To the parents of fussy eaters, the idea of a child who begs for broccoli and happily tucks into a pile of beans, pulses and tofu sounds like an impossible dream. Surely, such a child does not exist?

Well, he does. According to the Daily Mail, one-year-old Dylan Bammeke's favourite meal is dahl curry with rice or sweet potato mash, and you'll never see him pulling a "yuck" face when given a veggie stir-fry.

Dylan eats this way because it's all he has ever known. He may not be old enough to pronounce the word "vegan" - but he is one. Toddler staples such as chicken nuggets, fish fingers or boiled egg and soldiers have never made their way on to his plate.

Dylan's mother, Layla, admits her decision to feed her son a plant-based diet has raised eyebrows. Is it morally right, or even healthy, to enforce such a strict eating regime on a growing child, many ask.


Layla, 39, says raising her baby to be vegan has been met with derision from some.

"I've had people accuse me of child abuse, and had comments such as, "You should let him have the choice to eat meat," and, "He won't grow properly,"' says Layla, a business studies student who's been vegan since 2016.

One-year-old Dylan never pulls a
One-year-old Dylan never pulls a "yuck" face when given a veggie stir-fry. Photo / Getty Images

She lives in Woolwich, South-East London, with Dylan, 16 months, and her fiance Eddie, 50, a film director, who's also vegan. Before weaning her son, Layla sought advice from her GP - and certainly her little boy is a picture of health, with sparkling eyes, glowing skin and weight and height just as they should be.

Even so, Layla's been stigmatised and has lost friends. "I've lost three friends who don't agree with what they see as my "militant" ways. They were vile on social media, too, telling me I'd make my baby ill and that I'm denying him a choice in life.

"It's interesting because my view is that I didn't have a choice as a child. I was given meat and fish to eat and told to clean my plate. I expect Dylan to be curious and maybe even rebellious about meat in the future. I hope he understands why he's vegan, and I will try not to freak out if he tries meat and dairy when he's older."

There are an estimated 3.5 million vegans in the UK - 7 per cent of the population — who eschew meat, fish, dairy and any other products that derive from the killing of an animal or from agricultural practices that exploit living creatures.

This includes honey and foods containing such ingredients as gelatine or animal fats.

Food manufacturers have also responded to soaring demand for vegan foods, with companies such as Babease and Piccolo offering vegan food for little ones. But while there are milk alternatives for adults, there is still no vegan baby formula milk in the UK.

But just how safe is it to raise a child as a vegan and is it really possible for them to get the vital nutrients they need? While many experts note that a vegan diet can be perfectly healthy for children, they also warn that it must be done properly.

A study of veganism in children at University College London concluded that a lack of nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and high-quality protein (found in meat and dairy) can lead to malnutrition and "irreversible damage" to their nervous systems.

A study of veganism in children at concluded that a lack of nutrients found in meat and dairy can lead to
A study of veganism in children at concluded that a lack of nutrients found in meat and dairy can lead to "irreversible damage". Photo / Getty Images

Professor Mary Fewtrell warned: "It is difficult to ensure a healthy and balanced vegan diet in young infants. The risks of getting it wrong can include irreversible cognitive damage and, in the extreme, death."

Paediatric dietitian Lucy Upton agrees that while a vegan diet shouldn't be labelled good or bad, it requires very careful attention.

"Children need lots of energy and very nutrient dense foods in order to grow, for bone and teeth accrual, and for their brains to develop.

"A whole food vegan diet is typically low in fat and high in fibre, and essentially low in calories, which has the potential to affect how much energy and nutrients children are able to consume.

"When reviewing the diet of a vegan child, I scrutinise it to ensure it includes the nutrients which are essential for children - namely iron, calcium, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids. They are harder to obtain from a vegan diet, so many youngsters require supplements.

"Iron deficiency can also impact on children's weight, appetite and energy, and increase the risk of coughs and colds.

"Too little protein can lead to stunted growth, while too much fibre can cause children to feel full too quickly, stopping them getting enough food."

Thirty-six-year-old Iida van der Byl-Knoefel, from Surrey, went vegan four years ago in a quest for better health after being diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis.

When her son Johannes was born in August 2017, she was resolute that he'd eventually be weaned onto a vegan diet - a decision that her non-vegan husband Fred, 36, a banker, supported.

She says other people's concerns about them raising their son as a vegan are usually dismissed when they see 19-month-old Johannes.

"When people see my gorgeous baby - how energetic he is and how much he loves his food - their reservations usually disappear."

Contrary to popular myth, vegans can and do breastfeed their children, since there is no cruelty involved and a mother's milk, unlike a cow's, was intended for human babies. Johannes will be breastfed until he is two, meaning that Iida, who is the author of vegan cookbook A Kitchen Fairytale, can be confident her baby is getting the nutrients he needs.

"I don't give him supplements, as breast milk is so full of goodness," she says. "I also make sure his diet is varied to ensure his nutritional needs are met. For example, he has a green smoothie pretty much every morning. This contains leafy greens such as kale and spinach, as well as hemp seeds, barley grass powder, orange and banana.

"He also regularly eats all colours of lentils, different types of beans, whole grains, nuts and lots of fruit and veg. His weight is perfect for his age. He's healthy, pink-cheeked and has a terrific appetite." Of course, at this age, controlling what Johannes eats is a doddle compared with when children start nursery and school.

READ MORE: • What really happens to your body when you go vegan

More challenging still will be play dates and parties brimming with ham sandwiches and fairy cakes smothered in butter cream icing.

"Recently, a friend invited us to her child's party and asked beforehand if Johannes could eat cake with butter cream," says Iida. 'We prefer that he doesn't and I made buns with cashew and maple cream so that he didn't miss out.

"But I've accepted that as Johannes gets older, he may want to try a burger or a non-vegan pizza with his friends. It won't be the end of the world. I wouldn't want him ever to think I forced him into being a vegan."

But it's not all plain sailing, as vegan mum Amy Venables found recently when her 16-month-old son, Bodhi, started being picky at mealtimes.

"Although generally he eats a greater variety of foods than his non-vegan friends, there are times I've felt fraught because all he wants is pasta and bread," says Amy, 35, a marketing manager from Basingstoke who's been vegan for six years.

"I reassure myself that all parents have similar issues, whether their toddlers are vegan or not, and I make sure Bodhi takes a daily multivitamin.

"But a spate of recent birthday parties has made me think more about the future because I don't have vegan friends with children the same age.

"Although some friends do accommodate his vegan diet, over the next few years there will be play dates and parties and one thing we'll have to overcome is that Bodhi will want what other kids are eating.

"I don't want him to feel like he's different or missing out, so I'll probably take vegan party food for him."

Bodhi goes to nursery three days a week, where the on-site chef makes him vegan alternatives at mealtimes, and Amy's in-laws have him the other two days. Though not vegan themselves, they are, she says 'brilliant' at researching and providing food for her son.

"I've had some people ask, "Are you going to make him eat vegan food?" — which is unfair as it's no different to others giving their toddlers what they eat.

"When Bodhi starts to comprehend that what we eat is different, I'll explain to him in an age-appropriate manner why. I'm passionate about animal welfare, so raising Bodhi in a compassionate manner is important, and veganism is very much a lifestyle.

"If he ever decides to eat meat, I'll be disappointed but respectful. But I'll never cook it in the house, because that's against our family principles.

"I'm hoping that by the time he's ten, there will be a lot more vegan kids around. Unfortunately, a lot of vegans do currently fit the hippy, right-on stereotype, which doesn't do much to help the image of veganism for those of us who are just quietly health and environmentally conscious."