Vegetarian Diets in Children

Vegetarianism is becoming increasingly popular. There are four main categories of vegetarians:

  • Ovolactovegeterians, who consume eggs, milk and vegetables.
  • Ovovegetarians, consume eggs and vegetables.
  • Lactovegetarians consume only milk (or other dairy products) and vegetables, but do not eat eggs.
  • Vegans eat vegetables only (or foods of vegetable origin).

Getting Enough calories and essential nutrients

If you are a vegetarian and you want your child to be one, you need to recognize there are some potential deficiencies that should be prevented. For instance, it is important to make sure your child is receiving enough calories to grow. Some vegetables are bulky and may fill a child so she will be less hungry, but may not eat enough calories overall to support proper growth.

Assuring that there is enough protein in the diet is extremely important for children. Protein is a source of essential amino acids which are vital for normal growth. To ensure enough protein intake, parents should learn which foods are high in protein content and use them in all meals. High-protein foods include beans and other legumes.

Calcium deficiency also needs to be prevented. Good sources of calcium include soy products such as tofu, and dark green vegetables such as mustard greens and broccoli. Vitamin D deficiency is possible especially in ovovegetarian and vegan diets and your child may need to be supplemented.

Although zinc is plentiful in animal muscle it may be inadequate in vegetarian diets. Aside from zinc supplementation, zinc can be found in beans, whole grains and some green vegetables. Iron deficiency can be prevented, by eating foods high in iron such as beans, whole grains, green vegetables and dried fruits such as prunes and peaches. It is a good idea to go over a vegetarian child's diet with your doctor or dietitian to prevent any potential nutritional deficiency.

Benefits

Despite the possible nutritional deficiencies of vegetarian diets in children, there is no doubt that there are very substantial, lifelong benefits to a properly balanced and supplemented vegetarian diet. Adult vegetarians tend to be less fat, have lower cholesterol, have lower blood pressure, less constipation and less osteoporosis than adults who eat meat in their diets.

A vegetarian way of life is not a bad thing to get a child used to, especially knowing the associated definite long-term health benefits. Adults often have trouble changing their eating habits. Establishing healthy eating patterns early in life can contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle.