Vegetarian children are well nourished when parents know what to feed them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths that seem to have taken hold in the public due to a hand-full of tragic cases of child abuse or neglect where the children were fed a very poor diet. The diet was labeled by the media or the criminal defense as "vegan." But, the diets weren't poor because they were vegan; they were poor because they were completely inappropriate. Just as inappropriate as the limited diet of cereal, chicken nuggets, pizza, and macaroni & cheese. Though it is also a very poor diet, it seems to be the standard of many American youths. With today's focus on the impact of obesity, the vegetarian lifestyle is taking on a new meaning as a lifelong approach to better health.
Probably the biggest concern with vegetarianism in early childhood is nutritional adequacy. The American Dietetic Association's position on the subject notes that well planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals of all stages throughout the life cycle. Vegan children can be healthy, grow normally, and be extremely active. It takes time and thought to feed vegetarian and vegan children, but all parents should invest energy in nutrition no matter what diet their children follow. This is a critical period of life when eating habits form and growth rates are high. A child's diet must meet nutritional needs, get the right amount of calories, and support expected growth patterns. A Registered Dietitian is the most qualified professional to help educate and guide people who are interested in following a vegetarian lifestyle. Another excellent source of information is the nonprofit educational organization Vegetarian Resource Group. (www.vrg.org)
There is no question that a balanced vegetarian diet throughout the life span offers significant health benefits over the standard American diet. However, one does not need to go 100% vegan to reap the benefits. Just by moving more toward a plant-based diet is key. Including multiple daily servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds in age appropriate forms is what protects us from illness and disease.
~D. Aronson, MS, RD