkster: You know, I mean, depending on each individual and their goals, obviously. But so are there other things like this that are vastly different in young children like three and under, and adults?

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah. So the two big things we talked to parents about that are going to be different than perhaps an adult diet is one, the fat thing, right? So that's really important. And the other thing is there's something that we call the whole grain paradox. And that is the idea that obviously whole grains are nutritionally superior to their more refined grain counterparts. But again, when we're talking about the benefits of a plant-based diet, one of the overall benefits is that it tends to be very high in fibre. Awesome for adults, maybe not so awesome for a growing child who perhaps is having some, you know, constipation or diarrhea issues. GI issues are very common in children. Someone perhaps who is getting too full and isn't able to meet their calorie needs because they're filling up on some of these fibre rich foods.

And so we actually tell who have kids two and under, to make about half of their grains more refined. We are focused at this sort of age group really on ensuring enough calories for growth and development, really wanting our kids not to fill up too much on other things. So they're not displacing other nutrients where they are found in the diet and adding in too many high fibre, whole grains can sometimes diminish appetite. And so we also want to ensure that parents are giving some of those refined grains to their kids. Again, knowing that there is more of a benefit of a whole grain option in adults. In general, though, I think that something we talk to parents a lot about, especially vegan parents, plant-based parents who just tend to be more nutritionally-minded, I would say then, you know, sort of the average adult is too much of a focus on purity can actually be detrimental to kids, right?

I mean we want our kids to eat some of these sort of like highly palatable junk foods. I don't want to raise, we don't want to really encourage children to be so scared of some foods out there or be nervous of the vegan cupcake or the vegan doughnut. I mean, these are all foods that can be enjoyed sort of in a healthy diet and really should not be prevented in kids because that type of restriction often backfires. And that can really cause some issues as they get older.

Karina Inkster: Oh! That is such a good point. Holy crap. So many good points. Let's talk about the refined grains thing for a second. So this is something that is new to me. I'm not a parent. Don't know a lot about super young children's nutrition, other than what I've discussed on the podcast. So when people hear refined grains, a lot of red lights are gonna just start flashing immediately. So what kind of things there are you recommending? Like white rice? Like what kind of stuff?

Alexandra Caspero: Yup. White rice, white pasta, maybe more of a lower fibre bread. You know, all of these sort of refined grain products, I think have been really demonized for a long time. And listen, I'm not going to sit here and say that these are health foods. You know, the benefit of the whole grain option is that you're getting that intact germ. You're getting the fibre-rich bran, right. There are benefits and eating some of these foods. But again, we're talking about, let's say a 15-month-old who has a very small stomach who needs to be getting more of their calories from fat, who needs to be ensuring they're getting all of these adequate nutrients, iron zinc, et cetera, for growth. If we're feeding them too much of these whole grain products that are really fibre rich, one of the benefits of fibre is that it's so satiating.

You know, that's why we talk about it, especially when we're talking about adults and perhaps weight management and one of the benefits of a plant-based diet. But when it comes to kids, if they're eating less, if they're having any growth issues, that's one of the first things that we talk to parents is switching more towards a refined grain option. Now I will also say, this does not mean that's true for every single child. You know, I have great eaters as my kids. They always have really healthy appetites, you know, and some of that is genetic too, and that's wonderful. So I haven't had to focus so much on the refined grains as they get over that one-year-old threshold. 

But for some parents, especially parents who have appetite concerns with their kids or kids who really aren't perhaps growing according to their growth chart, that can be one of the first things that we want to look at is just to make sure they're not filling up too much on some of these items. And the other thing is too we actually, one last thing I'll say about the difference between adults and kids, is we tend to limit the plate to about a third fruits and vegetables, again because those foods tend to be lower calories, and we want to make sure that our kids are not filling up too much on yes, nutrient rich, but perhaps lower calorie fruits and vegetables, and not getting in more of those more, you know, energy dense things like grains, beans, nuts seeds, et cetera.

Karina Inkster: Mm. Yeah. So the satiation thing that works later in life for folks who maybe are into weight management is actually a negative potentially for some kids.

Alexandra Caspero: It can be, yeah. Because we are not trying to limit our children's growth right? We are trying to maximize growth and wanting them to put on weight and to grow according to their growth chart. And so sometimes that can be a detriment, again, not for everyone, but something to consider, especially if you're feeling like your child isn't growing according to their needs. That's sort of one of the first places that I look, along with how much fat are they getting.

Karina Inkster: Right. Yep. That’s huge. So let's talk about some actual logistics here. So we have a lot of listeners who are already vegan, lotta listeners who are vegan-curious and they're kind of like, you know, checking things out and seeing if it's for them, and the clients that my team and I work with are all across the board. They're all somewhere on the vegan spectrum. We don't work with folks who have no interest in plant-based eating. But you know, some people are starting from square one and they're transitioning as a family with older kids. Other people we've been working with, you know, for years, and they've been vegan for 20 years and it's not a big deal.

So what about some of these logistics for maybe those people who are making a transition to plant-based diets and they have young kids, or they made the transition themselves recently, and they're thinking about having kids? Like there's a lot of concerns around picky eaters, how to get your kids to eat veggies. So what are some of these tips and tricks let's call them, that you and Whitney have for parents to be or parents?

Alexandra Caspero: So, you know, the first thing I will say is that we don't believe it has to be all or nothing to reap health benefits, right? Every single bit of plant-based eating is going to be beneficial. And like I said in the very beginning we don't think our goal is really to sort of to say like, you know, it has to be a hundred percent or nothing. Our goal is to say, we all want more of us to be eating this way. How can we help meet you where you're at? So if you're someone perhaps who is brand new to this and is nervous or concerned about getting your partner involved and then perhaps your children involved, especially if they're older kids, pulling the rug out from everyone and saying, you know, we're eating this way now and we're not looking back is likely going to get a lot of resistance from older kids and it may backfire on you.

