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Has your vegetarian baby grown into an active preschooler, or are you hoping to go vegetarian now, together with the rest of your family? Here's how to make sure your child is getting all the nutrients they need.

The childhood years lay the foundation for the rest of a person's life. Habits formed during this stage are hard to change, and dietary habits are no exception. A healthy and varied vegetarian diet during childhood sets the tone for a healthy and active life. Despite the fact that vegetarianism is on the rise in the western world, some misconceptions remain — and if you were not already wondering what your vegetarian child needs to stay healthy, others will likely put this topic on the agenda and make you doubt the common wisdoms you've grown accustomed to.

What do you need to know to support the optimal growth and development of your vegetarian child, from the toddler years through the end of elementary school?

Healthy Development In Vegetarian Children

If your child has been a vegetarian since conception, you already know that a healthy and varied vegetarian diet offers an excellent start to life. You have gone from vegetarian pregnancy bump to breastfeeding or formula feeding, past the introduction of solid foods, and now have a growing, walking, talking, thinking, and (very!) active child. What has changed?

Your growing child has ever-increasing calorie needs, but their stomachs haven't yet caught up with the rest of them! Vegetarian kids tend to get fewer calories from fat, as well as eating more fibrous diets than their meat-eating peers. Lower-fat diets that are higher in fiber cause your kids to feel full sooner, but they’re not done yet, they’re still in need of more calories.

Don't be surprised if your veggie kid seems to have a higher need to "graze" between meals, and make sure you have healthy snacks on hand to satisfy them.

Are your vegetarian kids a little smaller than average, like mine are? You may be interested to know that research indicates that your veggie kid may grow a little more slowly than their meat-eating friends, but also that they will catch up with their meat-eating peers by the time they reach adulthood.

When it comes to IQ, studies actually show vegetarian kids to score slightly higher than meat-eaters at an average of 118 points. That may not be down to their vegetarianism, because correlation still doesn’t equal causation, but it’s something, something to brag about, when a busybody starts questioning whether veggie kids can really grow up to be healthy, no?

Should you and your family be vegan, you are especially likely to be met with raised eyebrows from your social circle. Can vegan diets truly satisfy the needs of growing children? Dietician Heather Russell from the Vegan Society told SteadyHealth that "well-planned vegan diets are suitable for every member of the family," adding: "Fortified foods and supplements help you and your children to meet your nutritional needs."

Heather says:

"It is essential that every vegan has a reliable source of vitamin B12 in their diet. Once your baby is six months old and weaning begins, work towards including fortified food in every meal. Unsweetened fortified soy milk alternative or nutritional yeast flakes can be used in cooking, and plain fortified soy yogurt alternative can be offered as part of a meal. Once your child is one year old, unsweetened fortified soy milk alternative can be offered as a drink too. If using fortified foods, aim for a daily intake of 1 microgram (mcg) from one year of age, increasing to 2mcg at seven years old and 3mcg at 15 years old. Using double the recommended dietary intake is safe, and will help to ensure that your child is absorbing enough. Alternatively, discuss the use of a supplement with a health professional."

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