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Feeding Your Child a Vegetarian Diet

Feeding Your Child a Vegetarian Diet



During the first year of life your children can get all of the nutrients they need to grow from breast milk. If you are not breast-feeding, a formula recommended by your pediatrician will do nearly as well. At about five or six months, when you start introducing solids, you may be wondering how your child would do on a vegetarian diet.

Your child can do fine on a vegetarian diet as long as you plan well and include milk, cheese, and eggs in his diet. However, children on very restrictive vegan diets that omit all animal protein sources may not do as well. They face an increased risk of anemia and problems with the absorption of nutrients.

The biggest problem with a very strict vegetarian diet is that your child would have to eat larger servings of everything to get the calories, protein, and iron he needs to grow and develop. Indeed, your child would need to eat anywhere from three to seven times as much nonmeat protein foods to get the amount of protein found in a single serving of meat or cheese. For example, to get the same amount of protein in two slices of cheese, your child would have to eat two cups of beans. As we all know, getting a child to eat as much as two cups of anything can be difficult!

Furthermore, the body absorbs only about 5% of the iron in vegetables and grains, compared to about 20% of the iron in meat, poultry, and fish.

Nonetheless, a properly planned and monitored vegetarian diet can provide the energy to fuel a child's busy life. There are also some health advantages to cultivating a taste for brown rice, whole-wheat breads and pastas, rolled oats, and corn as well as the less common grains. Additionally, a healthy eating style, vegetarian or otherwise, steers children away from sweets, sugary drinks, highly processed baked products, and overly sugared cereals.

If your child is vegetarian, keep a food journal for at least a few weeks before her next well-child visit with the pediatrician. The journal should include all foods, snacks, and beverages‚ÄĒanything that she swallows! Also, list the quantities of the foods she has consumed (estimate if necessary) and the times of day she ate them. The doctor can review the nutritional content of your child's diet and recommend caloric or vitamin and mineral supplementation, as warranted.

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