Maybe you are vegetarian and your children want to eat the same way. Or perhaps your seven year-old learned where hamburgers come from and does not want to eat them anymore. No matter the reason, children can safely follow a vegetarian eating plan. Here’s what you need to know to raise a healthy vegetarian child.
What is a vegetarian?
There is more than one type of vegetarian:
● Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy and eggs but do not eat meat, poultry and fish.
● Pesco-vegetarians eat dairy, eggs and fish, but do not eat meat and poultry.
● Vegans do not eat dairy, eggs, meat, poultry and fish.
With some planning and careful attention to important nutrients, any of these vegetarian eating types can be followed by children.
Healthy at all ages
From toddler to teen, children of all ages can be vegetarian. The important thing is to make sure they get the nutrients and energy they need to grow and develop well. This will take some planning. Before your children start following a vegetarian eating pattern, speak to a dietitian or health care provider. Here's some information about how to help your child follow a balanced vegetarian diet.
A well-planned vegetarian diet
Like all children, vegetarian children require a variety of foods for healthy growth and development. Every day your children need:
- Vegetables and Fruit: a variety of vegetables and fruits. They can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried options
- Whole grains: such as whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, oats, barley, brown rice and quinoa
Protein foods: such as nuts and seeds, tofu, tempeh, edamame, fortified plant-based beverages, legumes like lentils and beans. Depending on the type of vegetarian your child is, protein foods could also include eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese and fish.
Some kid-approved vegetarian favourites are:
- Whole grain cereal with milk or fortified plant-based beverage
- Muesli or hot cereal like oatmeal
- Vegetable omelettes or scrambled eggs. Try this Indian spiced egg dish.
- Nut butter sandwiches. Try peanut butter with banana or almond butter with sliced apple.
- Yogurt parfaits or smoothies
- Macaroni and cheese
- Veggie and Bean Pita
- Veggie pizza
- Tofu fajitas
- Bean burritos
- Pasta with soy meat balls, veggies and tomato sauce
- Veggie burgers
- Falafel (chickpea balls) in a pita
- Hummus (chickpea spread) with veggies
- Stir-frys with tofu
- Sushi rolls
Try these kid friendly recipes:
Yummy Quinoa Lunch
Sweet Chili Tofu Stir-Fry
Spinach and mushroom lasagna
Souper Lunch with Rice and Beans
My Grandma’s Beet Soup
Masa (corn) Pancakes
Yogurt Banana Split
Nutrients to pay attention to in a vegetarian diet
A well-planned vegetarian diet for your children means paying special attention to some important nutrients. Speak to your dietitian about food sources for these nutrients.
1. Protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12
- Soy products – tofu, TVP (textured vegetable protein), veggie burgers, tempeh, edamame
- Milk, cheese, yogurt
- Fortified plant-based beverages – read the label to compare the protein content of different plant-based beverages.
- Legumes like beans, peas and lentils
- Nuts and seeds and their butters
- Fish and seafood – if they eat this
- Legumes like lentils, baked beans
- Whole grains
- Dairy products like milk and yogurt
- Fortified soy products – beverages, tofu, veggie burgers
- Nutritional yeast
2. If your child is vegan they will need to get calcium and vitamin D from sources such as:
- Soft margarine
- Fortified plant-based beverages
3. If your child does not eat fish they may not get enough omega-3 fats, which are important for brain development and eye health. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats are:
- Oils: Canola oil, soy oil
- Soy products: Soybeans, tofu
- Flax seed
The youngest vegetarians
Vegetarian or not, breast milk is best for babies. Breast milk plus a vitamin D supplement provides all of the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months of life. For information about introducing solid foods to babies, click here.
Breastfeeding vegetarian mothers need to get enough of the same nutrients listed above. Omega-3 fats are important for infant development and you may need an omega-3 supplement. Vegan mothers may need a vitamin B12 supplement each day. Speak to a dietitian or healthcare provider about prenatal and postnatal supplements.
If your baby is formula-fed, use an iron-fortified formula until age one, then switch to whole milk. Vegan babies should have iron-fortified soy formula until age two.
How can a dietitian help?
A dietitian can help you plan vegetarian meals that meet your family’s preferences, culture and lifestyle. They will make sure your child is getting enough important nutrients, like protein, iron and calcium, to grow and be healthy. Connect with a dietitian today!
Well-planned vegetarian diets can be nutritious for people of all ages and can provide you with all the nutrients for good health. But planning is key! A dietitian can help make sure your child is getting all the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy.
You may also be interested in:
Four steps to a balanced vegan eating pattern
What you need to know about a vegetarian eating plan
What you need to know about following a vegan eating plan
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.
Last Update – June 20, 2022