How to help a vegetarian child grow up healthy

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

Ovo-lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs but no meat, poultry, or fish.

Pesco-vegetarians

Pesco-vegetarians eat dairy products, eggs, and fish but no meat or poultry.

Vegans

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

Grain products

whole grains like oats, barley, brown rice, and quinoa

Dairy products

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

Bean Burritos

Soy ball pasta with vegetables and tomato sauce

Veggie burgers and hot dogs

Falafel (chickpea balls) in a pita

Hummus (chickpea spread) with vegetables

quesadillas

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:

Proteins

Breast milk or infant formula

Soy products – tofu, TVP (textured vegetable protein), veggie burgers

Milk, cheese, yogurt

Fortified soy beverages

Eggs

Legumes

Nuts and seeds

Iron

Iron-fortified cereals

Legumes

Soy products – tofu, TVP, veggie burgers

Enriched pasta and cereals

Dried fruits

Quinoa

Dark green vegetables

Zinc

Legumes

Nuts

Seeds

Whole grains

Vitamin B12

Dairy products

Eggs

Enriched soy products – beverages, tofu, veggie burgers

Red Star Nutritive Yeast

Supplements

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:

Calcium

Fortified soy beverages and non-dairy beverages or orange juice

Calcium Solidified Tofu

Almonds

Legumes

Leafy green vegetables

Vitamin D

Soft margarine

Fortified soy beverages

Supplements

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

Walnuts

Linseed

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.

Conclusion

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!

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