There are many reasons for the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Many people have moral issues with the way meat is conventionally raised. Cutting the meat (or all animal products) is a great way to be a little easier on the environment, California has encouraged Meatless Monday for that very reason. Or, many people find that they simply feel healthier when animal products are limited or removed from their lives.
The biggest question vegetarians get is concern over how they meet their protein needs every day. While, this is a very legitimate concern, especially when dealing with young children, it is not a hard thing to do. Below is the recommended daily dietary allowance for protein that children need to meet, according to the CDC. Is it about what you thought it was, or lower?
- Children ages 4 – 8 years need 19 grams
- Children ages 9 – 13 years need 34 grams
- Girls ages 14 – 18 years need 46 grams
- Boys ages 14 – 18 years need 52 grams
However, protein is not the only nutrient to worry about when cutting meat (or all animal products) from your diet. The following are important nutrients to include in your diet everyday, and meat-free sources to accommodate those needs.
- B 12- dairy, eggs, and fortified soy milk (Possible sources include nutritional yeast, sea vegetables, and spirulina)
- Iron –beans, grains, and spinach
- Omega 3- walnuts, flaxseeds, and wheat germ
- Calcium- dairy, blackstrap molasses, and kale
- Protein- check out this article for great protein sources, and keep an eye out for the meat-free ones!
Once you have the basic understanding of nutrition covered, it is time to figure out how to go about raising a vegetarian or vegan. The logistical questions are the same whether this is something you are doing from birth or making the change later in life.
Be prepared for comments and questions
This is a normal part of parenting, especially to anything seen as “alternative”. It will get annoying but if you’re prepared with answers it will make the questions less stressful. Know what nutrients your child needs in a day and know how you meet those needs every day.
Familiarize yourself with the B12 argument
It was once believed that the only source of B12 (cobalamin) was meat. When in fact, B12 is synthesized by the bacteria in an animals gut. Humans, typically meet their B12 needs by consuming animals and the B12 present that the animal has synthesized, but this is not necessary. There is new research being done to explain why deficiency in this vital nutrient rarely occurs. Some research suggests B12 deficiency is so rare in vegetarians and vegans because the human body contains the bacteria necessary for synthesizing its own B12, but only under the proper circumstances. This is where fermented foods, such as nutritional yeast, become necessary in a vegan's diet because it helps the body produce and absorb B12. Research about B12 and the human body is still underway, if you feel your diet is not supplying enough to meet your needs, or if you test deficient, be sure to consume food fortified with B12 or take a vitamin to supplement your diet.
Follow your child’s cravings
If you are choosing this lifestyle for your child it is important to realize that at some age, they may choose a different lifestyle. If your child is constantly drawn to meat, maybe consider letting him try a small amount. The human body has a funny way of telling us what we need to eat, so it is good idea to let their bodies lead the way. In the meantime, make sure your child’s daily diet meets all the nutritional requirements listed above. A nutritional imbalance leads to cravings, get the diet balanced and they may return to their vegetarian/ vegan ways.
If this was a choice made by your child, respect it
This might not be a stubborn phase or an attempt to be cool, it might be that your child is trying to take their health or morals into their own hands. That should be encouraged, help them make the best decisions on how to become a vegetarian or vegan.
Don’t fall victim to the overload of processed foods
If a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle is new to you this is definitely something to watch out for. Soy products are great for ease, simply swap out soy chicken in replace of regular for any old recipes you have. However, they can be highly processed foods so, although convenience is great, try not to make them a staple. Also, be sure to be getting in plenty of whole grains and nutritionally dense foods, which is usually not found in processed food.
Don’t forget about the fats
Fats are essential to the human body, especially the growing human body. Be sure to get in quality fats every day. Use coconut and olive oil daily, find a great nut-butter or peanut butter the entire family loves, and if you consume dairy, consider making the switch to 2%.
Consult your doctor
Talk to your doctor or nutritionist if you have any questions or need a little guidance. It is important to note the difference in dietary needs at each stage in life. Work with your doctor to make sure you are meeting your child's nutritional needs.
Source 1- Why Not Eat Meat
Source 2- The McDougall Newsletter
Source 3- Vitamin B12 and the Vegan Diet
Source 4 - Center for Disease Control and Prevention