shutterstock_379214668.jpeg (shutterstock_379214668.webp)Vegetarian and vegan diets are increasingly common among people trying to better their health, although people follow these diets for many different reasons. Perhaps your teen is considering becoming a vegan, or you want to switch your children over to a vegetarian lifestyle. If maintained correctly, this plant-based diet can be very beneficial and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

While there are different types of vegetarian diets, they all consist of a diet that does not contain meat. When you opt out of eating meat and/or dairy products, you may miss out on some essential nutrients that you’ll need to make up for in your diet. It is also important not to eat too many processed foods, a habit that many vegetarians or vegans fall into. With a well-planned diet, your child can still get all of the nutrients their body needs.

Different Types of Diets

There are different types of vegetarian diets. Some types exclude certain foods, whereas other types allow that food.

The different types of vegetarian diets include:

  • Vegan - The most commonly known diet, excludes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and any foods that contain these products.
  • Pescatarian - This diet excludes meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs, but allows the consumption of fish.
  • Ovo-vegetarian - This diet excludes meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy products, but allows eggs.
  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarian - This diet excludes meat, fish, and poultry, but allows dairy products and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarian - This diet excludes meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as foods that contain them. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter, are included.

The Food Groups Children Need

The recommended food groups and serving sizes that children should be eating vary by gender and age. They include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
    • It is recommended that children aged 2 to 6 should have at least 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables a day.
    • Children aged 6 to 12 should have at least 3 servings of fruit and 4 servings of vegetables each day.
    • Children aged 13 to 18 should have at least 3-4 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables each day.
  • Whole Grains
    • It is recommended that toddlers eat 3 ounces of grains each day.
    • Children between the ages of 4 and 8 are recommended to have 5-6 ounces of grains per day, with at least 2-3 of them being whole grains.
    • Teens should aim to eat 6-8 ounces of grains a day, with 3-4 of them being whole grains.
  • Fat-Free and Low Fat Dairy Products(opens in a new tab)
    • Children ages 4 to 8 need 2.5 cups of dairy products per day.
    • Children ages 9 to 18 need three cups per day.
  • A variety of protein foods (opens in a new tab)
    • Children ages 4 to 9 need 19 grams of protein each day.
    • Those between ages 9 and 13 need 34 grams.
    • For adolescents ages 14 to 18, it varies by gender:
      • Boys need 52 grams
      • Girls need 46 grams
  • Fats/Oils - It is recommended that children have 3 daily servings (1 teaspoon) to have a sufficient amount of calories.

How to Get the Necessary Nutrition for Your Kids

Things like vitamins, minerals, and protein are essential to your child’s growth. Here are some of the specific nutrients necessary for balanced nutrition, and how to get them while sticking to the family diet:

  1. Protein And Fatty Acids
    • Protein - Typically, it is easy to get your protein from meat products or eggs, but there are still plenty of ways to get your protein from plants. Some foods that contain protein are beans, lentils, nuts, tempeh, green peas, edamame, nutritional yeast, and soy-based foods like tofu. You can also get a good amount of protein from meat substitutes.
    • Omega 3 Fatty Acids - Omega 3 fatty acids are most easily obtained from fish, but there are other foods you can find them in. Some foods that contain omega 3 fatty acids are chia seeds, brussel sprouts, hemp seed, walnuts, and flaxseeds. While you can get them from other sources, supplements are also recommended.
  2. Vitamins
    • Vitamin B12 - Vitamin B12 is important to keep your nervous system and red blood cells healthy. It is naturally found in animal products, dairy products, and eggs. Some vegetarians can get their B12 from dairy products and eggs, but it is recommended that strict vegans take a B12 supplement.
    • Vitamin C - It should be very easy for your kids to get their Vitamin C. Vitamin C is in most fruits and veggies, and even in potatoes.
    • Vitamin D - While your kids certainly get some Vitamin D as they play outside in the sun, it’s a good idea to take supplements or eat fortified foods (foods with added nutrients). This applies to people who aren’t vegetarian as well.
    • Vitamin A - Vitamin A is typically gained from animals, but the body can turn carotenoids into Vitamin A, so you can still get it from fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are found in orange fruits and veggies like cantaloupe, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
  3. Minerals
    • Calcium - The highest amount of calcium will be found in dairy products, but it is available in plant foods as well. Just be sure to track if your child is getting enough calcium; if not, they should take supplements to make up for what they don’t consume. Calcium can be found in calcium-fortified milk and juices, leafy greens like kale and collard greens, edamame, almonds, and figs.
    • Iron - Iron is most easily gotten from red meat, but it can also be found in plants, although it is harder to absorb than iron from animals. Good sources of iron for vegetarians and vegans are chickpeas, white beans, swiss chard, black-eyed peas, lentils, soybeans, and cashews.
    • Zinc - Zinc is found in both animal products and plant foods, although zinc from plants is harder to digest. Vegans and vegetarians alike need to eat more zinc than those who eat meat, so your child must meet their daily zinc requirements. Some good sources of zinc include baked beans, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, cashews, and oatmeal.

Maintaining a vegetarian or vegan diet can be difficult, but is ultimately rewarding for many young people. As long as you plan your kids’ meals to include all of the necessary protein, vitamins, minerals, and more, they can grow up enjoying a healthy lifestyle.

Need guidance in developing your family’s nutrition plan? Capital Area Pediatrics offers top-tier pediatric care to families throughout Northern Virginia. Our dedicated team is committed to providing everything from specialty and chronic care services to sick visits. All of our providers and locations are accepting new patients and would be happy to reconnect with our existing families. Request an appointment online, or find a location near you today.