All parents want to do the best for their child and feeding them a healthy, well-balanced diet will be high on the list of “must-does” for a conscientious mum or dad. A well planned vegetarian diet will ensure your growing child gets all the vitamins and nutrients he or she requires.
Check out the food pyramid illustration which shows the different food groups and the average amounts required for good growth, healthy bones and lots of energy. (You can download a printable version here if you wish – keep it on your fridge!)
When planning your meals try to include something from at least 3 of the different groups and split your child’s meals into manageable portions. Aim for three regular meals and 2 to 3 snacks a day and you should be on the right track.
The big challenges for vegetarian children are protein, iron and essential vitamins – so where do you find good sources of these?
The building blocks of protein are amino acids; they are responsible for a number of the body’s functions including liver, appetite control and bone development.
Protein rich foods include eggs, soya beans, cereals, nuts and beans. Many years ago an advertising slogan advised us to “Go to work on an egg!”, and, this is still great advice for your child. 1 egg contains around 6g of protein around a third of your child’s daily requirement.
There is an organic soy bean farm based in the U.S. called Laura’s Soybeans , they have recipes for making your own tofu and soymilk so check them out.
Iron is essential for everyone but, for your growing child, it is of the highest importance. As iron is required to ensure the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body, a lack of iron can lead to a lack of energy, poor growth and even learning difficulties and problems with behaviour!
You will find iron in dried fruits, tofu, enriched grains, fortified breakfast cereals and beans as well as dark, leafy greens. Try to include some of every day, breakfast time is a great time for protein – beans on wholegrain toast, wilted spinach with a scramble egg and a sprinkling of grated cheese, porridge topped with sliced banana or strawberries – just be sure to make enough for yourself too!
A note about iron absorption; cow’s milk can decrease the efficiency of iron absorption and it also fills your toddler up so he or she has less appetite at meal times. Limit the amount of cow’s milk your child drinks to around 400-500ml a day – don’t worry about the calcium as they’ll get this from cheese, sweet potatoes, tofu, broccoli and a whole host of other foods.
For maximum benefit from your iron-rich foods try to serve with a source of vitamin C as this greatly aids the absorption. So, for example, after an egg-based breakfast (egg-yolk is a source of iron) follow with a few tangerine slices.
It is easy to consider vitamin supplements for your child and, if your two-year-old is particularly picky about some food stuffs, they can fill a necessary gap. Persevere though with new foods and tastes as he or she gets older. Tastes change throughout our entire lives so, just because at two they won’t eat spinach, doesn’t mean that the same will be true at three or four. Keep calm about their dislikes and disregard foods they refuse to eat. You can try reintroducing them at a later date; in disguise if necessary!
The most essential vitamins for your child are Vitamins, A, C and D and minerals Zinc and Folate. If you follow the food pyramid and intake guidelines and ensure your vegetarian child gets outside regularly (20 minutes of sunlight exposure is enough for skin cells to produce adequate Vitamin D) be assured you will be raising a happy, healthy child who can then carry on his or her good eating habits into adulthood.
For child-friendly recipes and meal-planning ideas check out these links:
and try the following websites: