When you decide to go vegetarian or vegan, you might find everyone you know suddenly swoops in to give you an opinion on it. As an adult, it’s easy to calmly and rationally explain whatever reason you have for your vegetarianism. For some people, it’s about animal cruelty, or the environmental impact.
Kids have different nutritional requirements than adults. It’s important to give a young child, especially infants two and under, enough fats, and proteins to keep them growing. Unlike adults, kids can’t get all their nutrients from nut-based milk. Instead, your kids should be drinking a soy-based infant formula until at least two years old. This will have all the nutrients that regular non-dairy options are lacking, and help your child grow and develop normally.
If you find your pediatrician is concerned about your vegetarian diet, try not to get defensive. The right pediatrician can be an asset when planning your child’s diet. They can let you know when your child isn’t hitting growth milestones, and which nutritional problems to watch out for. If you have a pediatrician who simply doesn’t support your decision, finding a new one who will respect your family’s choices is essential. A pediatrician with experience with plant-based diets can help you ensure the kids are eating well, and even help you when you’re struggling with picky eaters!
Iron deficiency is common in vegetarian children. Getting the right pediatrician can help you keep an eye on your children’s iron levels. The best plant-based sources of iron are legumes, lentils, beans, tofu, and oats. If you’re not vegan, eggs are also a great source of iron. You can up the nutritional value of legumes and beans by soaking them in water overnight. This will release the natural zinc. Along with 10 mgs of zinc, omega-3s and B12 vitamins are also essential for cognitive development and growth. Some soy products and vegetarian meat alternatives may be fortified with B12. If you’re not vegan, eggs and milk products can usually fulfill your B12 requirements. You can fill your requirements for Omega-3s with fat-based proteins like flaxseed, walnuts, and avocados. If you’re concerned, check with your pediatrician to see if supplements are a good idea for your family.
4. Talk To Kids About Vegetarianism
To help kids come on board with the vegetarianism, talk to them. Talk about why vegetarianism is important to you, and be honest if your child is curious about foods that they don’t have at home. Raising your kids with the values that are important to you go a long way toward helping them make the right choices at home, and away from home. Keeping an open dialogue, rather than a list of rules, will help your children grow up with a positive sense of your family’s eating habits.
It’s important to remember, every child goes through a picky eater phase. If you’ve got friends and family who aren’t vegetarian, you’ll probably have to hear some comments about at least trying meat. But you don’t have to give in. Kids won’t starve themselves. Try to find ways to get them involved in their meals. Teach your kids how to help you in the kitchen, and make it fun for them. Try nice thick smoothies, packed with fresh fruits and dark green vegetables. Let them experiment with flavors. Variety is key. Mixing in delicious sweet fruits with vitamin-packed veggies and healthy fats like avocado and nut milks will help your kids get the nutrients they need, even when they won’t always eat what you’re serving. And getting them involved in food prep and cooking helps them take ownership over their meals, which makes kids feel better about the food they eat.
Because of the dietary needs of children under two, many vegetarian and vegan parents may choose to supplement with milk or even meat products until a child gets older. If you do choose to transition, make it easier on yourself and your child. Start with veggie-rich versions of their favorite foods. Make sure to stock the house with wholemeal bread and refined cereal products. This will help keep your child’s energy up, allowing for healthy growth even in a fiber and vegetable-rich diet. It also helps them stay full, and absorb minerals like calcium, iron and zinc more easily.
As a vegetarian, you probably face a lot of curiosity, and maybe even some scrutiny even from friends and family. Once you start raising your children vegetarian, you might find that ramps up even more. Children’s nutritional needs take a little more thought than adults, and kids can’t exactly rely on willpower. But if you’re determined to raise vegetarians, there is plenty of data that points to a healthy lifestyle for all ages with a plant-based diet. It’s all about how you present it to your kids, and the steps you take to ensure a nutritious and balanced lifestyle for your family.