So, your little girl dissected her first frog in science class and has declared herself a vegetarian. The rest of your family eats meat, so what now? We asked Rebecca Meyerson, a certified nutrition counselor in Westchester County, how parents should adjust to their child's vegetarian lifestyle (however short-lived it may be) and make sure she gets the nutrition she needs without eating meat.
Vegetarianism is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle as long as your child isn't strictly consuming processed foods. Many vegetarians eliminate meat and fish and compensate with foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. It is important your child is getting a balanced diet, including:
1. Whole grains such as brown rice, rolled oats, couscous, and millet
2. Protein such as black beans, chick peas, lentils, kidney beans, tofu, or tempeh (fermented soybean with a nutty flavor that is high in protein)
3. Sufficient vegetables - both raw and cooked
4. Fruit - choosing a variety based on the season
5. Healthy fats - olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds which will provide adequate amounts of omega-3s.
One of the main concerns of a vegetarian diet is a lack of iron. Most people are unaware that plant foods including spinach, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, and dried apricots are rich in iron. In addition, food that is high in Vitamin C, like pineapple, papaya, lemon, and red peppers, increase the absorption of iron, so serving them together with iron-rich foods packs more of a punch.
Another concern regarding a vegetarian diet is obtaining sufficient protein. However, many plants are complete proteins, which means they contain all 20 amino acids. These foods include quinoa, buckwheat, and hemp seeds. Most foods alone are not complete proteins, but if you consume a variety of legumes, green vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains throughout the day, you will meet your protein requirements.
In addition to your child eating a well-balanced vegetarian diet, it is important to supplement with B12 since this vitamin is predominantly found in meats.
Rebecca Meyerson has a master's degree in nutrition, food science, and exercise science. She is a certified nutrition counselor through the American Association of Nutrition Consultants. Meyerson recently founded Simply Healthy Living in Westchester County, New York, with the mission to promote holistic wellness through a balanced lifestyle incorporating super foods, supplementation, and exercise. She counsels adults and children based on their physiological components of health, determined by their genetics, gender, and blood type. Meyerson works with her clients to set goals that are achievable through gradual lifestyle changes. To learn more about her programs, visit www.simplyhealthyliving.org.