Some dietitians recommend that a vegetarian or vegan does not provide children with the nutrients that they need.
However, if a considered and healthy diet is adhered to this need not always be the case. For some children, a vegan or vegetarian diet can be just as healthy as eating a meat-based diet, but parents need to ensure that vegetarian or vegan children receive sufficient iron and vitamin B12.
Aside from these essential supplements, vegetarian and vegan diets can be just as healthy and nutritious as non-vegetarian diet. Furthermore, in the eyes of many people, a vegan or vegetarian diet is compassionate, considerate and ethical.
Vegetarian diet: Preschool and Young Children
It is crucial for pre-school children and young children to experience a variety of tastes.
Milk plays a fundamental part in a child’s diet. Full-cream milk has additional calories as well as Vitamins A and D, both crucial for good health. Vegetarian children ought to drink whole milk until they are two years old, when you can introduce semi-skimmed milk. It is best to keep a child on semi-skimmed milk until the age of five.
Soya milk is a great substitute for cow’s milk, especially for a vegan child. However, it is essential to select soya milks with extra calcium supplements. Rice, potato or oat milk make excellent substitutes for cow’s milk too, especially as part of a vegan diet. They too need to be supplemented with extra calcium and vitamins. Ensure that you have had some medical advice from your GP with regard to this.
Great desserts for vegetarian kids include rice pudding, tapioca as well as fruit and custard. You can make such puddings from full-fat, semi-skimmed, skimmed or soya milk. You can also make white sauces from any variety of milk and pour on cauliflower, macaroni cheese, pasta or mushrooms to give you a variety of quick and easy dishes.
A deficiency that is prevalent amongst young children is anaemia or iron deficiency. You have two kinds of iron: haem, which is contained in meat; and non-haem, contained in vegetarian foods like cereals, eggs, peas, lentils, beans and vegetables.
The body is not able to absorb non-haem iron in the same way it can haem iron. Nonetheless, it is possible to absorb non-haem better when you have vitamin C alongside it. That is an excellent reason for offering children vegetables as well as fruit as part of a healthy diet.
Fibre Rich Foods
Young children, who have tiny appetites, tend to find high-fibre foods too filling. Supplementing breakfast cereals with iron and vitamins is a great idea.
Nuts are incredibly nutritious and provide protein as well as Vitamins A and E and minerals like potassium and phosphorous. Nuts offer protein for meat-free diets. However, for children from families with genetic allergies to nuts, peanut butter ought to be avoided until the child is two years old. Whole nuts should not be fed to young children because they can easily cause choking.
Children of School Age
Once children are at school, they need lots of starchy carbohydrates as they are highly energetic. Young people can also eat seeded or wholemeal breads for that extra fibre. Such breads are more filling as well as benefiting bowel health. Young people can also have pitta bread, wraps and bagels. Brown pasta and brown rice add extra fibre too.
The skin on potatoes adds extra fibre and children love chips and jacket potatoes. It is possible to add potato wedges and new potatoes to a vegetarian or vegan child’s diet, using clean, unpeeled potatoes.
Fruit and Veg
It is vital to encourage children to have lots of fruit and veg to ensure that they have all the vitamins and fibre crucial for their development. It is ideal to have at least five portions of fruit and veg on a daily basis, or the equivalent of 400g.
Iron is also to be found in snacks of dried or fresh fruit. You can easily add vegetables to any kind of dish like a stir fry, curry or casserole. You can also easily add salad vegetables to wraps and sandwiches.
Foods rich in protein are vital for the growth and development of organs and muscles. Excellent protein sources include beans, peas, lentils, cheese, seeds, nuts, tofu, eggs, cheese, soya or cow’s milk and Quorn, specially textured vegetable protein (TVP). On a vegan diet you need to carefully balance portions of such foods .
Governmental guidelines for school meals mention that vegetarian options ought to be included in schools. In Scotland , standards clearly emphasise that school meals provide vegetarian options that are not cheese at least three times a week. The majority of schools offer pulse and mycroprotein or Quorn choices, however, this is unsuitable for vegans.
Many individuals in their teens decide to become vegetarian. This does not have to pose a problem for non-vegetarian family members. It is possible to provide simple yet delicious vegetable dishes like casseroles, a vegetable bake, and cauliflower cheese as meat substitutes. Stir fries and vegetarian curries are also easy to make vegetarian dishes, and can be packed with healthy ingredients such as tofu or nuts and chickpeas.
You can always add a bit of chicken to the dishes for the non-vegetarian members of the family later, after the vegetarian members of the family’s portions have been put aside.
In the teenage years half the calcium a skeleton has is deposited. Hence, calcium-rich foods are crucial for teenagers’ health. Milk and milk products like yoghurt and ice cream are high in calcium. You can easily find vegetarian cheese to eat, which is made with vegetarian rennet, ideal for vegans. Other calcium rich foods are soya milk, “cheeses” made from soya as well as tofu. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, white bread, tahini, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and green vegetables are also high in calcium.
Girls’ periods start in their teenage years. Therefore, they require a lot of iron. Symptoms of anaemia include fatigue and lethargy, factors which can reduce your quality of life considerably.
Eggs are a crucial source of iron and of course can be used in dishes including quiches, omelettes, pancakes and savoury souffles. Desserts using eggs include the children’s favourites such as cakes, meringues and mousses.
Lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds contain iron and can be added to pasta, flans, bakes and risottos. Sesame seeds and sunflower seeds contain iron as well as calcium and are a great addition to any vegetarian or vegan dish, including a tasty sprinkle on salads.
You can buy dishes made from textured vegetable protein (TVP) or Quorn and you can also get vegetarian sausages and other bakes to supplement your vegetarian diet.
Vitamin B12 is vital for healthy blood cell formulation and is abundant in eggs, milk and cheese.
It is also added to yeast extract. Vegetarians are able to have sufficient B12 by eating dairy products. However, vegan diets often lack Vitamin B12. Therefore, vegans need to eat foods rich with B12 like breakfast cereals and introduce yeast extracts to their diet.
Overall, it is perfectly possible for children to have a vegetarian diet and be healthy. Across the world many people have had vegetarian diets for centuries. Parents who wish for their children to be vegans need to be aware of the specific nutritional deficiencies children may be susceptible to, and ensure their children’s vegan diets are supplemented as necessary.