Kids and Vegetarianism: Is It Healthy?
A vegetarian diet is becoming more and more common, not only for individuals but for entire families. If you’re considering raising your children as vegetarians (or if your kid comes home one day and decides to be one), know that it’s completely safe and healthy to practice. But be careful. When a vegetarian diet is full of fruits and vegetables, your kids are getting lots of vitamins and fiber, which is great. But if the food choices aren’t well-thought out, it can lead to a lack of nutrients like iron.
Here are foods that vegetarian kids and teens should eat to ensure they get the nutrients they need to grow:
- Calcium from dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans and calcium-enriched products (like orange juice)
- Iron from eggs (especially the yolk), dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, dried fruits (like raisins and prunes), artichokes, whole grains, leafy green vegetables like spinach and iron-enriched cereals and breads (check the labels)
- Protein from nuts, seeds, soybeans, tofu, cheese, eggs and yogurt
- Vitamin B12 from kkim milk, soy milk, eggs and fish (especially salmon and tuna)
- Vitamin D from salmon, milk, mushrooms, cereal (read the label) and eggs
- Zinc from oysters, spinach, flax seed, nuts and pumpkin seeds
A few more tips while making the transition:
Don’t overcompensate. Taking meat out of your diet doesn’t mean you should replace it with high-fat and high-calorie foods like heavy pastas and processed items. Be sure to keep a healthy balance of proteins, fibers and good fats on your plate.
Don’t just take the meat off the plate. You need to replace the protein with beans, soy or low-fat dairy products (like cheese, yogurt or skim milk).
Plan your meals. As with any healthy diet, it’s important to prepare and plan, ensuring there’s a healthy mix of all of the food groups on your child’s plate.
Feed your child what they like. If your child doesn’t like broccoli, that’s not going to magically change overnight. Prepare vegetarian meals that suit their taste buds.
Consult your family doctor. It’s the best way to make sure your child isn’t suffering from an iron deficiency and to ensure that they’re getting all of the necessary nutrients.
Photo credit: Michel Bish