Is It Safe for Children to Follow a Vegetarian Diet?

September 15, 2019
Should parents force their children to follow a vegetarian diet? Is it safe? We've got all the answers in this article.

Many parents wonder what they need to do to encourage their children to follow a vegetarian diet. If this is your situation, then you must take into account their needs and their development. A varied diet is a healthy one.

There are many taboos and preconceptions related to vegetarian food in adults, but even more so with children. If you don’t eat meat and fish and don’t want your child to either, what should you do? In this article, we’ll give you some guidelines.

Should children follow a vegetarian diet?

This is the first question that arises among parents who don’t eat meat and fish, and who want to transmit that kind of philosophy of life to their children.

Some pediatricians are against young children being vegetarians. They claim they don’t receive all the nutrients they need during this important stage of their lives.

However, other doctors say that if the diet is varied and balanced, there should be no problem in terms of nutrition and growth. The real problem lies in diets that are too restrictive. This is the case with frugivorous diets (fruit-based only), raw food (exclusively raw foods) or even vegan diets.

If the children receive their daily iron, vitamin D and vitamin B12 in their food, they can follow a vegetarian diet without putting their health or development at risk.

Is It Safe for Children to Follow a Vegetarian Diet?

The vegetarian diet is made up of all kinds of plant-based foods. It includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, oilseeds, cereals, dairy products and eggs.

When the diet is based on the last two, the diet is called ovo-lacto vegetarian or lacto-ovo vegetarian. No animal products are consumed, neither red or white meat, nor animal fats.

Questions about vegetarian children

There’ll be many more questions, but we’ll respond to the most common ones:

1. Is a vegetarian diet good for your health?

The answer is yes, but it’s essential that the diet is varied and healthy. This means that a diet based on chips and salad, or pasta and vegetables, on a daily basis wouldn’t be a good one.

Good planning will help you provide your children with all the nutrients they need. It’s best for the meals to be homemade, as in any type of meals, and that you change the dishes you prepare frequently.

2. How do you get protein?

People often believe that the only source of protein is meat. Because of that, it’s not uncommon to think that if you follow a vegetarian diet then you’ll be lacking in this nutrient. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many ingredients of plant origin are very high in protein. Legumes such as lentils, soybeans and their derivatives, pseudo-cereals such as quinoa, nuts such as almonds, and seeds of all kinds, all have good protein content.

In addition, if you opt for an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet, dairy and eggs are also included, which are a great way to get quality protein.

3. What will you eat at children’s parties or birthdays?

Some parents allow their vegetarian children to eat other foods when they have a birthday party, or go out to eat at a restaurant. Others, on the other hand, choose to notify the organizers to ask them to prepare a special menu for them. It all depends on how flexible you are and how you’re bringing your child up.

Tips to encourage my child to follow a vegetarian diet

If you want your child to be a vegetarian because you’re one, or because you’re about to try it out, then here are some useful tips for you:

1. Consult a pediatrician

Some doctors are reluctant to accept a vegetarian diet in children under 15 years of age, but there are also many doctors who actually advise parents to put their child on this diet. Talk to the pediatrician, and he or she will give you all the necessary advice and information.

2. Offer varied meals

As stated earlier, it’s not a matter of eating only salad or pasta, but more to do with having a varied menu (just like it should be with everyone). Planning will be essential so that your children don’t get bored of eating the same thing all the time, and that they can get all the necessary nutrients.

Is It Safe for Children to Follow a Vegetarian Diet?

3. Look for meat replacements

Here, you need to not only think of the dishes themselves, but also their nutrition value. For example, if you don’t eat fish then make sure your children consume enough olive or avocado oil. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for neurological development.

As for iron, not many people know that legumes offer twice as much of it as red meat. And in relation to vitamins, the only one that could cause problems is B12. This isn’t as readily available with vegetable-based products, but can be obtained in a supplement.

So, if you wanted to know how to encourage your child to follow a vegetarian diet, we hope that these useful tips have been helpful to you. Here’s another article that you may also find helpful.

  • Martínez Biarge, M. (2017). Niños vegetarianos, ¿niños sanos? AEPap (Ed.). Curso de Actualización Pediatría