Nutrition for Vegetarian Kids

With the bad press about the recent "vegan baby" case, I felt the need to point out that a vegetarian diet for kids is healthier that a meat centered diet, if some simple rules are followed to ensure adequate nutrition.  Kids that have been raised vegetarian or decide to go it later on generally maintain healthy weights and improved health.   Their risk of heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer are also reduced. 

The reasons to go veg range from environmental, to animal welfare, to health, to non-violence or any combination of these.  You will probably see that as your child becomes more educated in these topics, the more dedicated he or she will become to the diet.

Listed below is some nutritional information to keep in mind as your child enjoys the many benefits of a vegetarian diet  (even one day a week!).  Also, there are tons of resources on the web that have great recipes, tips and information on vegetarian children.

Be sure your vegetarian or vegan tots are taking in the right nutrients:
• Younger children have smaller appetites, so serve frequent meals and snacks, using some higher-calorie refined foods, such as fortified cereals, breads and noodles.

• Milk and dairy are great sources of calcium. If your child is vegan, stock up on calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, orange juice, soy beverages, bok choy, collard greens, blackstrap molasses and legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils

• While typical vegetarian diets usually provide enough iron, it is difficult for the body to absorb it from plants. Eat foods containing Vitamin C to help with absorption. Good iron sources include fortified cereals, soybeans, legumes, potatoes baked with skin, spinach, prunes and prune juice, raisins and apricots.

• Make sure to get enough zinc through fortified whole grains and cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy foods, such as tofu, soymilk and tempeh.

• Put some Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by preparing meals with flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts, soybeans and soybean oil. Vegetarians who eat eggs can get the fatty acids there.

• Vegans should be mindful to get enough vitamin B-2, found in almonds, asparagus, bananas, legumes, sweet potatoes, tofu, wheat germ and enriched breads; vitamin B-12, found in fortified cereals and fortified milk; and vitamin D, by spending time in the sun (which helps the body make vitamin D) or by getting it in fortified cereals, soy milk or supplements.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System

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