Vegetarian nutrition for children: the basics

It’s one thing to be an adult vegetarian, it’s another thing to plan to raise your children as a vegetarian.

It is no longer surprising today that adults turn to plant-based diets for a variety of reasons—ethical, environmental, or physiological—but many continue to believe that it is impossible to raise healthy children without a “reliable” diet of meat and potatoes.

The first thing we hear from kind relatives and friends is the question: “But what about squirrels ?!”

Prejudice is rampant when it comes to the vegan diet.

However, the truth is that children can grow and develop perfectly if they exclude not only meat, but also dairy products from their diet.

There is one “but” here: you need to pay close attention to certain nutrients that may be missing in a diet that excludes animal proteins.

Before talking about “what’s missing” in a plant-based diet, it’s important to first note that there are numerous health benefits that come from a predominantly plant-based diet – especially when it serves as an alternative to unhealthy foods. such as processed meat produced on agro-farms. Normal blood pressure, low blood cholesterol, minimal risk of cardiovascular disease, and optimal body mass index are often viewed as the benefits of a vegan and vegetarian diet.

In these days, when childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic, these benefits of a plant-based diet should be taken seriously. Avoiding meat or meat and dairy products requires knowledge of the basics of a healthy diet and an understanding of which food substitutes and supplements to use. If you are a responsible parent of a vegetarian or vegan child, then you need to prioritize the following nutrients.


The perennial preoccupation with proteins is not really justified and is not the most pressing problem faced by vegetarian and vegan families. The fact is that the need of the child’s body for proteins is by no means as great as is often believed. Infants need 10g of protein per day, preschool children about 13g, primary school children about 19-34g per day, and teens about 34-50g.

Proteins are found in many vegetable (beans, nuts, tofu, soy milk) and dairy products. Of course, not all proteins are equal, but by combining grains and legumes, you can easily get the required amount of protein on the basis of a purely plant-based diet.


Iron is found in fortified breads and cereals, dried fruits, leafy vegetables, soy milk, tofu, and beans. Since iron from plant sources (non-heme iron) is more difficult for the body to absorb, it is important to ensure that children take foods containing iron along with vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron.

Vitamin B12

While concerns about protein tend to be overblown, there are good reasons to take children’s B12 intake seriously, as long as they don’t consume animal products. Vegetarians get enough of this vitamin from milk, but because there are no plant sources of B12, vegans need to include fortified foods such as bread and cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, and soy milk in their diet.


Calcium is especially important for the development of the child’s body. Vegetarians who consume dairy products get enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods: Dairy products, leafy vegetables, fortified orange juice, and some soy products. Vegan children require calcium supplements.

Vitamin D

Sources of vitamin D include fortified cereals, orange juice, and cow’s milk. However, regular sun exposure is sufficient to ensure that children’s bodies receive vitamin D. Vegan families should pay close attention to signs of vitamin D deficiency (asthma, respiratory disease, weakened muscles, depression) and give children appropriate nutritional supplements.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Fats are essential for brain development, and children’s high energy expenditure during outdoor play means their bodies burn fat at a rapid rate. Fat sources include flaxseed, tofu, walnuts, and hempseed oil.


Zinc deficiency is not a serious threat to vegetarian families, but plant-based zinc is much more difficult to absorb than animal-based zinc. Bean sprouts, nuts, grains and beans allow the body to optimally absorb the zinc they contain; in addition, you can buy bread from germinated grains.


As a rule, vegetarian children get enough fiber. In fact, what often happens is that since a vegetarian diet is high in vegetables and grains, children sometimes get too much fiber instead of the stuff they also need, like fat. Feed your kids nut butters, avocados, and other healthy, fatty foods.

Finally, don’t try to set the exact dosage of each nutrient. With the exception of a few key nutrients such as B12, which may require supplementation, especially for vegans, by and large it is important to simply eat a variety of healthy and whole foods, as well as inspire loved ones to experiment and enjoy food. Children then have a chance to eventually learn to regulate their diet and cultivate a healthy approach to food. 


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