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Choosing a Vegetarian Diet for Kids

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Vegetarian Diet Vegetarian Children

Vegetarianism is on the rise with people choosing a plant based diet for a number of reasons. Most often, those who avoid meat do so for one of two reasons: they either express concern for animals and animal rights or feel that a vegetarian diet plan is the most healthful for human consumption. Well chosen vegetarian meal plans are proven to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels as well as a reduction in the incidents of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Parents who offer their children carefully planned vegetarian diets can help their kids on the path to developing life-long healthy eating habits.

Healthy Beginnings
In the beginning, babies are typically fed a diet of breast milk or commercially prepared baby formula. While breast milk is considered the ideal food for the first six months of life (or longer), some mothers opt for formula. Vegetarian mothers can select from the many high quality soy based formulas on the market today, avoiding those that are derived from cow's milk.

At about six months of age, most babies begin to eat some solid foods in addition to the breast milk of formula. Recommended first foods are all vegetarian friendly, with most parents offering simple grain cereals, followed soon after by pureed vegetables and fruits. As babies outgrow the need for breast milk or infant formula, soy milk can serve as a nutritional beverage, with limited amounts of unsweetened fruit juice offered for variety.

Protecting Their Nutritional Status
Meat does provide some nutrients that the body needs, but when thoughtful substitutions are made, growing bodies can get all that they need without resorting to meat consumption.

Iron-enriched cereals are a very good choice for vegetarian children, especially when served with foods high in Vitamin C, which aids in the absorption of iron. Vitamin B12 can be found in nutritional yeast, fortified cereals and breads, and even in soy or rice milk. Vitamin D is most plentiful in milk, which pure vegetarians avoid, or can be had from sun exposure. While the dangers of excessive sunning are widely known and all parents are cautioned to provide adequate sun protection for their children, limited (10-15 minutes daily) of early or late day sun can provide children with sufficient Vitamin D.

With careful planning, the nutritional needs of children can be easily met with a meat-free diet plan. Of course, a good quality children's multivitamin supplement may provide peace of mind for parents, vegetarian as well as those who feed a more traditional menu.

Fats and Proteins
While dietary fats are vital for children's growth and development, there is no need for them to consume animal fats, which are proven to contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease. Ideally, avocados, nuts, nut butters, and soy products are utilised to ensure that vegetarian children get adequate fat in their diets. There are a number of kid-friendly soy based products, including "hamburgers, "sausages," and "chicken patties" that are delicious and meat-free.

When non-vegetarians express doubts about the appropriateness of a meat-free diet, protein is a common concern. Ample protein is found in vegetables, beans, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, making it easy for vegetarians to consume adequate dietary protein.

Bland and Boring?
Vegetarian diets can be rich in variety and flavour, especially when parents take the time to offer a diverse selection of foods and experiment with various seasonings in order to keep the meals interesting. Children who are introduced to a vegetarian diet early in life will learn to appreciate the flavour of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, but even kids who have previously eaten a less healthful diet can be convinced to become happy vegetarians if the food is presented in a flavourful way. There are a wide variety of vegetarian cookbooks on the market today, providing numerous delicious recipes for everything from meals to snacks.

Developing Life-Long Habits
One of the most important factors for parents to consider when planning family meals is that they are helping their kids to establish dietary preferences that they will take with them throughout their lives. Habits learned in childhood are often difficult to change, so it's best to develop a love for wholesome, healthy foods right from the start.

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