Understanding vegetarianism

Children may choose to become


for many reasons: cultural norm, a relative or friend is a vegetarian, weight loss, health reasons, concern about animal rights, etc. But what if you’re concerned your child may not get the proper nutrition needed for healthy growth and development? Don’t fret — vegetarianism can be healthy because of the high intake of plant products.

There are several types of vegetarians:


Octo-vegetarian: eats eggs, no meat

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eats dairy and eggs, no meat

Lacto-vegetarian: eats dairy products, no meat or eggs


: eats only food from plant sources

Some people eliminate red meat and continue to eat poultry, fish, eggs and dairy.

Maintaining Nutrition

If your child is a vegetarian, it is important to ensure he consumes adequate calories and nutrients needed for growth. Most vegetarian diets are high in fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber, various


and minerals, and low in fat. Nutrients mainly derived from animal sources, such as


, protein,


, vitamins B12 and D, and zinc, need to be monitored closely. Many cereals, breads and drinks are fortified with these nutrients, making it easier to ensure your child’s nutritional needs are met. Aim to incorporate the foods listed below into your child’s daily diet to avoid nutrient deficiencies.


Benefits: healthy bones and teeth

Sources: dairy products

dark-green, leafy vegetablesbroccoli

dried beans

products fortified with calcium: orange juice, soy and rice drinks, cereals


Benefits: provides energy, maintain healthy hair and nails

Sources: dairy products: cottage cheese, yogurt






Benefits: carries oxygen to

blood cells

, red


cell production, metabolism

Sources: eggs

dried beans

dried fruit

green leafy vegetables

iron-fortified breads and cereals

Vitamin B12

Benefits: relieves fatigue, cell maintenance, DNA formation, control cholesterol levels

Sources: dairy products


fortified products: cereals, breads, soy and rice drinks

Vitamin D

Benefits: maintains strong bones

Sources: milk

orange juice fortified with vitamin D


Benefits: wound healing, healing chronic infections, healthy skin

Sources: wheat germ


fortified cereal

dried beans

pumpkin seeds

Depending on your child’s age, proper nutrition may be a challenge. Consuming a diet of mainly vegetables can be difficult for a little stomach to handle because of the high amounts of fiber. Vitamin and/or mineral supplementation may be necessary for children whose diets do not provide adequate nutrients.

Talk with your children about healthy vegetarian food options — beans, fruit, vegetables, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — as they may not know what foods are acceptable for a vegetarian to eat. French fries, candy and sweetened beverages are animal-free products, but they are not healthy choices. As with any

healthy diet

, variety is important as well as eating foods from all the food groups. With careful planning, a vegetarian diet can be a healthy way of eating for any child.

Rachel Sestrich has been a registered and licensed dietitian since 2007. Currently, Rachel is working in research and lives in St. Louis with her husband and two young girls.