For kids on vegetarian diets, nutritional inadequacy has always been the biggest concern. With the right planning, a vegetarian diet can be a healthy way to eat. For children, extra care must be taken, especially if the vegetarian diet doesn’t include dairy and egg products.
Types of vegetarian diets
All vegetarian diets are not the same. So, be sure to understand the different types of vegetarian categories before changing Your Child’s diet to a vegetarian one.
- Vegans: Eat only plant-derived foods
- Ovo-vegetarian: Does not eat meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products but eats eggs
- Lacto-vegetarian: Does not eat meat, poultry, fish, or eggs but eats dairy products
- Lacto-Ovo-vegetarian: Does not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but eats eggs and dairy products
Important nutrients for children
Depending on the type of vegetarian diet, children may not get all the nutrients they need. Generally, the less restrictive the vegetarian diet, the easier it will be for Your Child to get a sufficient amount of the necessary nutrients. These are some nutrients that vegetarians should get and their food sources:
- Vitamin B12: dairy products, eggs, cereals, soy, and rice drinks
- Calcium: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans, calcium-fortified products
- Vitamin D: milk, vitamin D-fortified orange juice
- Protein: dairy products, eggs, tofu, and other soy products, dried beans, and nuts
- Iron: eggs, dried beans, dried fruits, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, iron-fortified cereals
- Zinc: wheat germ, nuts, dried beans, pumpkin seeds
A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet kids’ nutritional needs and has several health benefits. Talk to your child’s doctor or registered dietician to help you plan and monitor a healthy vegetarian diet.
Breast milk and infant formula (soy formula for vegan infants) are the main sources of nutrients for infants in the first 6 months of life. Breastfed infant vegans should receive a source of vitamin B12 if the mother’s diet isn’t supplemented. Vitamin D supplements are also important for breastfed infants. Infants older than 6 months should receive iron from complementary foods.
As soon as Your Child is introduced to solid foods, you can offer protein-rich vegetarian foods, such as pureed tofu, cheese, yogurt, pureed, and strained legumes.
After 12 months, a strict vegetarian diet may not offer growing toddlers enough vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and zinc. Toddlers are typically picky about foods they eat and may not get enough calories and nutrients from a vegetarian diet. Their tiny stomachs may also be unable to accommodate the number of vegetables needed for proper nutrition and calories. So, it is important to offer your vegetarian toddler fortified cereals and nutrient-dense foods, as well as vitamin supplementation.
A healthy lifestyle
If properly planned, a vegetarian diet is a healthy choice for kids of all ages. To plan a wholesome vegetarian diet that includes a variety of foods from all of the food groups, talk to your family doctor, registered dietician, or pediatrician.