Unless you, as a parent, are a vegetarian or vegan, a child announcing his or her dislike of meat can present challenges to meal-planning. It's quite common for toddlers and preschoolers to experience a phase in which they turn their heads in disgust at the sight of meat. However, if the desire to abstain from animal protein comes from an older child, it might become a choice that sticks. Here is what a parent of a budding vegetarian needs to know.
The first instinct of many parents of vegetarian children is to worry about their protein intake. This is a valid concern, but if your child has an otherwise well-rounded diet, protein requirements can be met through eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and nut butters, and soy products including tofu.
Some plant-based sources of iron include dark leafy greens, beans, fortified and enriched foods, and soybeans. While the human body absorbs the iron from animal products better than the iron from plant-based foods, foods containing vitamin C can help that absorption. Pair plant-based iron-rich foods with a vitamin-C-rich food such as tomatoes, orange juice or strawberries.
Though it's found only in animal products, vegetarians can still obtain enough of this vitamin from certain fortified foods, eggs and dairy. If you are worried about your child not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet alone, talk to a pediatrician or registered dietitian nutritionist.
Embrace the opportunity! Your child's new-found diet can expand your repertoire of meatless dishes and do your whole family a world of good!