Vegetarians are people who choose not to eat meat, though some may still eat fish. Vegans don’t eat meat or any other animal product, including eggs or milk. While this a healthy choice for many people, is it right for kids? And is it right for parents to force their kids to follow such a diet if they don’t want to? In this essay I look at the issues of a child on a vegetarian diet.
Many people get upset when they find out that parents don’t offer their child meat or animal products since they star in the healthy food guidelines offered by most experts. Parents who are vegetarians have made the choice for a reason, whether it’s for health or to protest the treatment of animals. Either way, they often want their children to join them in their choices. The bottom line is that this is the right of a parent, however recommendations can be made to ensure a child’s good overall health.
The main thing to consider is the protein and other nutrients offered by animal products. By cutting them out of a child’s diet, that child is at risk of nutrient deficiencies. This doesn’t have to be a problem though. By cutting out meat, a child is consuming less saturated fat, which is important for a healthy heart. Protein can be replaced with a variety of non-meat alternatives, including eggs, milk, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu.
Another reason why people question the health of a vegetarian diet for kids is the loss of vitamin B12, which plays a role in how the body converts food into energy. Fortunately for parents, there are alternate sources of this nutrient as well. Other nutrients that need to be replaced include vitamin D and iron. By making sure a child is getting these vitamins and minerals from non-meat sources, parents are able to provide their child with a nutritious diet that ensures good health now and as they get older.
The best thing to do when creating a healthy diet for a child is to offer lots of variety, which parents can do whether they choose to eat meat or not. There are many, many healthy foods that a child can choose from and there’s no reason to believe that cutting out meat or other animal products dooms a child to an unhealthy life or his parents to shame and reproach for their decision.
In instances where a child is overweight or faces certain health problems, cutting back on meat and animal products can dramatically reduce that child’s fat and calorie intake, which can often control the conditions or symptoms of the health issue in question. For kids with kidney issues, cutting protein may also be necessary, making a vegetarian or vegan diet a helpful necessity. In these cases, it’s best to work with a doctor to find appropriate dietary alternatives and to ensure continued growth and development in the child.
On the other hand, children are still growing and developing so they need adequate amounts of protein, calcium, vitamin D and iron to encourage proper growth and hinder health problems like osteoporosis. For that reason, pediatricians caution parents about forgoing entire food groups when feeding their kids. Ultimately, the decision belongs to parents and their children as they get old enough to make their own decisions.
Yes, a vegetarian diet can be healthy in childhood. However, it must be done with care and attention to the nutrient needs of a child, from infancy and beyond. Done properly, children can grow and thrive even if they don’t eat meat or other animal products. There’s a lot of food out there to discover and combined in the right way, a flourishing child can live without meat.