There are a lot of myths about vegetarians: they're all radicals, hippies, or crazy are good starting points. But the reality is that more and more people are turning to a vegetarian diet. The conditions under which animals killed for meat live, the move toward more sustainable and organic living, concerns about toxins and e.coli in meat, increased estrogen and other hormones in meat, as well as general health concerns about cholesterol and heart health are all reasons for turning to a vegetarian diet.
As a result of this trend, many parents are facing the decision of whether or not to raise their children as vegetarians. There is much concern about children getting enough protein and vitamin B12 with a vegetarian diet. However, nutritional issues are present with almost all diets and in many ways vegetarian diets have been scrutinized unfairly. A child who survives off of big macs and oreos is less healthy than a vegetarian child with a mild protein deficiency. Vegetarian children are also less likely to be overweight. Further, a vegetarian child raised in a nutrition conscious household seems far more likely to grow up to be a healthy adult with an excellent diet.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind if you're thinking of raising your child on a vegetarian diet:
Very generally speaking, your child will be getting fewer calories with a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian child who still eats a lot of cheese, milk, or junk food does not have this concern, but make sure to monitor your child's growth. There's no need to count calories, but if your child is still hungry after a meal, make sure to give her a snack. You may want to try providing extra snacks in general, and check with your pediatrician to make sure that your child is the appropriate height and weight for her age.
Allow Your Child a Choice
Children who are forced into a vegetarian diet with no choice, and forbidden from ever consuming meat, will grow up to be a child with food issues, at risk for eating disorders or overeating. When parents are overly controlling about food, children almost always rebel. You don't have to offer your child meat, but if someone else does, there's no need to stop your child from eating it. Your child will still be getting a healthier diet by being mostly vegetarian, and all children deserve to have some control over the food that they eat.
Meat is generally a very effective way to get iron, so watch your child's iron intake. Most cereals, as well as bread and pasta, are fortified with iron, so incorporate these into your child's diet.
Nuts and legumes are excellent sources of protein, so be sure to incorporate these into your vegetarian child's diet.
There is vitamin D in milk, eggs, and dairy products, so unless your child is vegan, Vitamin D should not be a concern. A child on a vegan diet, however, should be given a good multivitamin and lots of exposure to sunlight.
This vitamin is only available naturally through animal products. Thus you will have to find other ways to incorporate it into your child's diet. Check labels for foods that are fortified with Vitamin B12; most children's cereals contain it, and consider a multivitamin
Give Your Child a Multivitamin
Few children's diets are perfect, and vegetarian children are no exception. Provide your child with a quality multivitamin to ensure she gets the vitamins and minerals she might miss out on in a given day.