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What you need to know to raise a healthy vegetarian child

 


Maybe you are vegetarian and your children want to eat the same way. Or perhaps your seven year-old learned where hamburgers come from and does not want to eat them anymore. No matter the reason, children can safely follow a vegetarian eating plan. Here’s what you need to know to raise a healthy vegetarian child.  

 

 

 

What is a vegetarian?

There is more than one type of vegetarian:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy and eggs but do not eat meat, poultry and fish.
  • Pesco-vegetarians eat dairy, eggs and fish, but do not eat meat and poultry.
  • Vegans do not eat dairy, eggs, meat, poultry and fish.

Any of these vegetarian eating plans are healthy options for children. The main foods for all these diets are vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes (bean, lentils, dried peas), soy products, nuts and seeds.


Healthy at all ages

From toddler to teen, children of all ages can be vegetarian. The important thing is to make sure they get the nutrients and energy they need to grow and develop well. This will take some planning. Before your children start following a vegetarian eating pattern, speak to their doctor, healthcare provider or Registered Dietitian. You can also contact a dietitian at EatRight Ontario for information and handouts on vegetarian meal planning. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.


A well-planned diet

Like all children, vegetarian children require a wide variety of foods from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide for healthy growth and development. You can follow the Food Guide for the proper serving sizes at each age. Every day your children need:

  • Vegetables and Fruit: a variety of fresh, frozen or dried options
  • Grain products: whole grains such as oats, barley, brown rice and quinoa
  • Milk Products: milk, cheese, yogourt and fortified soy beverages
  • Meat and Alternatives: eggs, tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts and nut butters


Some kid-approved vegetarian favourites are:

  • Whole grain cereal with milk or fortified soy beverage
  • Fruity muesli or hot cereal like oatmeal
  • Vegetable omelettes or scrambled eggs. Try this Indian spiced egg dish.
  • Nut butter sandwiches. Try peanut butter with banana or almond butter with sliced apple.
  • Yogurt parfaits or smoothies
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Bean and cheese chili
  • Veggie pizza
  • Tofu fajitas
  • Bean burritos
  • Pasta with soy meat balls, veggies and tomato sauce
  • Veggie burgers and hotdogs
  • Falafel (chickpea balls) in a pita 
  • Hummus (chickpea spread) with veggies
  • Quesadillas

Try these kid friendly recipes:

Yummy Quinoa Lunch

Sweet Chili Tofu Stir-Fry

Spinach and mushroom lasagna

Souper Lunch with Rice and Beans

My Grandma’s Beet Soup

Sunshine French Toast, Heart and Stroke Foundation


Nutrients to pay attention to

A well-planned vegetarian diet for your children means paying special attention to some important nutrients. Speak to your child’s doctor, healthcare provider or a dietitian about food sources for these nutrients. You can also contact EatRight Ontario for more information on important nutrients and food sources. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.


1. Meat provides protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. If your children do not eat meat, it’s important to find alternatives for these nutrients:

Protein:

  • Breast milk or formula for babies
  • Soy products – tofu, TVP (textured vegetable protein), veggie burgers
  • Milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Fortified soy beverages
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Iron:

  • Iron-fortified cereal
  • Legumes
  • Soy products – tofu, TVP, veggie burgers
  • Fortified pasta and cereals
  • Dried fruit
  • Quinoa
  • Dark green vegetables

Zinc:

  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains

Vitamin B12

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Fortified soy products – beverages, tofu, veggie burgers
  • Red Star nutritional yeast
  • Supplements


2. If your child is vegan and does not eat or drink milk products, he/she will need to get calcium and vitamin D from sources such as:

Calcium

  • Fortified soy beverages and non-dairy drinks, or orange juice
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Almonds
  • Legumes
  • Leafy green vegetables

Vitamin D

  • Soft margarine
  • Fortified soy beverages
  • Supplements


3. If your child does not eat fish he/she may not get enough omega-3 fats, which are important for brain development and eye health. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats are:

Omega 3 fats

  • Oils: Canola oil, soy oil
  • Soy products: Soy beans, tofu
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seed
  • Breastmilk and infant formula (for babies)


The youngest vegetarians

Vegetarian or not, breast milk is best for babies. Breast milk plus a vitamin D supplement provides all of the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months of life. For information about introducing solid foods to babies, click here.

Breastfeeding vegetarian mothers need to get enough of the same nutrients listed above. Omega-3 fats are important for infant development and you may need an omega-3 supplement. Vegan mothers may need a vitamin B12 supplement each day. Speak to your doctor, healthcare provider or Registered Dietitian about prenatal and postnatal supplements.

If your baby is formula-fed, use an iron-fortified formula until age one, then switch to whole milk. Vegan babies should have iron-fortified soy formula until age two.


Bottom line:

Well-planned vegetarian diets can be healthy for people of all ages and can provide you with all the nutrients for good health. But planning is key!

An EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian can help. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email to learn about the nutrients you need, healthy food choices, menu planning and to receive handouts. 

You may also be interested in:

Four steps to a balanced vegan eating pattern

What you need to know about a vegetarian eating plan

What you need to know about following a vegan eating plan

 

Copyright © Dietitians of Canada 2016. All rights reserved.

Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.