A program of the Physicians Association for Nutrition

Nutrition for Families provides tools and resources to support your family’s health with a plant-based diet.

Getting Started

What we eat has a tremendous impact on our health and well-being, and on the planet.

We’re not talking about another “diet” or food rules to follow. Just adding more whole plant foods to your meals can improve nutrition and health.

We’ll show you that you don’t have to give up your favorite foods or miss out on flavor, nor do you need to spend a lot of time or money to eat healthier.

Nutrition for Families provides the “what, why and how” to improve your diet.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Starting life on a healthy path

The first 1,000 days – the start of pregnancy until your baby’s second birthday – is a critical time for laying the foundation of good health. Nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding is vital to the health of the mom and infant, and nearly all nutrient needs increase.

In our pregnancy guide:
  • Pre-pregnancy checklist – prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy with diet and lifestyle tips
  • Nutrient needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Key nutrients to pay attention to when consuming a plant-based diet, including supplements that may be needed
  • Types and amounts of foods to eat to meet nutrition needs
  • Top tips for a healthy pregnancy, including weight gain and food safety
  • Feeding your infant

Infants and Toddlers

What to feed your baby

Your child’s taste preferences and eating behaviors form in the first few years of life. Thus, you can influence their healthy eating habits by exposing them to healthy foods!

In our infant and toddlers guide:
  • Breast milk or infant formula – essential nutrition for the first year of life
  • Introducing solid foods, including which ones are essential
  • Types and amounts of foods to eat to meet nutrition needs
  • Key nutrients to pay particular attention to when consuming a plant-based diet
  • Allergies and the latest nutrition guidelines
  • Tips and strategies for feeding babies

Children Ages 2 to 18

Healthy kids, healthy planet

A healthy diet is critical during childhood as nutrient needs are often higher to meet growth demands. A well-balanced, plant-based diet can improve diet quality as well as increase nutrient intake in children. 

In our children's guide:
  • Nutrition needs by age group, including key nutrients to pay particular attention to when consuming a plant-based diet
  • Types and amounts of foods to eat to meet nutrition needs
  • Healthy meal and snack ideas
  • Strategies for healthy eating behaviors, including for picky eaters
  • Promoting a healthy body image
  • Healthy weight gain and maintenance
  • Feeding the young athlete

Plant-Based Diet Basics

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet consists primarily of a variety of plant foods: fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes (soy, beans, lentils).
 

  • In a whole food plant-based diet, refined products, such as white flour, sugar, and highly-processed foods, are typically consumed in low amounts or are excluded.
  • Vegetarian diets exclude meat and sometimes animal byproducts (e.g., gelatin) but may include milk and eggs (lacto-ovo vegetarian).
  • In vegan diets, animal products are completely excluded.
  • Pescatarian (includes some fish), flexitarian (limits meat in the diet), and even Mediterranean diets are sometimes considered plant-based if they contain mostly plants and few animal-sourced ingredients.
Fruits

Fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and 100% juice with no added sugar. Fruits contain antioxidants, vitamins, potassium, and fiber. Choose 100% juice over juice “cocktails,” and limit juice to ½ cup for young children (under 6 years old) and 1 cup for older children per day.

Vegetables

Starchy and non-starchy vegetables, fresh, frozen, canned, and dried. Vegetables contain many nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Focus on eating many red, orange, and green veggies.

Whole grains

Unrefined grains and cereals, such as brown rice, whole wheat, oats, barley, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet. Whole grains are a good source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, selenium, and magnesium. Make at least half of grains consumed whole grains.

Legumes

Beans, lentils, soybeans and soy products (e.g., soy milk, tofu, tempeh), chickpeas, and peas. Legumes are an excellent source of protein. They also contain many other nutrients such as fiber, iron, and zinc.

Nuts and seeds

Whole, ground, and nut and seed butters. They are a good source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals (e.g., vitamin E, magnesium, selenium).

Fats

Avocados, flax, chia, and hemp seeds, walnut, olive, canola, and other healthy plant oils enhance the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients and contribute vitamin E and omega-3 fats. Oils rich in monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive), omega-3 fats (e.g., canola, flax), and plant sterols (e.g., avocado) are also heart-healthy.

What does a plant-based meal look like?

A plant-based meal focuses on a variety of plant foods, especially colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein-rich plant foods, such as nuts and legumes (beans, lentils, soy).

Meals include calcium-rich foods, such as fortified soy milk. Healthy fats (e.g., avocado, plant oils) are consumed in moderation, except for children under 3 years of age, who need higher amounts of fat.

What about processed foods?

Highly-processed foods are often higher in salt and lower in nutrients and beneficial phytonutrients than whole or minimally-processed foods. However, some processed foods can be part of a nutritious diet, particularly when fortified (e.g., plant meat-alternatives, calcium-fortified plant milks).

It often takes time to find a balance between convenience, cost, taste, and nutrition. We want healthy eating to be an easy choice; see our practical tips and strategies to maximize nutrition while enjoying foods that are affordable!

Plant-based diets are safe

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional association for U.S. registered dietitians, states a well-planned, plant-based diet is safe at all stages of life, including for infants and children, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.*

Like any diet, a plant-based diet should include all of the essential nutrients and adequate calories. Eating a variety of plant-based foods will provide most of the nutrients your body needs.

However, it can be challenging for to get enough key nutrients in the diet. We show you what foods contain these key nutrients, how to incorporate them into meals you already enjoy, and strategies to encourage your family to eat healthily.

*Melina et al. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec; 116(12):1970-1980.