There are roughly 375 million vegetarians worldwide, but it can still be surprising when a child expresses interest in cutting meat products from their diet. It’s natural for children to experiment with different foods as they develop their tastes, and the proper encouragement can help them build healthy habits that will last well beyond childhood.
Maybe your child simply doesn’t enjoy the taste of meat or is interested in vegetarianism for other reasons. Regardless, it’s important to provide healthy meals for kids that are interested in this diet, while also monitoring them to ensure that they are getting the nutrients they need. While many vegetarians fail to include one or more important nutrients, there are certainly ways of building a well-rounded vegetarian diet. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of switching and how to help your child adapt to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Are All Vegetarian Diets the Same?
While we use the word vegetarian to refer to a broad category of diets, the truth is that there are many subcategories that are also classified as vegetarian. Lacto-ovo, the most common type of vegetarian diet, allows for both dairy and egg products. Lacto vegetarians cut out eggs while keeping milk, but vegans even go a step further than traditional vegetarians by avoiding all types of animal products.
Each of these diets has the potential to be sustainable when managed effectively, but it can be difficult to replace the nutrients typically consumed in animal products. For example, some vegans and vegetarians don’t get enough iron, putting them at a disproportionate risk for anemia compared to the general population.
As a result, this demographic needs to make an extra effort to include a sufficient quantity of protein in their diets. That said, it’s easy to support your child’s desire to be vegetarian without compromising their health, and there are vegetarian ways to eat adequate levels of iron, protein, and other nutrients. If done correctly, switching to a vegetarian diet can lead to a number of benefits including a reduced risk of cancer, lower levels of cholesterol, and a healthier body weight.
Building a Nutritious and Exciting Diet
Starting a vegetarian diet doesn’t have to involve sacrificing flavor or variety, and many of these solutions are as simple as their meat-based alternatives. Imitation burgers, for example, are an easy and healthy substitute that can accommodate vegetarians and omnivores in the same meal.
Another common vegetarian option, beans and tofu, are utilized around the world in a wide variety of recipes that highlight their unique flavors. Although imitation meats are an easy starting point for new vegetarians, many come to prefer a diet that isn’t solely based on traditional meat-based cuisines.
If you’re concerned about the levels of iron your child is consuming as a vegetarian, consider encouraging them to add more beans and green, leafy vegetables into their diet. On the other hand, if they’re less interested in these types of food, it may be worth purchasing a supplement specifically designed for vegetarians. Either way, these challenges shouldn’t prevent your child from exploring vegetarianism.
Supporting Your Vegetarian Child
Just as adults often find it difficult to maintain a new diet, you shouldn’t be surprised if your child has trouble sticking to their decision. It is important to let your child make his or her own choices when it comes to their meals. That said, keeping quick and easy vegetarian or vegan snacks on-hand can make it easier for your child to commit to their choice.
Vegetarian diets are sometimes less filling, which is a major factor to consider for children whose bodies are growing. Healthy snack choices, including filling, protein-heavy vegetarian foods such as beans and nuts, will help tide them over between meals.
If your child is beginning to express interest in vegetarianism, you should provide them with the resources they need to make a healthy, sustainable decision. These tips will help you and your child reap the countless benefits of a vegetarian diet.