Throughout history, vegetarianism has been part of society and culture. Recently, interest in vegetarian foods and lifestyle has increased in the United States. Reasons include religious, cultural, perceived health benefits or ecological and ethical choices. While some parents have chosen vegetarian foods or lifestyle for themselves and their families, some children have adopted vegetarianism on their own. Many young children dislike the taste of red meats or have difficulty chewing meats; older children may refuse to eat meets due to concerns for animal welfare.
Nutritional needs are high during childhood in order to support growth and energy for healthy bodies and minds. Animal products, including milk, cheese, and eggs, provide high quality protein, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc. If a child does not eat animal foods, it is more difficult to get these nutrients. Since children have small stomachs, they can easily become filled from the bulk and fiber of grains, vegetables, and fruits. Therefore, offer children small, infrequent meals or snacks. Also, limit fruit juices, which add extra calories and make children feel full quickly. Below is a chart which describes the function of some important nutrients and their non-animal food sources.
|Calcium||healthy bones, teeth, muscles,nerves and heart||calcium fortified soy milk and calcium fortified juices or cereals; blackstrap molasses,lime processed tortillas, figs|
|Vitamin D||helps bones use calcium for healthy bones and teeth||fortified soy products, cereals and margarine|
|Vitamin B12||healthy blood and cells||fortified cereal and soy products, Vitamin B12 enriched yeast|
|Protein||growth, repair, and maintenance of healthy skin||legumes, nuts, seeds (peanut butter), grains, cereals|
|Zinc||healthy cells and body tissues||whole grain breads and cereals,tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts|
|Iron||healthy red blood cells||legumes, iron fortified cereals and breads, tofu, dried fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, blackstrap molasses|
If a child is a vegetarian or prefers vegetarian type meals, recipes and snacks can be easily adapted to fit into your childcare or school setting. Talk to parents in detail during the food history intake. Pinpoint whether the family or child has a taste preference for vegetarian foods or if there are certain foods that have been eliminated or restricted. Encourage parents to consult a pediatrician or certified nutritionist/dietician about the use of multivitamins or supplements for children whose diets are limited or restricted in animal sources.