You will often here parents who are vegetarians ask the question, what effect will a vegetarian diet have on my child.
If you consider that as children grow the body is preparing itself for future life, bones and tissues are being formed, the brain is developing quickly then it is easy to understand that the nutritional needs of a child will be much greater than the needs of adults .
Parents who choose to bring up their children as vegetarians are actively helping them grow not just physically but also morally. Nutritional research has shown that a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients necessary for the development of a healthy child.
I want to focus in on the very young child, those in the 1 – 5 age bracket. At this point in its life the young child is completely dependent upon others, mainly its parents, for food.
Care must be taken to ensure that the child's diet as regards choice is as wide as possible.
Just as with non-vegetarians there is a risk that adults will insure that children should eat this or that food. Remember children at this age can be very fussy and if they are determined to refuse a particular food they should not be forced to eat it.
Whether vegetarian or not, it is vital that children have a well balanced diet. This is particularly important during the pre-school years, as this is a time of rapid growth and development. The nutrients to particularly watch are calcium, iron, zinc, protein, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
An advantage of starting your child off early on a vegetarian diet is that it helps form good eating habits, as likes and dislikes are formed in these early years.
As adults we aim for a diet high in fiber and low in fats but that is not what a child's body demands Pre-school childrengrow very quickly, they need lots calories (dietary energy). Diets too high in fiber or very low in fat will not provide them with sufficient concentrated energy or nutrients.
Young children should have frequent meals containing food of reliably high nutrient and energy density, although common sense must be used as children's appetites and will fluctuate on a regular basis.
Keep a ready supply of fruit, home made cake and scones within reach. It is difficult to do but try and avoid shop-bought sweets and salty snacks such as crisps.
If the child is not prone to being overweight then there are other steps you can take to increase the energy density of their food. Add vegetable oil to foods like mashed lentils or beans. Always have some fresh or frozen fruit juice or vegetable juice at hand.
Try to include as wide a variety of foods as possible, bearing in mind that children may be fussy or find some foods too strong in taste. Offer nut and seed purées such as tahini and smooth peanut butter, cheese, yoghurt, soya products, such as tofu and veggieburgers
Assessment of a child's growth should be made over a period of time, as growth at this age is often very uneven and interspersed with sudden increases in height and weight.
A typical daily menu for an under 5 would be as follows:
Vegetables: 2 servings, preferably including leafy dark green vegetables each day.
Fruit: 1-3 servings, with dried fruit every few days or more.
Grains / cereals: 4-5 servings, including wholegrain bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals (and potatoes).
Pulses, Nuts and Seeds: 1-2 servings, including nut butters, tahini (sesame seed paste), lentils, mashed beans.
Dairy or Soya: 3 servings, including milk, cheese, hard-boiled free range eggs, yoghurt, fortified soya milk, tofu.
A serving will range from half a slice of bread to a few tablespoons of a vegetable.
The above should be used as a guide only. As always if you have any concerns about your child's health consult your medical practitioner immediately.