Raising Vegetarian Kids
Articles Details page
Vegetarianism is a way of life for the vast majority of people in India. It can be a very healthy way of eating, mainly if it includes eggs (ovo-vegetarians) and milk products and if the meals are planned thoughtfully. When designing your toddler’s diet, it is essential to have various foods rich in vitamins and minerals, along with protein, carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids to avoid any potential nutritional deficiencies.
The quality of animal protein is superior to that of plant protein as animal protein supplies the body with all the essential amino acids. In contrast, plant protein is deficient in some of these. However, when meals include food from various dietary sources, the diet becomes balanced because the missing amino acids or nutrients from one source get complemented by those from other sources.
A balanced diet is vital for toddlers. It is crucial to their rapid physical growth, mental development, general health and well-being, their ability to learn and play, and their future health.
Milk and milk products
Milk (especially the full-cream variety) and milk products are very important for growing children. They are a good source of calories, calcium, protein and Vitamin A. These are especially important for vegetarians, as they form one of the major sources of nutrients and proteins from animal sources.
Calcium contributes to the formation and maintenance of bones, while Vitamin A is crucial for healthy eyes. A vegetarian child should be given full-cream milk for the first five years, and then you can introduce low fat or toned milk. If a child has an intolerance of cow's milk, he can be given calcium-fortified soya milk.
You can also introduce milk to your toddler’s diet by adding products such as yoghurt (dahi), paneer, cheese, and desserts like kheer and custard. Even children who are lactose intolerant can easily consume these milk products.
For ovo-vegetarians, eggs serve as an important source of some essential nutrients. Eggs are an excellent source of good quality animal protein and provide the body with all the essential amino acids needed for proper growth and development. Other than protein, they also contain important vitamins (except for Vitamin C) and minerals.
Fruits and vegetables
All children should be encouraged to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. They provide all the essential vitamins and minerals, dietary fibers, and phytonutrients needed by the body. It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables because one particular kind may not be rich in all vitamins and minerals. Some sources are rich in a particular nutrient, while others may be rich in other nutrients.
The protein in whole grains lacks certain essential amino acids required by the body and should be eaten with pulses, milk, and milk products; to ensure that the intake of all the essential amino acids happens.
When whole grains are processed or polished, they lose a lot of their nutritional value, especially B Vitamins. Therefore, it is advisable to encourage your child to consume whole grain products. Whole grain products also serve as a good source of dietary fibres.
Legumes or pulses
Legumes or pulses (lentils) are the primary sources of protein for vegetarian children. Although they are a good source of protein, most of them do not provide all the essential amino acids required for proper growth and development. Therefore, these must be eaten with cereals and/or milk products. Besides protein, pulses also provide complex carbohydrates, vitamins (especially B Vitamins), minerals, and dietary fibres.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in calories and are nutrient-dense. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, protein, essential fatty acids, and fibres.
Almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamias, and walnuts are especially rich in various essential nutrients and polyunsaturated fatty acids. As far as the seeds are concerned, sunflower, pumpkin, flax, and sesame are quite nutritious.
Always give ground nuts to avoid choking, especially if your child is under 5 years. Salted nuts are likely to have higher sodium content, so it is better to give your children the unsalted versions.
Fats and oils
Fats and oils are an important source of energy and essential fatty acids. They help the body to absorb fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Intake of saturated fats (whole cream milk and butter) and hydrogenated (Vanaspati Ghee) trans-fats should be restricted because they raise LDL cholesterol levels that can cause health-related problems. Although oils and fats should be generally restricted, they should not be limited in under-5 or preschool children. They are important for the proper development of the brain and other vital organs.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for aiding brain development and should be made a part of your preschooler’s diet as brain development is maximum until five years. Some of these are not readily available in regular diets and adding a nutritional health drink like #Junior Horlicks can help. It contains nutrients like choline, iron, and iodine, which support brain development and calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin K & protein, which support physical growth and development. It also contains nutrients such as Vitamin E, A, Selenium & copper to support healthy immune function.
And therefore, while children can get adequate nutrition from a vegetarian diet – you need to ensure that their diet is well balanced and includes all the essential nutrients that a growing child needs.