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Vegetarianism and Children

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to teach your children how to eat healthily. The best way to do this is to start as soon as they are born to set a solid foundation for the rest of their lives. When it comes to newborns and the decision has been made not to breastfeed use a soy based formula to ensure that the newborn gets all the necessary nutrients.

Do not just use regular soy milk because a newborn needs all the nutrients that the soy-based formula has been fortified with. Do not keep your newborn indoors all the time, make sure that you go out for walks or outing so the newborn can get vitamin D from the sun.

As Your Newborn Grows

When your newborn reaches four to five months, it is okay to start introducing them to other foods. Start by offering them puréed fruit like bananas, peaches, or apple sauce. You can even try single grain cereal mixed with a little soy milk. Make sure when you introduce new foods to your newborn that you watch closely for any allergic reactions that may occur.

By the time your newborn reaches six months old, they should be ready for vegetables. Make sure that they have been fully cooked and puréed. Good choices to introduce at this time are puréed sweet potatoes, green beans, and carrots. By the time your newborn reaches eight months old, you can introduce them to crackers and bread. Their rapid development will continue to astound you and by the time they reach a year old they should be getting nourishment from all of the four food groups and now is a good time to introduce them to soy milk that has been fortified with vitamin B12. These ages are a guideline to follow, do not be worried if your child does not want fruit at four months or vegetables at six months because all children develop at different rates and when your newborn is ready you will be sure to know it.

Older Children

If you decide to wait until your children get older to introduce them to a vegetarian lifestyle there are some steps that you can follow to make the transition easier for you and your children. Do not try to convert your children over night into being vegetarians. Start by slowly removing meat from their diet. You can still let them have some of their favourite foods, pizza, for example, but instead of topping it with pepperoni or sausage, choose green peppers, onions, or a combination of vegetables. To replace the protein that will be lost by not eating red meat, introduce more beans into their diets, which are a good source of protein.

Don’t Rely on Gimmicks

One of the things that parents do when they are changing their children from omnivores to vegetarian is to smother their food with cheese. As you have already read, some vegetarians consume dairy products so it is not cheating but it is not a great idea to rely on this too much. While cheese can be a nutritious part of a vegetarian diet, it is also high in saturated fat and has a lot of sodium in it, which can be harmful to your child’s diet and thus undoing the good that you are trying to do with a vegetarian diet.

Children are Different than Adults

It is important for parents to remember that children are not small adults. There nutritional needs are different from what adults need. Serving children vegetarian foods that are high in fibre is not a good idea because children cannot digest fibre as well as an adult can. In addition, children have smaller stomachs than adults do, so when you are changing their diet to vegetarian they might need to eat more than three times a day. If you find this is the case with your children try to serve them smaller more frequent meals to ensure they get all of the recommended daily servings of the four food groups.

Important Nutrients for Children

A child’s body is a living breathing machine and in order for it to function and grow properly it needs the proper fuel to make it happen. It is the job of the parent to make sure that their diet contains the appropriate amounts of green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grain, and fruit. By doing this, the parent will ensure that their child will get all the necessary iron, calcium, protein, and zinc. Parents also need to be proactive and make sure their children do not sit in front of the television playing video games or facebooking and get outside to soak in some vitamin D. Vegetarian children will probably also need to take a vitamin B12 supplement in order to meet their body’s requirement for growth.

School Lunch

When changing your children’s diet parents are bound to come across some obstacles. One of these for parents of school age children is the school lunch. Children that are changing to a vegetarian diet are bound to face some peer pressure from their friends who find it either weird or strange to be a vegetarian. It is important for parents to sit down with their children and
explain what the benefits of being a vegetarian diet are.

Packing a lunch, with the input of the child, can help avoid any slips away from a vegetarian diet. Parents can make sandwiches with hummus with tomatoes or avocado. Peanut butter sandwiches and pretzels are an easy alternative to lunch meat. Parents can send a hearty vegetable soup or stew in a thermos as well as leftover pasta with a vegetarian spaghetti sauce. For something on the side send raw vegetables with a vegetarian dip, whole grain muffins, soy based yoghurt, or fresh fruit.

Having Friends Over

One challenge that parents of vegetarian children will face is what to do when their friends come over to play, birthday party, or other events. However, do not fret parents; there are many options available from which to choose that will make you, your children, and their friends happy.

Vegetarian hamburgers are widely available at all supermarkets and you can include everyone by allowing them the opportunity to choose their own condiments, whether that is just ketchup and mustard or avocado, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. Additionally, vegetarian hotdogs are also widely available at your local supermarket and unless you know that it is vegetarian, the taste is just about indistinguishable from the meat variety. Pizza is another good standby to choose, just make sure that the toppings are vegetarian instead of meat. If your child is having friends over during the warmer months, fruit smoothies are a refreshing treat that not only fun but also healthy.

Family Members

Just because your part of the greater family is vegetarian does not mean that the rest of your family is or is knowledgeable about the vegetarian lifestyle. To help your child stay on the right track, do not beat around the bush with family members and with parents of your child’s friends. Being upfront with them will ensure that they know where you stand and there will not be any misunderstandings when it comes to your child visiting friends and family. To help make things easier when your vegetarian child visits friends and family send along a dish with them to avoid putting any undue burden on anyone. If you have good relationships with family and your child’s friends give them a list of what foods a vegetarian can eat , just try not to be too pushy with it so nobody gets hurt feelings or feel as if you are telling them what to do.

Plan Ahead

With most households now either having to have both parents work or headed up by a single parent time is of the essence, so it is important to plan ahead. Get some cookbooks that have recipes for quick, nutritious meals. You can have a cook day, include your children, and make several meals that you can freeze and use throughout the week. This is a great way to get your children involved in the vegetarian lifestyle and a great way to learn what they really like and what they would rather not eat. Incorporate leftovers into other dishes to avoid being monotonous and add variety. In addition, try to keep a good supply of fresh fruit available for snacks.

Advantages of being a Child Vegetarian

Getting a jump start on a healthy lifestyle by becoming a vegetarian at an early age will benefit children as they grow into adulthood. With childhood obesity becoming more and more of a problem in society being a vegetarian will dramatically decrease the chances of that happening. Being a vegetarian early in life will also lessen the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer, and lower chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke. In addition, in some studies vegetarian girls have been shown to start menstruating at a later age than girls who are omnivores, by starting their menarche at a later age studies have shown that it decreases the risk of breast cancer.

Along the health benefits of turning to a vegetarian diet at a young age, studies have shown that vegetarian diet may actually boost brain function. The brain is not weighed down with animal fats that are present in the average omnivore diet so it can function and develop at a faster rate.

Some studies have shown that children who are vegetarians have shown mental capacity up to a year above their actual age.

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