Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Raising Vegetarian Children

Q: Is it possible to raise healthy vegetarian or vegan children?

A: A lot of parents think that a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is appropriate for adults, but is an inadequate diet for children. The truth is that a thoughtfully planned vegetarian or vegan diet can meet the nutritional needs for pregnancy, lactation, newborns, toddlers and adolescents. The popularity for vegetarian and vegan diets is on the rise due to increasing concerns for the environment, food safety, weight loss and animal welfare. With this comes the decision on whether or not to raise your children to have a diet that is void of animals and their bi-products. 

The nutrition considerations of vegetarian infants is similar to that of an omnivore with a few exceptions and additions. Vegetarian women who are breastfeeding need to ensure that they are getting adequate amounts of vitamin B12 in their diet. All breast-fed infants should receive supplemental vitamin D within a few weeks after birth and iron supplements at 4 months. Soy-based infant formulas are available for vegetarian mothers who opt to not breast feed. After breastfeeding for at least one year, infants can be weaned to soy milk containing calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Low-fat or non-fat milks should be be used before the child turns 2 years old.

The normal sequence of food introduction is followed with an iron-fortified infant cereal mixed with breast milk, then the addition of puréed vegetables and fruits, followed by cooked pasta or rice, soft breads and crackers as the infant is ready. Well-mashed, cooked beans, mashed tofu and soy yogurt can be introduced at 7 to 8 months, and smooth nut and seed butters with bread or crackers after the first year. 

The most important thing to focus on when raising a vegetarian or vegan child is ensuring that he or she eats a variety of nutrient-dense foods with sufficient calories, protein, fat, calcium, vitamins B12 and D, iron, and zinc.

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