Maybe you’re a vegetarian, and your kids want to eat the same way. Or maybe your seven-year-old learned where hamburgers came from and don’t want to eat them anymore. Whatever the reason, children can safely follow a vegetarian diet. So here’s what you need to know to help a vegetarian child grow healthy.
What is a Vegetarian?
There are several types of vegetarianism:
Ovo-lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs but no meat, poultry, or fish.
Pesco-vegetarians eat dairy products, eggs, and fish but no meat or poultry.
Vegans do not eat dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, or fish.
All of these vegetarian diets are healthy for children. The main foods in these diets are vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes (beans, lentils, dried peas), soy products, nuts, and seeds.
Vegetarian diet is Healthy for all ages
From young children to teenagers, children of all ages can be vegetarians. The important thing is to ensure they get the nutrients and energy they need to grow and thrive. This requires some planning. Before your children start following a vegetarian diet, consult with their doctor, health care provider, or registered dietitian.
A well-planned diet for children
Like all children, vegetarian children need a variety of foods from all four food groups to grow and develop healthily. You can use the Food Guide to determine appropriate serving sizes for each age. Your child should consume each day:
Fruits and vegetables
various fruits and vegetables, fresh, frozen, or dried
whole grains like oats, barley, brown rice, and quinoa
milk, cheese, yogurt, and fortified soy beverages
Meat and alternatives
eggs, tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts, and nut butter
kid-friendly vegetarian recipes
there are so many vegan recipes that kid will love!
Try whole grain cereal with milk or fortified soy beverage.
Muesli or hot cereals like oatmeal is another great option.
Vegetable omelets or scrambled eggs. Try scrambled egg.
Nut butter sandwiches. Try peanut butter with banana or almond butter with apple slices.
Yogurt parfaits or smoothies. It’s a great way to start your day
Cheese macaroni. Just be sure you are or your kid is okay with cheese.
vegetarian pizza. Margarita pizza is a great option
Try tofu Fajitas
Soy ball pasta with vegetables and tomato sauce
Veggie burgers and hot dogs
Falafel (chickpea balls) in a pita
Hummus (chickpea spread) with vegetables
Pay Special Attention to Nutrients
A well-planned vegetarian diet for your children requires special attention to essential nutrients. Consult your child’s doctor, health care provider, or dietitian about food sources of these nutrients.
Alternative sources of nutrients that comes from meat
Meat provides protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. So if your kids don’t eat meat, it’s essential to find other sources of these nutrients:
Breast milk or infant formula
Soy products – tofu, TVP (textured vegetable protein), veggie burgers
Milk, cheese, yogurt
Fortified soy beverages
Nuts and seeds
Soy products – tofu, TVP, veggie burgers
Enriched pasta and cereals
Dark green vegetables
Enriched soy products – beverages, tofu, veggie burgers
Red Star Nutritive Yeast
Alternative sources of nutrients that comes from dairy
If your child is vegan and does not consume dairy products, he will need to get his calcium and vitamin D from sources such as the following:
Fortified soy beverages and non-dairy beverages or orange juice
Calcium Solidified Tofu
Leafy green vegetables
Fortified soy beverages
Alternative sources of omega 3 fatty acids
If your child doesn’t eat fish, he may not be getting enough omega-3 fats, which are essential for brain development and eye health. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats include:
Oils: canola oil, soybean oil
Soy products: soybeans, tofu
Breast milk or formula (for babies)
Can infant or baby be vegan
Whether vegetarian or not, breast milk is the best food for babies. With extra vitamin D, breast milk provides all your baby’s nutrients during the first six months of life.
Nursing vegetarian mothers need to get enough of the nutrients listed above. Omega-3 fats are essential for a baby’s development, and you may need an omega-3 supplement.
In addition, vegan mothers may need to take a daily vitamin B12 supplement. Consult your doctor, health care provider, or registered dietitian about prenatal and postnatal supplements.
If your baby is formula-fed, use iron-fortified formula until one-year-old and then switch to whole milk. Vegan babies should eat iron-fortified soy formula until they are two years old.
Well-planned vegetarian diets can be healthy for people of all ages and provide you with all the nutrients you need for your health. But planning is essential!