Imagine the day your child comes back from kindergarten or school and announced his or her decision to become a vegetarian and eat no meat at all after finding out meat comes from animals. You’ve listened to their reasoning and no matter how you try to coax them back to the omnivorous diet, they refused to budge (kudos for standing their ground!).
If your kids are adamant to stay vegetarians, here are a few nutrients you should take note of and the kinds of food to provide for your child to ensure proper nutrition.
We need protein for healthy bones, hair, skin, nails, enzymes and neurotransmitters. Protein also provides us with 10 per cent of our energy. While we can get proteins from plant sources, the proteins are not considered complete proteins.
“A complete protein means that it contains all nine essential amino acids and can be used to build muscle,” says dietician Zelda Ackerman.
To ensure your vegetarian kid has all the protein a growing body needs, combine cereals and a legume in the same meal such as rice and lentils or pasta and beans.
Other food sources: dairy products, eggs, legumes (lentils, peas); beans; whole grains (quinoa, millet, oatmeal, brown rice); nuts and butters; seeds; soy foods (soya, tempeh)
We know calcium is also important for healthy bones but it’s also important for the heart, muscles and nerve function.
Other food sources: vegetables (broccoli, squash, kale, sweet potatoes); legumes; whole grains and seeds; fruit (oranges, raisins); tofu
Iron is important to maintain energy levels, blood health and helps the transfer of oxygen through cells. However, iron from plants is less easily absorbed than from meat so it should be paired with foods high in vitamin C. Vitamin C help the body to absorb iron better.
Other food sources: Cereals fortified with iron, whole grains, legumes, tofu, green leafy vegetables (spinach), dried fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, cashew, lentil, kidney beans, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, Swiss chard, citrus
4. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 helps in stabilizing mood and memory but it isn’t found in plant foods except for sea vegetables. It also aids in the formation and division of red blood cells. Check with a doctor before supplementing your child with Vitamin B12 or the B complex. Non-vegetarians can be deficient in vitamin B12 too although everyone only needs a small amount per day!
Other food sources: dairy (yogurt, low-fat milk, cheese), eggs, fortified cereals, Nori, shiitake mushrooms, nutritional yeast (sprinkle on popcorns, mix into cheese sources or mashed potatoes, stir into creamy soup, add to pasta dishes and salads), vegan spread (Marmite)
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is needed to build strong bones and prevent disease. A supplement is recommended if the kids is on a strict vegetarian diet.
Other food sources: fish, eggs, dairy, food fortified with vitamin D (orange juice, soy milk, cereals, almond milk), mushrooms. Our bodies also make vitamin D when we’re under the sun.
6. Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids have been touted to help in preventing heart diseases and reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis. Omega 3 can be found in fatty fishes such as salmon but if fish is absent from the diet, kids can eat walnuts, ground chia seeds and flaxseeds to get essential fats.
Other food sources: fish oil supplements, nuts, beans, legumes, wheat germ, mustard oil, seaweed, winter squash, leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, berries, mangoes, honeydew melon.
Feature image from Good Food