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Expert Advice To Embrace A Vegetarian Diet For Your Child

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Expert Advice To Embrace A Vegetarian Diet For Your Child

Children are famously unpredictable, making it difficult to anticipate their behavior, including their eating habits. Just when you think you have their dietary preferences pegged, they surprise you with changes. One day, they gobble up almost anything you serve them; the next, they shun a growing list of foods. While this is a natural part of their development, you might be curious about the implications if your child decides to give up animal-based foods. Can your child flourish as a vegetarian? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, they can.

Plant-based diets in all their varieties have gained popularity in recent years for a variety of reasons, regardless of selective eaters. These reasons commonly involve improved health outcomes, food sustainability, or ethical concerns. Others may opt for vegetarianism due to religious or cultural practices. Regardless of the reason, parents should familiarize themselves with how to devise a well-balanced vegetarian diet for toddlers through adolescence before adopting this eating pattern.

Before delving into the benefits and challenges of raising a vegetarian child, let’s establish the meaning of this label and its variations.

What does vegetarianism entail?

While the term “vegetarian” generally refers to individuals who avoid consuming animal-based foods, the diet encompasses several variations. As with all dietary patterns, vegetarianism can be highly personalized. Here’s a brief overview of common vegetarian eating patterns.

Lacto-ovo Vegetarian

Lacto-ovo vegetarians typically eschew animal products like meat or fish, but they incorporate dairy products and eggs into their diet. One might also identify as a lacto-vegetarian while consuming dairy products but not eggs, or an ovo-vegetarian while including eggs but not dairy products.


A pescatarian consumes fish and seafood but generally avoids other types of meat and poultry. They may or may not consume dairy and eggs.


Adherents of plant-based or flexitarian diets prioritize a diverse range of plant foods but still occasionally consume animal products.


Vegans refrain from all animal-based foods, including meat, fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs. Some vegans also avoid honey because it is produced by bees.

Can children maintain a healthy vegetarian diet?

Indeed, children can thrive and develop optimally while adhering to a vegetarian diet, provided the diet is meticulously planned. However, they may need supplements to ensure they receive all necessary nutrients. Common nutrients of concern include protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

It’s also crucial to consider your child’s individual eating habits when assessing the suitability of vegetarianism for them. A more adventurous eater may find it easier to be a vegetarian, as they may be more receptive to trying new foods. This doesn’t imply that a picky eater cannot be a vegetarian—it might just pose more challenges.

Advantages of vegetarianism for children

A vegetarian diet can offer benefits to children (and adults!). As with any healthy dietary pattern, the diet should mainly consist of minimally processed foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Consuming these fiber-rich foods is advantageous for gut health and helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Other health benefits include a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Considerations with children following a vegetarian diet

One of the primary concerns for vegetarian children is ensuring they consume enough calories. High-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables can be very satiating for small stomachs and displace crucial nutrients like protein and fat in the diet. Ensure that protein and fatty foods are included with most meals and snacks to prevent this.

It’s also essential to monitor overly restrictive behaviors, particularly among teenagers. Initiating a vegetarian or vegan diet may indicate the onset of an eating disorder in some adolescents.

Crucial nutrients for vegetarians

Some nutrients may naturally be scarce in the diets of plant-based or vegetarian eaters and may need to be meticulously monitored or supplemented. If you have concerns about the nutrition in your child’s diet, consult a nutritionist or another healthcare professional.

These critical nutrients include:


Several plant-based foods provide protein, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Ensure a protein source is incorporated into most meals and snacks to meet their needs.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Commonly found in fish, these essential fatty acids are also present in low quantities in walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed. Omega-3s are vital for brain development and should be factored into a vegetarian diet.

Vitamin B12

Unless fortified, vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods. It may be present in small amounts in nutritional yeast or fortified grains. For many plant-based eaters, this is an essential supplement.


Iron is typically more readily absorbed from animal-based foods, but legumes, leafy greens, and nuts provide plant-based sources of iron. Consume iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C to enhance their absorption. Refrain from supplementing with iron without consulting your doctor, as excessive iron intake can be life-threatening.


Calcium is plentiful in dairy products, but if your child does not consume them, be vigilant about other sources of calcium in their diet. These include dark leafy greens, broccoli, certain nuts, and fortified products like soy, almond, or other alternative milk.

Vitamin D

Dietary sources of vitamin D are limited, regardless of whether one is vegetarian. It can be found in mushrooms or fortified milk alternatives. However, most people don’t obtain sufficient amounts of this vitamin and will likely require a supplement. Have your child’s levels checked and then discuss an appropriate dose with your healthcare provider.

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