Vegetarian families are no longer the rarity they once were. A growing number of health conscious parents are opting to raise their children on a meat-free diet, but with this new lifestyle choice comes a new set of concerns. Recent converts to vegetarianism may worry that they are not providing their children with all the essential nutrients. So how do you go about successfully raising vegetarian children?
Key nutrients for vegetarian children
To help ensure that the dietary requirements of vegetarian children are being met, it is important to choose a variety of foods from each of the major food groups. As long as your child is regularly eating proteins, carbohydrates, a moderate amount of fats and a range of vitamin and mineral rich foods, you can be sure that they are receiving everything they need for optimum growth and development.
Protein is essential for growth and the repair of body tissues. A variety of proteins should be eaten by your child each day to ensure that they are receiving a good balance of amino acids. Good sources include: dairy products, tofu and other soya products, eggs, seeds, nuts, beans and pulses, whole grains such as wheat and rice.
Carbohydrates are important for energy and growth, and make up a significant proportion of your child’s diet. Unrefined carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread are also good sources of fibre, although they must be given with some caution. Too many high-fibre foods can fill up your child before their nutritional needs have been met. Good sources include: pasta, wholemeal or brown bread, beans and pulses, potatoes, cereals [bran should not be given to young children].
Fats are a highly-concentrated source of energy and aid the healthy development of the brain and the nervous system in young children. While saturated fats have given this food group a bad name, the good news is that vegetable based fats and oils are far better for your child’s health. Good sources include: dairy products [full-fat for at least the first two years], olive oil, vegetable oils such as sunflower, nuts, avocados.
Vitamin A is essential for growth, good vision, healthy skin and strong tooth enamel. Good sources include: cheese, eggs, margarine, carrots, green leafy vegetables, dried apricots and peppers.
Vitamin B Group is essential for growth, the formation of red blood cells, development of a healthy nervous system and also converts food into energy. Good sources include: whole grains, bananas, yeast extract [such as Marmite], green leafy vegetables, dairy products, mushrooms, avocados, fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin C is essential for growth, healing and a healthy immune system. Vitamin C also aids iron absorption and is especially important for vegetarians to combine this vitamin with iron-rich foods. Good sources include: broccoli, melon, citrus fruits, berries, parsley, potatoes, peas, peppers, green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and skin. It is most efficiently absorbed via sunlight, but can also be found in a limited number of foods. Good sources include: dairy products, fortified cereals, margarine.
Vitamin E is essential for healthy skin and cell structures. Good sources include: vegetable oils, wheatgerm, nuts, seeds, avocados.
Iron is essential for growth and healthy blood. Iron is less easily absorbed from vegetable sources than animal products so it is important to combine iron-rich food with sources of vitamin C. Good sources include: tofu, beans, egg yolk, pulses, spinach, cabbage, molasses, wheatgerm, whole grains, dried fruits.
Calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bones. Good sources include: dairy products, tofu, green leafy vegetables, lentils, almonds and brazil nuts, sesame seeds.
Zinc is essential for growth and cell division. Good sources include: dairy products, whole grains, beans and pulses, nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
For more information contact The Vegetarian Society
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