If you are a vegetarian, you may want your child to share the same eating habits and beliefs. Or maybe your young adolescent has decided on their own that they no longer want to eat meat. How do you make sure that they get the proper dietary needs? Even if you are a vegetarian and know many of the substitutions, do children require additional dietary needs when meat is removed from their diet? And when you aren’t vegetarian and now have a meatless eater in your house, things can be even more challenging to ensure that they eat a balanced diet.
A vegetarian diet is a very healthy lifestyle as long as you take care to ensure a well-balanced diet. It must be appropriately planned and it may take a little more time to determine what’s for dinner. There is a food group being dropped from the diet and those nutrients that would normally be obtained from meat need to replaced. Some benefits of living vegetarian are: lower risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and lower risk for diabetes.
Discussion: Whether you are a vegetarian or not, the decision to eat vegetarian must be discussed. If you are a vegetarian, share your beliefs with your child and explain why it is important for you not to eat meat. If it for the well-being of animals, discuss where the meat comes from and some mistreatment of these animals. If it is for health reasons, talk about this and possibly even find celebrities or athletes that your child may look up to who are vegetarian. If your child has made this decision, talk about their reasons. This will determine if they are doing it for the right reasons and if they know enough about it to make an informed decision. Are they doing it because they’re concerned about their body image and want to lose weight or are they doing it because all their friends are? With talking about the motivations, you can determine if this is just a phase or an actual lifestyle change and it will also help determine what they will eat. Do they want to be vegan where they don’t eat any animal products, like eggs and cheese?
Dietician: The next step after discussing the decision to be vegetarian would be to talk to a dietician or pediatrician so both you and your child can understand their dietary needs.One of the things that is a concern for vegetarians is iron. Younger children need at least 7 mg of iron per day, teenage boys need 11 mg and teenage girls need 15 mg per day. Iron is more efficiently absorbed from meat than from plants and therefore, can sometimes lead to a deficiency for vegetarians. Fortified foods such as bread and cereal are a great source of iron as are legumes, dried fruit and leafy greens. Another source of deficiency for vegetarians is vitamin B, vitamin D and calcium, which are all found in dairy products and eggs. Fortified orange juice is a good source for vitamin D and calcium. Soy or almond milk is a source of vitamin B. Protein is obviously a nutrient that must be replaced since meat and fish is a very high source of protein. This can be found in beans, nuts, seeds, nut butters and grains. A supplement may be needed to fill possible gaps in nutrition, especially if your child isn’t eating a variety of foods.
Support: Inside the home, the vegetarian needs will be supported but what about when your child visits a friend’s house? Before visiting a friend, inform their parents ahead of time so they do not get offended if your child refuses to eat a dish offered to them. Also, offer to supply a dish that your child can eat so it will not be a burden on a non-vegetarian family. Again, with proper planning, vegetarianism at any age can be a very healthy lifestyle.