A vegetarian diet can be healthy for children.
Whether your child adores animals or just hates the taste of meat, a sudden refusal to eat a chicken casserole or burger can throw you off-balance. However, there's no need to panic; a vegetarian diet can be healthy for toddlers and young children, and after all, it's better than refusing to eat anything but chicken nuggets. Whatever your personal beliefs about the ethics of eating meat, you can support your child's decision by providing nutritious meat-free options along with your family's normal fare.
1Serve healthy meat-free food at meals. Every meal doesn't have to be completely vegetarian, but serve plenty of healthy meat-free side dishes, such as steamed veggies, rice, salad, fruit salad or whole-wheat pasta.
2Offer your little one healthy snack options between meals. Vegetarian foods are often bulkier than meat, so expect your growing child to need to refuel between meals. Fresh fruit, veggies, fortified cereal or low-fat cheese sticks make delicious snacks.
3Serve eggs, cheese, milk, beans, lentils or tofu to help your child get enough protein. Toddlers need about 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, according to Baylor College of Medicine. For example, a 25 lb. toddler needs about 14 grams of protein daily. Getting protein from a variety of sources ensures that children get all the amino acids they need; dairy and meat products contain all the amino acids, but plant sources of protein provide different amino acids.
4Give your child a multivitamin designed for kids. It's no substitute for healthy food, but it'll help kids get the nutrients they typically get from meat, such as zinc and vitamin B12. However, read the label carefully to ensure you give the right dose and store multivitamins out of your child's reach.
5Talk to your pediatrician to make sure your child's getting enough nutrients and calories. If you still have concerns or if your child has other dietary restrictions -- such as food allergies -- consult with a registered dietitian.
6Discuss your child's reasons for becoming vegetarian, and consider giving her opportunities to feed her interests. For example, if she loves animals, take her to the zoo or get books about animals. If she's interested in eating healthy or helping the environment, plant a small vegetable garden together.
- Wanting to eat a vegetarian diet may be a phase, but treat your child's decision with respect.
- Nuts, sunflower seeds and peanut butter are vegetarian sources of protein for older children and adults, but they're a choking hazard for toddlers and preschoolers.