Vegetarian Diet for Children:
Right from the Start
Eating habits are set in early childhood. Vegetarian diets give your child the chance to learn to enjoy a variety of wonderful, nutritious foods. They provide excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence.
The best food for newborns is breast milk, and the longer your baby is breastfed, the better. If your baby is not being breast-fed, soy formulas are a good alternative and are widely available. Do not use commercial soymilk. Babies have special needs and require a soy formula that is developed especially for those needs.
Infants do not need any nourishment other than breast milk or soy formula for the first several months of life. Breast-fed infants need about two hours a week of sun exposure to make vitamin D. Some infants, especially those who live in cloudy climates, may not make adequate amounts of vitamin D. In that case, vitamin D supplements may be necessary.
Vegetarian women who are breastfeeding should also be certain to include good sources of vitamin B12 in their diets, as intake can affect levels in breast milk. Foods fortified with cyanocobalamin, the active form of vitamin B12, can provide adequate amounts of this nutrient. A multivitamin may also be taken as directed by your doctor."
Breast milk or infant formula should be used for at least the first year of your baby’s life.
At about four to five months of age, or when your baby’s weight has doubled, other foods can be added to the diet.
Add one new food at a time, at one- to two- week intervals. The following guidelines provide a flexible plan for adding foods to your baby’s diet.
Four to Five Months
Introduce iron-fortified infant cereal. Try rice cereal first since it is the least likely to cause allergies. Mix it with a little breast milk or soy formula. Then offer oat or barley cereals to your baby.
Six to Eight Months
Introduce vegetables. They should be thoroughly cooked and mashed. Potatoes, green beans, carrots, and peas are all good first choices.
Introduce fruits next. Try mashed bananas, avocados, strained peaches, or applesauce.
By eight months of age, most babies can eat crackers, bread, and dry cereal.
Also, by about eight months, infants can begin to eat higher protein foods like tofu or beans that have been cooked well and mashed.
Children have a high calorie and nutrient need, but their stomachs are small. Offer your child frequent snacks, and include some less “bulky” foods like refined grains and fruit juices. Limit juices, however, since children may fill up on them, preferring their sweetness to other foods.
Some foods, such as veggie hotdogs, carrot sticks, peanuts, and grapes, may present a choking hazard. Be sure to cut foods into small pieces and encourage children to chew their food well before swallowing.
Calorie needs vary from child to child. The following guidelines are general ones.
Food Groups for Children
Breads, Cereals, Grains
Includes all breads, rolls, flatbreads, hot and cold cereals, pasta, cooked grains such as rice and barley, and crackers.
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds
Includes any cooked bean such as pinto, kidney, lentil, split pea, black-eyed pea, navy bean, and chickpea; tofu, tempeh, meat analogues, textured vegetable protein (TVP); all nuts and nut butters, seeds, and tahini (sesame butter).
Includes all fortified soymilks and infant formula or breastmilk for toddlers.
Includes all raw or cooked vegetables which may be purchased fresh, canned, or frozen. Also includes vegetable juices.
Includes all fruits and 100 percent fruit juices. Fruit may be purchased fresh or canned, preferably in a light or natural syrup, or water.
Ages 1 to 3 (Preschoolers)
Breads, Cereals, Grains: 6 or more servings; a serving is 1/2 to 1 slice of bread; 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, grain, or pasta; 1/2 to 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: 2 or more servings; a serving is 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked beans, tofu, tempeh, TVP; 1-1/2 to 3 ounces meat analogue; 1 to 2 tablespoons nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter
Fortified Soymilk, etc.: 3 servings; a serving equals 1 cup fortified soymilk, infant formula, or breast milk
Vegetables: 2 or more servings; a serving is 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked or 1/2 to 1 cup raw vegetables
Fruits: 3 or more servings; a serving equals 1/4 to 1/2 cup canned fruit; 1/2 cup juice; 1 medium fruit
Fats: 3 servings; a serving equals 1 teaspoon margarine or oil
Ages 4 to 6
Breads, Cereals, Grains: 6 or more servings; a serving equals 1 slice of bread; 1/2 cup cooked cereal, grain, or pasta; 3/4 to 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
Legumes, Nuts and Seeds: 1-1/2 to 3 servings; a serving equals 1/2 cup cooked beans, tofu, tempeh or TVP; 3 ounces meat analogue; 2 tablespoons nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter
Fortified Soymilk: 3 servings; a serving is 1 cup of fortified soymilk
Vegetables: 1 to 1-1/2 servings; a serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables
Fruits: 2 to 4 servings; a serving is 1/2 cup canned fruit; 3/4 cup juice; 1 medium fruit
Fats: 4 servings; a serving equals 1 teaspoon margarine or oil
Ages 7 to 12
Breads, Cereals, Grains: 7 or more servings; a serving equals 1 slice of bread; 1/2 cup cooked cereal, grain, or pasta; 3/4 to 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: 3 or more servings; a serving equals 1/2 cup cooked beans, tofu, tempeh or TVP; 3 ounces meat analogue; 2 tablespoons nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter
Vegetables: 4 or more servings; a serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables
Fruits: 4 or more servings; a serving is 1/2 cup canned fruit; 3/4 cup juice; 1 medium fruit
Fats: 5 servings; a serving equals 1 teaspoon margarine or oil
Note: Serving sizes may vary depending on the child’s age.
To add more calories to the diet, include more servings of nut butters, dried fruits, soy products, and other high calorie foods.
Be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12 on a regular basis. Good sources include Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast, vitamin B12-fortified foods, such as soymilk, breakfast cereals, meat analogues, and vitamin B12 supplements.
If children do not get regular sun exposure (exposing hands and face to 20 to 30 minutes of summer sun two to three times per week), which promotes vitamin D synthesis, fortified foods and supplements are available.
Adapted from Simply Vegan, 3rd ed, 1999, p. 194-195. The Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203; 410-366-8343.
Ages 1 to 4 years
Cheerios with soymilk
Hummus (chickpea and sesame seed butter spread) on crackers
Ages 4 to 6 years
Tofu-egg salad on bread
Baked beans with blackstrap molasses
Ages 7 to 12 years
Raisin Bran with soymilk and sliced banana
Toast with almond butter
Macaroni and blended tofu with nutritional yeast
Green beans with almonds
Salad with greens and broccoli