It has been 10 years since I have been following a vegetarian diet, and I can see a lot of significant improvement in my health in terms of energy level, skin clarity and sleep quality. When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided to raise her as a vegetarian too. Now, as a mother who is working as a nutritionist while raising two vegetarian kids, I feel happy and empowered to share with parents out there- the tips to raise healthy and happy kids with a vegetarian diet!
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian diet avoids all meats but allows dairy products such as milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt. Some vegetarians do consume eggs and they are commonly known as Lacto-ovo Vegetarian. A vegetarian diet has become increasingly popular among young families in Singapore nowadays for health and religious reasons.
Raising a healthy vegetarian child
When it comes to raising a vegetarian child, the most common questions that come to parents’ minds are – Can I raise my child on a vegetarian diet? How to ensure my kids grow healthily without providing them meat?
In fact, some researchers found that people who are following a vegetarian diet have better nutritional profiles such as a higher intake of fibre, Vitamin C and folic acid, and reduced risk of heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Some other researchers however, found that vegetarian children have a lower intake of Vitamin A and D.
The American Dietetic Association has shown that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet was safe to follow at all stages of life, including babies and children*. Therefore, if you are raising a vegetarian child, it is important to make sure their daily meals are well-planned with nutritious foods to provide the essential building blocks for their growth and development.
Here are the guidelines on how to plan a healthy vegetarian meal for your children:
- Prepare well-balanced meals with 4 food groups including carbohydrates, protein, fruits and vegetables for their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Include wholegrains in their diet- for example, wholemeal bread, cereal, oat, millet porridge, brown rice (can mix with white rice), quinoa and barley and corn
- Provides a variety of brightly-coloured vegetables and fruits such as broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, carrot, berries, orange etc
- Includes 1 to 2 types of protein-rich foods for every meal: quinoa, millet, cereals, tofu, soy milk, eggs^, milk, cheese etc.
- Give a variety of nutritious vegetarian snacks such as avocado milkshakes, rice crackers, wholemeal crackers, energy bars, cereals, fresh fruit and vegetable slices, wholemeal bread with vegan cheese, dried fruits such as raisin and apricot, hard-boiled egg^ and fresh milk.
- Keep in mind that, a vegetarian diet is more likely to be lacking nutrients like Protein, Calcium, Vitamin D, Iron, Omega 3 and Vitamin B12, so these nutrients need special attention.
milk, cheese, yoghurt, egg^, quinoa, millet, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds (almonds, cashew nuts, chia seeds), sesame butter, soy products such as tofu and soy milk
dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt, calcium-fortified plant milk such as soy milk and almond milk; green leafy vegetables
sunlight exposure 15-20 minutes daily; soy products
Iron-fortified cereals and bread, beans, lentil, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, mushroom, dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach
avocado, chia seed, flax seed oil, macadamia nuts, seaweeds and kelps
nutritional yeast, Vitamin B12 supplement
^Egg are for Lacto-ovo Vegetarians.
Hence, parents need to be informed on how to plan a healthy vegetarian meal to avoid nutrient deficiencies in their children. Besides that, bring your kids for outdoor activities and ensure they gets a daily dose of sunshine at least 20 minutes– to provide them with free Vitamin D!
3. Last but not least, it is important to talk to your pediatrician or nutritionist if you have any concerns regarding your child’s growth and development.