Today, with more parents opting to raise their children as vegetarians, many are wondering if it’s possible for a meatless diet to provide all the necessary nutrition required for growing children. The American Academy of Pediatrics says with a little nut
Vishal Patel: My favorite foods are hamburger, hot dog, and then especially chicken nuggets. Female Speaker: Eight-year old Vishal Patel sounds like any other American child preferring kid-friendly animal based dishes to the more mature acquired taste of veggies such as Brussel sprouts and peas. But Vishal is not like most children. He has never eaten meat. Ever, so how can he claim hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets as his favorites? Vishal Patel: They're vegetarian, of course and yeah. Female Speaker: Vegetarian knock-offs of animal products have made meal planning easier for Smitha and Gautum Patel who made the decision to raise their family as vegetarians before the children were born. Smita Patel: Well we were brought up as vegetarians in our late teens, funny enough, both of us started eating non-veg and then after we were married, we decided to lead a healthier lifestyle and went back to being vegetarians. Female Speaker: The Patels are lacto-ovo vegetarians. That means they eat eggs and dairy products. Most pediatric experts today say that a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is a healthy choice for children as long as there are a variety of grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, and nuts in the diet. Dr. Michael Hart: Realistically, vegetarian diets are probably more healthful for children in the long run and actually indicated in many instances, this is where you're worried about pediatric obesity or you're worried about family with high lipids or cholesterol and things like that. Smita Patel: Oh, You fixed the salad. That's great! It didn't take you long at all. See how easy it is? Female Speaker: However, doctors say, vegetarian diets can lead to health problems in children and deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals if the diet is not well planned. Let's take a look at some of the areas you should be concerned about if you're raising a vegetarian child. First, children need lots of nutrient and calorie dense foods to meet their demands for growth and energy. Fruits, vegetables and grains tend to be low in calories and high in fiber, which means small stomachs often fill up before enough calories are consumed. So it's important to give energy-packed foods such as avocados, peanut butter, seeds, dried fruits, and dairy products. Growing children also need protein, calcium, and Vitamin D for the development of strong muscles, bones, and teeth. If only meat products are eliminated from the diet, these nutrients are easily acquired by eating eggs and dairy products such as cheese and milk. However, if eggs and dairy products are taken out of the diet, children must eat nutrient rich substitutes like beans, peas, broccoli, sweet potatoes, seeds, nuts, peanut butter, grains such as rice, pasta and cereals, and tofu. Their daily diet must also be supplemented with fortified soymilk and orange juice as well as a multivitamin that has calcium and vitamin D. Dr. Michael Hart: Fruits and vegetables obviously vary greatly by the amount, the taste, the color, the texture and so forth. The stronger colored, if you will, are believed to be higher in some of the nutrients than the lighter colored fruits and vegetables. It's important to alternate colors as a useful marker of altering the relative proportions of micronutrients and macronutrients that are present in each vegetable. Female Speaker: To enhance absorption of these nutrients, make sure every meal has foods rich in Vitamin C, such as tomatoes, orange juice, and berries. Dr. Michael Hart: In general, if a child is achieving normal growth parameters on the development you can be comforted as a parent in knowing that your child is getting the nutrients they need from the vegetarian diet. Smita Patel: My kids have hardly ever been sick. Overall they've been very healthy, very energetic. Female Speaker: Smitha and Gautum Patel are happy with the lifestyle change they made more than a decade ago. They say, with so many choices today, raising healthy vegetarian children is simply a matter of bringing to the table a balance and variety of foods at every meal.