A vegetarian diet is a diet that does not include meat. People who follow a vegetarian diet are called vegetarians. They do not eat animal meat, poultry, or fish.
Vegetarians who include eggs and dairy products in their diets are called ovo-lacto vegetarians. People who do not eat any animal products are called vegans.
A well-planned vegetarian diet is very healthy. By not eating meat, your child eats less cholesterol and saturated fat. This may reduce the risk of heart disease, gallstones, stroke, and some types of cancer.
Younger children sometimes "fill up" too quickly on the higher fiber vegetarian foods and have trouble getting enough calories for proper growth. A healthy vegetarian diet has to be carefully planned to make sure your child gets all the proper nutrients.
If the meals are well-planned, a vegetarian diet is safe. If the diet is too restricted, or too high in sweets, sodas, and snack foods, it may be unhealthy. Some nutrients may be missing. You need to make sure your child gets enough calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12, and healthy fats.
Younger children often have smaller appetites. High fiber plant foods have fewer calories and are more filling. Your child may get full before getting enough calories. Serve frequent meals and snacks and use some higher calorie refined foods (such as fortified cereals, breads, and noodles). Choose foods with higher fat content (healthy unsaturated fats) to help your child with energy and nutrient needs.
One of the best ways to check if your child is eating well is to measure your child's weight and height. If your child is not getting enough calories, his or her height and weight will not follow the usual growth patterns for children. Your healthcare provider can check your child's growth on a growth chart.
If your child is not getting enough vitamins or minerals, he or she may have symptoms such as:
Check with your provider if you are worried about vitamin or mineral deficiency.
If you get enough nutrients from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and oils, you and your baby can have a healthy diet. Make sure that you get enough calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D.
Many healthcare providers advise staying on prenatal vitamins while breast-feeding. This can be very helpful for vegetarians. The main focus for healthy vegetarian breast milk is on vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fats. Ask your healthcare provider if you need a B12 supplement. Your baby may need to take B12 as well.
Breast-fed babies should also take a vitamin D supplement. You can buy liquid multivitamin drops with vitamin D without a prescription. Ask your healthcare provider about this.
Infants and toddlers need many calories to grow at the normal rate. At about 7 to 8 months of age, babies are ready to start eating protein-rich foods. Instead of pureed meats, you can give your baby other foods high in protein, such as pureed legumes (peas, beans, lentils), cottage cheese, soft tofu, and yogurt.
Also, make sure your toddler eats high-calorie foods such as nut butters, veggie dips made with olive or canola oil, olives (chopped), dried fruits, and avocados so he will get enough calories. To prevent choking, do not give peanuts to children until age 7 or older. If you have family history of allergies, ask your healthcare provider when to offer foods that can cause allergies (nuts and eggs). Make sure your child eats a wide variety of foods.
Some helpful Web sites include:
http://www.pcrm.org/health/veginfo/vsk/index.html (available in Spanish)
http://www.eatright.org (search "vegetarian")
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