Raising Vegetarian Kids? What You Need to Know About This Decision
Are these diets safe for kids? Here’s what you need to know.
You want your children to grow up strong and healthy. Yet while current dietary guidelines recommend that kids eat foods like meat and dairy, you’re not that comfortable feeding them the standard American diet. Instead, you’d like them to go vegetarian, maybe even vegan. These diets focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and while a vegan diet eschews all animal products, vegetarian diets may still include some, depending on the type of vegetarian.
But is this way of eating safe for kids? In one word, yes. “If parents are educated about what kids should be eating and the diet is well planned, it can be healthy and give kids all of the nutrients they need,” says Ashley Chambers, R.D., C.D., pediatric clinical dietitian at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
Chambers’ comment is further supported by the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition (ADN), which recently issued a statement validating the safety of vegetarian and vegan eating plans. According to this statement, “Vegetarian and vegan diets, appropriately planned with the guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist, can be nutritious and healthful for people at all stages of life.”
Many reasons sway people to follow a vegetarian or vegan eating plan, but if health is your concern, there are numerous benefits for kids. For starters, these eating styles are lower in saturated fat, namely because they either limit or eliminate meat. “This can help kids prevent heart disease, which has been shown to start in children even younger than eight,” Chambers says.
Vegetarian and vegan diets also provide a high amount of fiber, which helps with weight management and is beneficial for gastrointestinal health, Chambers says. As a side note, though: Toddlers can fill up on fiber quickly, which is why the ADN recommends feeding them more frequently. Fruits and veggies are also loaded with specific nutrients that further bolster health.
Yet there is a negative, mainly that kids might be missing out on nutrients if the diet isn’t implemented correctly. Depending on the diet, nutrients of greatest concern include protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12, Chambers says.
You can prevent this from happening, however, by working with a dietitian who can educate you about how to feed your children properly, even recommend supplements if necessary.
The best way, though, to ensure that your kids are meeting their nutritional needs is feeding them whole foods, good advice for every parent, as these foods contain lower amounts of sugar, sodium and fat than processed ones, Chambers says. Also, provide plenty of variety in foods, striving to make every meal as colorful as possible.
-- By Karen Asp