Is your child following a vegetarian diet? Do you worry they'll be missing valuable nutrients? Our dietitian explains how to ensure they still get everything they need.
A well planned vegetarian diet can be tasty, nutritious and healthy but when children are involved, we need to be extra vigilant to ensure it’s balanced. Protein and iron, which are essential for growth and development, are two important elements of the diet that can often be overlooked. With this in mind, here are my top ten tips for children aged over one, to make sure their diet is as healthy as possible.
- Aim for three plant-based protein foods a day such as lentils, beans and soya mince. These foods are rich in protein which are the building blocks needed for growth and repair of cells, and will provide the nutrition kids need to grow.
- Be careful not to fill up on fibre. While fruit and vegetables are really important in your child’s diet, they’re low in calories and don’t have enough energy. Avocado and hummus are great energy-rich foods to include in a vegetarian diet.
- Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein and full of calories. If your child doesn’t have a nut allergy, including peanut butter is a great choice. It’s important to remember not to give nuts or peanuts to children under five years old, because they may choke on them.
- Iron is key. It's used to make haemoglobin which carries oxygen around your child's body to cells. Iron stores begin to deplete at six months. Include iron-rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli or okra at every meal.
- Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron. With this in mind, offer your child an orange, tangerine or satsuma after their meal. A small glass of well diluted fruit juice is something else you could try at mealtimes.
- Eggs are full of vitamin B12 and should play an important role in a vegetarian diet. B12 helps your child’s body release the energy from the food they eat, is essential in making red blood cells and for a healthy nervous system. Ensure they're cooked through.
- Yogurt and cheese are high in calcium and protein, and make excellent snack foods to include in your child’s diet. They help build strong bones.
- Chickpeas, lentils and fortified breakfast cereals are also iron-rich and are a fantastic option to include in a vegetarian diet. Be mindful what breakfast cereals you choose as some are high in added sugar.
- Include vitamin drops daily until your child is five. This will give you the peace of mind that your child is getting all of the vitamins they need.
- Milk is packed full of calcium, vitamin D and protein, and is so important for bone development. Aim for three glasses a day but be careful your child isn’t having it to the exclusion of other nutritious foods. You don’t want your child filling up on milk before meal times and avoiding iron-rich foods instead.
Take a look at our veggie recipes for kids collection for inspiration.
Do you have any tips or advice for feeding a vegetarian child? We'd love to hear from you below...