Instead we like to bring everyone in. So we'll say to them what are some foods we already love that just happen to be plant-based? Can we add, can we enjoy more of those foods more often? Can we explore as a family, some of these perhaps newer foods? And this is also really important however your diet looks with your kids, but getting them involved in the kitchen. We talked a little bit about picky eating. That's really going to help them. So perhaps to say, hey, I found this recipe online. It's for tacos, but we're going to make tacos with black beans. Can you guys help me maybe cook the beans or can you help me pick out an onion? Or what colour onion do you think we should use? Should we get a purple onion? Should we get a white onion?  Should we get a yellow onion?

I mean these are all sort of things that we can do to help our kids sort of help us in the kitchen, but also start to learn along the way. And also it is okay if they reject things in the beginning. We really believe our goal and our job as parents - and that's including all aspects of picky eating - our job is to provide the food. Our job is to decide when we're eating it. 

And it's really our children's job to decide if they want to eat it and how much. So what that looks like in my house is perhaps like tonight, I actually just made a batch of lentil tacos. So we're going to have that. We'll probably have some fruit and then I don't know, maybe we'll do like a cauliflower or a salad.

If my child only decides he wants to pick at the tortilla and eat the fruit, is that great as far as an overall balanced nutrient approach? No. Does it necessarily matter in the long-term when it comes to healthy eating? No, not really, right? My job is to say, this is the dinner that we're having. I want to expose you to it. I want you to help me in the kitchen. I want you to be as excited as possible, but at the end of the day, if I sit you down and say, you must eat this, that's also likely going to backfire. 

And that's what the research shows. Research shows that the best way to make picky eating worse is to force kids to eat things they don't want to. So instead if I sort of say like, really chill, hey, this is dinner tonight. This is on the menu. I'm not a short order cook. I'm not going to make you something else. And also you have the opportunity at the next meal to eat something different.

So at the end of the day, all they eat is, you know, a little bit of strawberries, which has happened in my house, I don't sweat it because I know the next day, the next morning or the meal, whatever, maybe we'll have a smoothie or we'll have some oatmeal or we'll have some brown rice and whatever else that they love. And I know they're going to fill up on nutrients that way. So I know that can be hard to hear for a lot of parents. You know, our sort of, I think reaction we normally want to do is to say, oh, my child, doesn't like this, I'm only going to serve foods I know they like, but that can quickly become sort of a catering thing that actually makes their palette less and less because they're only eating foods they like, rather than exposing them to foods that they are learning to like.

Karina Inkster: Hmm. So many good ideas here. So you mentioned the best way to make picky eating worse is to force your kid to eat something that your kid doesn't enjoy, which makes total sense. And it's actually kind of an old-school approach. Like I always remember my mom telling me about her parents sitting her down and being like, okay, you're not leaving the table until you're done this plate.

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah. How awful. I mean, listen, my parents did the same thing and you know,  we always had like a have to try it or have to eat something. But you know, I think that what we try to talk about with parents is picky eating behaviourally developmentally is actually very normal, right? It sort of happens at this age where our children are becoming more autonomous. They're starting to decide what things they like and what they don't like. And we really want to encourage that, right? Like we want to develop sort of this independence. When we sit them down at the table and say, you don't know what's best for your body. You don't know what you're talking about. I'm going to make you eat this. That's going to create a lot of mealtime stress for everybody right? I can't imagine the parent likes that. I can't imagine that child likes that.

Instead, if we say, oh, well, this is on the menu tonight. I'm sorry that you don't like this option. Oh, you want to have spaghetti? Well, that's not on the menu tonight, but you know what? We'll have spaghetti tomorrow, or we'll have spaghetti in a few days and then follow up on that, do it. That makes the child sort of also know too, like, this is the diet. This is the food in my home, and this is what I'm going to eat. And you know what? It can be a long game. Picky eating can go from about 18 months to about six years and that is a long time. But the research really shows the more that you just expose, and there's some sort of tricks in there too that we go into in our book of various ways for food play and exposure, but the more sort of relaxed you can be, the less you make it about sort of this battle of wills, it actually is likely going to lessen quicker.

Karina Inkster: Hmm. Well, I think a lot of folks listening to this are just going to go immediately and say, hey, I've got to check out this book because it's got all the tips and tricks. That's awesome. So speaking of your book, where can folks get their hands on it? Where can our listeners connect with you and Whitney?

Alexandra Caspero: Yeah, so our book is available really wherever books are sold. You can find it online of course. If you're listening to this internationally, you can check out your country's Amazon page, but then also Book Depository. You can find us really on our website at and then we're active on all social media, but especially Instagram, and that is @plantbasedjuniors.

Karina Inkster: Lovely. You know, it took me until you mentioned PBJ to be like, oh, it's peanut butter and jelly too. Brilliant name!

Alexandra Caspero: Sort of our play on kids, right?

Karina Inkster: I love it. It took me until you mentioned it to realize that.

Alexandra Caspero: The original plant-based lunch, yeah.

Karina Inkster: Yeah, right? Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. It was so great to speak with you, and we're going to have show notes so our listeners can connect with you and Whitney and see what Plant-Based Juniors is all about. Congrats on your book. Super exciting. And it was so great speaking with you.

Alexandra Caspero: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Karina Inkster: Alexandra, thank you again for joining me on the show today, much appreciated. Head to our show notes at, to get your hands on Alexandra and Whitney's new book and connect with the Plant-Based Juniors community. Thank you so much for tuning in.

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