Please be aware that I am not a qualified nutritionist or doctor, so the information on these pages is based on my own research in books and online. If you have particular concerns about your children’s nutrition or suspect a problem (whether they are vegetarian or not) please take them to see someone who is qualified to deal with any issues.
Some parents still worry about whether a vegetarian diet for children is safe or not. A few are concerned about the occasional scare stories that appear in the press, others have been warned by well-meaning family and friends that vegetarian children don’t grow as fast or won’t be as strong as meat-eating kids. There is still sometimes the perception that vegetarian kids will grow up pale and anaemic looking at constant risk of nutritional deficiencies, but this is largely based on ignorance.
There are populations around the world that have raised healthy vegetarian kids for many generations, but a vegetarian diet for children is still viewed with some scepticism by many Westerners. This is probably due to the fact that it is still a relatively new way of life in Western culture and that many health professionals aren’t as clued up about vegetarian nutrition as they could be.
However there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a vegetarian diet for children is not only safe but also has many health benefits.
Raising a healthy lacto-ovo vegetarian is relatively easy (at least not much more difficult than raising any healthy child!) If your child is a vegan you will need to be a little more diligent and plan more carefully to ensure that (s)he gets enough calcium, iron, vitamin D and vitamin B12, but it is certainly not impossible to raise a healthy vegan child either.
(Please read our article on Common nutritional concerns regarding a vegetarian diet for children and what to do about them for more information on including these and other nutrients in a vegetarian diet.)
While some of the elements necessary for children’s healthy growth and development are contained in meat, there are also plenty of plant-based sources for these nutrients, so if you ensure these are included in your vegetarian child’s diet then they won’t be missing out on anything. It does help to have a basic knowledge of vegetarian nutrition and children’s dietary requirements, but it is not as difficult to meet their nutritional needs as some people would have you believe.
It may seem as though feeding vegetarian kids a well balanced diet requires you to have a degree in nutrition, but the basics aren’t hard to pick up and, providing they have a varied diet, there are unlikely to be big problems. Our article on Veggie kids at different stages is a good place to start.
Actually well fed vegetarian kids are probably healthier than most children on a typical Western diet, for several reasons:
- They tend to be more nutritionally aware
- They avoid the hormones and other chemicals often fed to animals destined for a plate
- As most vegetarian diets are lower in cholesterol and saturated fats and are higher in fibre, they may lead to a lower risk of obesity, heart disease,high blood pressure and Type II diabetes in later life
- Vegan children in particular are much less likely to develop food allergies, as their diet avoids many of the foods people tend to be allergic to, such as cow’s milk, egg whites and seafood
Read our article about the Benefits of a vegetarian diet for kids for more information on just how healthy vegetarianism can be for kids.
If you would like to read more about whether a vegetarian diet for children is safe, here are some useful resources on the web (will open in new window):
- Your Vegetarian Child: How Healthy Are They? Are Their Nutritional Needs Being Met?
- Family Nutrition: Eating Vegetarian
- Raising a Vegetarian Child
I can also thoroughly recommend the book The New Becoming Vegetarian. Although not aimed specifically at vegetarian children, it has a wealth of advice for parents and deals with the nutritional requirements of the different age groups as well as a lot of detail on vegetarian sources of essential nutrients. I borrowed it from the library, loved it so much I bought my own copy soon afterwards and still frequently refer to it.