Vegetarian effects on children have long been a contentious issue for parents, and like most things concerning the health of their kids, parents tend to be very passionate about their viewpoints. Do children need animal based proteins to grow and thrive? Is a vegetarian diet safe and healthy, and is it setting kids up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits? Ask ten different parents, and you're likely to get ten different, but equally persuasive, answers. So where is the truth? Let's separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to vegetarian effects on children.
Is It Safe For Your Child To Be a Vegetarian?
The bottom line answer here is: yes, usually. Although opinions are not unanimous, the vast majority of the medical community agrees that raising children on a vegetarian diet is indeed a safe choice. There is a trend for children who are raised on a vegetarian diet from a very young age to be slightly smaller than their meat eating counterparts, but that result does not occur across the board, and the children still grown in normal ranges.
The final verdict on vegetarian diets for your children comes down to the administration. Contrary to popular belief, not all vegetarians eat a healthful diet. If your child lives on frozen veggie burgers and cheesy dishes, then their health will suffer, regardless of whether or not they're eating meat. Here are some things to keep in mind about creating a healthy vegetarian diet for children:
- Before you start your child on a vegetarian diet, make sure to discuss your plans with your child's pediatrician. The doctor can walk you through general guidelines for this kind of diet as well as confirming for you that your child's specific circumstances make them a good candidate for a vegetarian diet.
- Focus on protein. Protein is an absolute must for growing children, and since they won't be getting it from meat, you'll need to pay careful attention to seeing that they get it elsewhere. Many people are surprised to learn that vegetables contain plant-based protein. Along with this, cheese and dairy products are a good choice, as are soy products, nuts and some beans.
- A vegan diet is generally less well accepted by medical professionals than a vegetarian one for children. Vegan diets are so restrictive that it is hard for children to get an adequate amount of protein. Vegan eating also deprives your child of calcium, which they need for their growing bones. If you want your child on a vegan diet, be sure to consult a doctor and nutritionist, give them a calcium supplement, and make sure they get regular checkups. Vegan diets are a matter of principle for many people, but consider allowing your children to grow into this kind of diet.
- Go heavy on the "veggie" part of the diet. A diet that is heavy in processed foods and meat substitutes can be unhealthy for anyone, but especially for kids. Make fruits and vegetables a central part of their eating habits.
It is also recommended that children on a vegetarian diet take a multivitamin daily.
If you follow these guidelines and keep your doctor in the loop, the vegetarian effects on children can be nil. With ever increasing obesity rates among children, a well planned vegetarian diet can actually improve their health.
Struggles for Vegetarian Children
Beyond health, there are a few other factors you need to be aware of when it comes to placing your children on a vegetarian diet:
- It can be awkward for them socially. Although vegetarian diets are becoming more accepted, and they are more common in some areas than others, the fact remains that most of your children's friends will be meat eaters. This can become a problem at cookouts, pizza parties - any number of situations unless you make provision ahead for their dietary needs. If others are eating hot dogs and hamburgers, be sure your children have veggie dogs and burgers. Also make sure your kids know how to explain their lifestyle to their friends, and be prepared to give them a break if they fall off the wagon.
- School lunches can be a problem. Most schools don't have specific vegetarian meals, and depending on how strict you are, you can't be sure that the vegetables and other acceptable items were not prepared with meat products or in pans that held meat. You'll need to plan for packed lunches.
The Bottom Line Regarding Vegetarian Effects on Children
It IS safe for your children to be vegetarians. However, you are still responsible for teaching them healthy eating habits beyond avoiding meat.