Yesterday, we posed the question whether vegetarian is automatically healthy. ZisBoomBah’s nutritionist Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD warns parents not to assume going meatless is a foolproof way to feed your family healthy meals. What a mainly plant-based diet does achieve, though, is to encourage your kids (and you) to eat more fruit, vegetables and nutrient-rich legumes.
Do kids need meat to grow up healthy? Our nutrition expert says no. “Meat in the diet provides certain nutrients that are beneficial for health, but it is great to know that children can get a healthy diet that is vegetarian if you do it wisely,” she said.
Whether you’re thinking about raising your child vegetarian or your family is already living a meatless or vegan lifestyle, check out these tips from Lisa on how to do this the right way with kids.
- It’s important to get complete proteins.Complete protein provides all nine essential amino acids – or building blocks of protein. There are foods that are complete proteins (e.g. soy products and quinoa) to begin with and there are food combinations that provide complete protein together, like grains plus beans (e.g. rice and beans, tortilla with refried beans) or grains plus nuts or seeds (e.g. peanut butter on toast).You should know that plant-based protein is utilized at only about 80% compared with animal protein. If you choose to include dairy and eggs in your meatless diet, those foods also are complete proteins. While for a kid age 7 to 10 with an average weight of 62 pounds with diet that includes animal protein needs 28g protein per day, a same kid on a vegan diet with no animal protein/plant protein only would need 31-34g protein per day.
- You are not getting the most bioable form of ironwhen you’re not eating animal products. Iron is critical for brain development. What’s more, without enough iron, your child’s body can’t make enough red blood cells to supply tissues and organs with sufficient oxygen. So it’s important for kids to get enough iron in their daily diets.Beans, soy and spinach are all good sources of iron.Lisa recommends enhancing iron absorption from plant sources by adding extra vitamin C to your family’s diet. Vitamin C from tomatoes in your salad, for instance, aid the iron absorption. “Or serve your child a glass of orange juice with her breakfast cereal to help iron absorption from the grain,” the Boulder-based nutritionist said.
- Make sure your family gets enough Vitamin D. Lisa suggests you check out Monterey mushrooms. “They are grown in such a way that they have a high level of vitamin D.”IMPORTANT: Lisa wants you to talk to a qualified health care provider about how much of these two nutrients your child needs, because it is possible to take in toxic levels of iron as well as too much vitamin D.
- Vitamin B12 is a concern if children are not eating dairy and eggs. “They would have to take a supplement or use nutritional yeast that has B12 fortification to it,” Lisa said.
- Get sufficient calcium. However, our expert says, “That one is easier to get in fortified foods, such as fortified nut milk.”
Book recommendation by ZisBoomBah’s nutrition expert Lisa Lanzano: The New Becoming Vegetarian – The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis.
~ZisBoomBah Quest: Challenge your child (and yourself!) to create a five-star vegetarian meal with ZisBoomBah’s free online game Pick Chow!
If you find this article interesting, you might also be interested in our related stories on this blog:
- Is Vegetarian Automatically Healthy?
- 4 Hearty Vegetarian Pasta Dinners (Recipes)
- Meatless Mondays and Beyond: How to Turn Your Resident Carnivore into a Flexitarian
- 5 Essential Vitamins for School Kids
- 5 Essential Minerals for School Kids