Vegetarian Diet for Kids: A Healthy Choice?

IMAGE Perhaps you follow a vegetarian diet and encourage your children to do so as well. Or perhaps your toddler is a picky eater and prefers only veggies and fruits at mealtime. Maybe you have an environmentally conscious teen who decides against eating animals. Whatever the case may be, as a parent, you want to make sure your child is getting all the nutrients needed to grow up healthy and strong. Can a vegetarian diet provide this?

What Does It Mean to Be Vegetarian?

Being vegetarian does not mean only eating carrot sticks and apple slices. There are different kinds of vegetarian diets. Here are some of the major types:
Type of Diet Includes
Ovo-vegetarian Eggs, plants (vegetables, fruits, soy)
Lacto-vegetarian Dairy, plants
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian Dairy, eggs, plants
Vegan Only plants
Regardless of the type, a vegetarian diet can be healthy for children. As long as nutrition requirements are met , children on a meat-free diet grow up just as healthy as nonvegetarian children.

Essential Nutrients

The more flexible the diet, the more options there are for your child to get all the vitamins and minerals needed. Here are just some that should be a part of your child’s diet:
Vitamin or Mineral Where Can I Get It?
Calcium
  • Dairy products—milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables—spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Dried beans
  • Calcium-fortified products—orange juice, soy and rice drinks, cereals
Iron
  • Eggs
  • Dried beans
  • Dried fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Leafy, green vegetables
  • Iron-fortified cereals and bread
Protein
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Tofu and other soy products
  • Dried beans
  • Nuts
Vitamin B12
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Vitamin-fortified products—cereals, breads, soy and rice drinks
  • Nutritional yeast
Vitamin D
  • Vitamin D-fortified products—milk and orange juice
  • Sunshine
Zinc
  • Wheat germ
  • Nuts
  • Fortified cereal
  • Dried beans
  • Pumpkin seeds
Be sure to talk with your child’s doctor or dietician if your child is vegan. Given the limited food groups in a vegan diet, your child may need to take supplements to meet nutrient needs.

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