Choose Good Vegetarian Diet for Your Child

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califlowerMore and more families with children are choosing to become vegetarian and a balanced vegetarian diet can be very healthy. However, it is important not to give up meat without replacing the nutrients that meat provides, particularly protein, iron, zinc and possibly some B vitamins.

 


Adult and children's diets do not always follow the same guidelines and whereas a fairly bulky high-fibre vegetarian diet might suit adults, it is not suitable for young children who are growing as it can replace more energy-dense foods such as fat and carbohydrate. Also a lot of fibre in the diet can inhibit the absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium and is very bulky and filling and can even cause toddler diarrhoea.

Bringing up a baby on a vegetarian diet with a good volume of either breast milk or infant formula can provide all the nutrients they need. However, it is important to bear in mind that the nutritional requirements of a small baby are high and that they need more protein and calcium in relation to their size than at any other time in their life.

The importance of protein

Protein supplies your child with amino acids, essential chemicals which are the body's building blocks. Whilst all animal proteins including egg and dairy products provide a high quality protein containing all the essential amino acids, cereals ancl vegetable proteins (e.g.peas, beans. lentils, and nuts and seeds) have a lower quality. Soya is the only plant-based food that contains all the amino acids.

To ensure your child gets a high quality protein at each meal try to combine a cereal food, e.g. pasta, bread or rice, together with eggs, dairy products like cheese, pulses or nuts. Good ideas are baked beans on toast, lentil soup with a wholegrain roll, peanut butter sandwiches, baked potato with cheese and milk and pasta with cheese sauce. Good vegetarian sources of protein include eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt, soya, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Examples of good protein combinations:

  • A cereal food such as pasta, bread or rice with eggs, cheese, pulses or nuts.
  • Baked beans on toast.
  • Baked potato with cheese and milk.
  • Pasta with cheese sauce.

The importance of iron

It is important to make sure that children brought tip on a vegetarian diet have an adequate supply of iron. Good vegetarian sources of iron include fortified breakfast cereals, egg yolk, wholemeal bread and beans and lentils, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit, especially apricots and peaches.

The importance of calcium

Calcium is important for the health and formation of bones and teeth and to begin with breast or formula milk contains all the calcium that your baby needs. However, from six months you can introduce cow's milk and dairy products as a food. Other good vegetarian sources of calcium are tofu (calcium fortified), dried figs and apricots, nuts; sesame seeds and hummus, tinned sardines and fortified soya milk.

B vitamins

Vitamin B12 is needed for growth and division of cells. It is only found in foods of animal origin such as meat, poultry, fish, eggss and dairy produce. Some breakfast cereals are also fortified with vitamin B12 and yeast extract is another source. Vegetarians can obtain sufficient vitamin B12 from eggs and dairy produce.

Vegan diet

If you plan to follow a vegan diet you should plan your child's diet carefully, in consultation with a paediatric dietitian.

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