Ask the RD: Is it okay for growing kids to eat a vegetarian diet?
Question for the Registered Dietitian (RD):
“My daughter has a vegetarian friend at school and is now asking me to start making vegetarian meals for her at home”. “I’m not sure about this.” “Is it ok for growing kids to eat a vegetarian diet”? “Also, I don’t want to start making two separate meals for her and for the rest of the family”. “How should I handle this?”
Great question! It is absolutely “OK” for growing kids to follow vegetarian diets… so long as they are meeting their caloric needs and receiving adequate protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. In fact the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that well planned and adequate vegetarian diets provide a perfectly suitable alternative to eating meats and other animal products.
The health and environmental benefits of plant based diets have been well documented. For starters check out the Vegetarian Resource Group website which offers a wealth of information on vegetarian diets, along with a library of tasty vegetarian recipes: http://www.vrg.org/
Types of Vegetarian Diets
It is unclear the specific type of vegetarian diet your daughter is considering but here is brief description of each:
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: includes dairy products such as cheeses, milk, yogurt and butter, as well as eggs.
Pesce – vegetarian: includes fish and shellfish
Vegan: excludes ALL animal based products
Some people do a combination of the different types (for example they might include cheese and yogurt on a regular basis, but only eat fish on occasion). A recent twist on the vegetarian lifestyle has been the so called “flexitarian”. While not a true vegetarian, this would describe someone who follows a vegetarian diet most of the time, but does occasionally eat meat.
Make sure to discuss your daughter’s plans and to determine her specific intentions about which type of vegetarian diet she is planning to implement. Stress with your daughter that “vegetarian” is NOT necessarily synonymous with “healthy”. Many so –called “vegetarians” get by with a steady diet of packaged noodles, mac and cheese dinners, toaster pastries, chips, pretzels, cheese puffs, etc. This heavily processed diet of refined carbohydrates and added sugars is the complete opposite of “healthy”. Make sure to speak with your daughter’s health care provider or dietitian to be sure that her vegetarian diet is in fact adequate and balanced.
No Need to Make Separate Meals for the Rest of the Family
It is challenging enough at the end of a busy day to prepare a balanced meal for the family……….forget having to come up with 2 separate menus!! Consider making vegetarian meals for the entire family to try on one or more nights of the week. In addition to the Vegetarian Resource Group website noted above, check out Meatless Monday for some delicious go – to menu options. http://www.meatlessmonday.com/favorite-recipes/
TIP: With a little pre-planning, your daughter’s vegetarian meal can easily mesh with the rest of the family. Here are some examples:
The side salad becomes the main dish for the vegetarian in the family, with the addition of chopped eggs, nuts, shredded cheese, beans, etc.
Taco night may easily be adapted with use of soy crumbles or mashed beans.
Brown slices of extra firm tofu for your daughter, while the rest of the family eats chicken. The same sides can work for everybody.
Save out a portion from the pot of chili before adding the meat. Your daughter’s chili is the same as everyone else... just minus the meat.