How to offer a balanced vegetarian diet for your child.
Is it safe for my child to eat a vegetarian diet?
Absolutely. More and more people are adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. Often the family has already adopted a vegetarian way of eating and may want the child to follow, or the child may decide to start eating this way. Regardless of the reason, it is possible to offer a balanced vegetarian diet for your child, if you plan properly.
The most common type of vegetarian diet is the lacto-ovo type, which means someone eats dairy and eggs but not meat, poultry or fish. People who eat a mainly plant-based diet may sometimes include fish (referred to as a pesco-vegetarian). Others may choose a vegan lifestyle, which excludes all animal products. Even non-vegetarians sometimes try to reduce the amount of meat in their diet, becoming flexitarians or demitarians. All of these types of plant-based diets are healthy ways of eating if they are well-balanced.
What should I be concerned about in my child's vegetarian diet?
Vegetarian diets can be high in fibre and low in fat. Children require more calories during times of rapid growth and increased activity so be sure to include foods rich in nutrients, healthy fats and proteins. For example: avocado, nut/seed butters and bean dips.
A healthy vegetarian diet includes:
- Adequate protein intake which is necessary to support your child’s growth. Protein is important for building muscles and keeping red blood cells healthy. Choose a variety of protein sources including:
- Dried beans such as black beans, kidney beans, red or green lentils.
- Meat alternatives such as products made with TVP (textured vegetable protein).
- Soy and soy products such as tofu, tempeh, fortified soy beverages. (Note that alternative milk products such as rice, hemp, almond milk are lower in fat and protein.)
- Nuts and seeds/nuts and seed butters.
- Dairy products (such as skim, 1% or 2% milk) and yogurt and cheese.
- Adequate calcium. Milk or fortified soy beverages are excellent sources of calcium. If your child does not drink milk or a fortified soy beverage, consult a registered dietitian to make sure your child is getting enough calcium.
- Adequate vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as Omega 3s, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. These nutrients are important in nerve, brain and eye development. They also have important roles in supporting your immune system and building and maintaining strong bones.
How do I plan a healthy vegetarian diet?
- Canada’s Food Guide is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Follow the eat well plate method to balance your child’s intake. You may want to read the My Menu Planner: Eat Right the Vegetarian Way guide.
- See the healthy eating guidelines for your vegetarian child (aged 4-13 years) for more meal planning information and recipe ideas.
- Find helpful meal planning ideas for vegetarian teens.