Has this question ever occurred to you? I am not too fond of non-vegetarian foods , so naturally my children haven’t developed a taste for meats or poultry. And I personally cant stand the pungent smell of sea food. I can say I am a converted vegetarian.
But I am aware that a pure vegetarian diet may leave gaps in fulfilling my kid’s nutritional needs. They may be missing out on important nutrients and minerals that are found in sufficient quantity or digestible form in meat sources only.
Unfortunately, this question “Will my vegetarian child face nutritional deficiencies in future?” may not occur to many of you if you yourself are a vegetarian. I mean, you grew up to be just fine being vegetarians, right? But don’t forget that the nutritional value of food items have diminished over time, owing to heavy use of pesticides, too much processing of food and other genetic modifications. Also, they are no longer being consumed fresh, like you used to do as a child.
So the big question today is, how do I ensure that my child doesn’t grow-up with unnoticed nutritional inadequacies? To safeguard my kids, I have not just taken away the non-veg food items from their platter, I have made sure to replenish them through alternative dairy and vegetarian sources.
Here is what I follow
Vitamin D, B12 & iron found in plants are harder to digest that those found in animals. So, I made it a point to inform my pediatrician that my kids are vegetarians. He would otherwise assume that the kids are getting sufficient nutrition from non vegetarian sources as well. Apart from other recommendations which were more specific to their height/weight, he advised 30-40 mins of sun exposure every morning or evening. That way they would get their daily dose of Vitamin D which in turn will do two things – give them strong bones and help build a strong immunity system. This was not very difficult to achieve since kids anyway play outdoors for that much time everyday. I had to just ensure that they were out in the sunshine.
Including dairy and eggs in your child’s diet would leave them at least risk of inadequacies and these are excellent sources of wholesome nutrition. They contain superior quality animal proteins than plant based proteins and hence are a MUST part of my kid’s diets, even though they are vegetarians.
Eggs have long been accepted as quasi-vegetarian food and are consumed extensively by most kids as part of cakes, brownies and chocolates. So, why not get over this hurdle and include them in their mainstream diet too? Easiest way is to include them in a pancake along with a ripe banana. The flavor of egg is easily camouflaged and most kids can’t resist pancakes.
Another important nutrient called DHA is vital for healthy brain development in children. DHA is found in fish and other vegetarian sources and getting sufficient quantities of this nutrient is tough. So, I have made it a point to give two cups of milk with Junior Horlicks which has DHA to my children, from the time they were 2+ years.
Soybeans are a good vegetarian source of protein as well as iron. They contain more iron than an equivalent amount of daal. Steamed broccoli, sprouts, soaked almonds are rich in nutrients and are especially to be taken by vegetarians. Of course, a handful of various nuts, dried fruits and other rules like 5 portions of fruits and veggies do apply.
Another simple trick – to activate the kennel of the grain, which contains high amounts of vitamin B12, I soak rice and daal for several hours or overnight before cooking. So you see, there was wisdom in the old Indian custom of soaking daal-rice in water for long hours before cooking.
If you have any other tips for vegetarian kids, you can share in the comment box.