Humans evolved for more than 150 million years on a raw vegetarian diet of fruits, seeds, nuts, and vegetables. A well-balanced diet low in animal products and high in vegetable products has been linked to prevention of heart disease and cancer. Here is some information on raising a vegetarian child.
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The healthiest modern people live in cultures where vegetarianism is a way of life. We hear all the time that bad eating habits and clogged arteries start in early childhood. But, in an omnivorous society, the idea of vegetarianism as a way of life for children is greeted with suspicion, doubt, and negativity, instead of with acceptance and praise.
Vegetarian Children and Issues
Even most pediatricians worry when meat has not been introduced into the diet of a ten month old baby. The fears of anemia and insufficient protein are strangely profuse, within a medical community that normally encourages a high-fiber, low-saturated fat diet for older children and adults.
And many vegetarians doubt their ability, and lack the confidence, to raise their kids as vegetarians, because they don't have support and knowledge from extended family, a vegetarian community, and health care providers. All parents, vegetarian or omnivorous, should study the long-term effects that nutrition can have on their children.
Vegeterian Children are Healthy
The fact is, a vegetarian lifestyle is perfectly suited to babies and young children, as demonstrated by millions of healthy families around the world who practice vegetarianism for physical, environmental, economic, or spiritual reasons.
The Hunza of the Himalayas are the healthiest, longest-living people in the world, thanks to their vegetarian ways. The Japanese Macrobiotic Philosophy insills in both parents and children sound nutritional intuition, and incorporates vegetarianism.
In America, there is a Tennessee community called The Farm that practices strict veganism; protein comes from plants grown by the community, and the only supplement taken are B12 vitamins (because there are no eggs or dairy in a vegan diet).
The children in all these cultures have been studied closely, and research shows that they are all perfectly healthy. As a result of these studies, vegetarianism is introduced as a way of life by international aid organizations (such as World Health Organization and Indian Council of Medical Research) to combat malnutrition in developing countries.
The Key is Healthy Vegetarian Diet
I am not saying that a meat-free diet is going to be healthy, or that an omnivorous diet will result in congestive heart failure! I know lots of families that include meat and fish in their diets that are very healthy, seldom sick.
I also know some people who call themselves vegetarian, binge out on candy bars, French fries, and soda pop. Raising healthy children in a society that fills its grocery stores with junk food and where there's a fast food restaurant on every street presents a challenge for every parent.
The choice between white bread and whole wheat bread becomes a preference for a child at an early age, and you want them to prefer the healthier choice. And it's better for a kid to crave a veggie burger instead of a greasy bacon-double-cheese-beef-burger!
Vegetarian Children and Protein
Most Americans overemphasize protein requirements, and also over-do it with their protein consumption. It is true that a person who consumes plenty of calories each day will get enough protein, as protein is actually really easy to get because there are so many sources, from both animal and plant.
When a person eats too much protein, their calcium needs go up, and then a balanced diet is even more difficult, which is the case with most meat-based diets.
It is entirely possible to eat a healthy amount of protein and calcium from plant sources, without having to rely on milk from other mammal species. A diet rich in legumes, whole grains, and leafy greens will provide all protein and calcium needs for both children and adults.
It's important to understand that a complete protein is comprised of different amino acids; in plant protein, different amino acids come from different plant sources.
Vegetarian Children and Iron
One of the most rampant myths about vegetarians is that they all suffer from iron-deficiency anemia. The worry that a vegetarian child is going to be pale, weak and skinny stems from this myth. But that can't be farther from the truth.
Anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in America, and can happen whether meat is in the diet or not. Lots of plant foods provide abundant iron, such as broccoli, enriched grains, nuts, beans, dried fruit, and greens.
When these iron-rich foods are eaten with foods high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits and melons, then the plant-derived iron is absorbed into the body quickly and efficiently. If a child does not eat these combination foods, then it is important to take a daily supplement which contains iron.
Vegetarian Diet for a Picky Toddler
The task of organizing a healthy vegetarian diet for a toddler is no more difficult than any other diet, because toddlers are picky. If your kid is like mine, they eat only what is familiar to them.
The trick to feeding little ones is to offer a wide variety of foods and to trust that they will eat the right amount of food when they are hungry for it. You can't force a child to eat! But little ones can't do the grocery shopping, so you are in control of what they eat.
Do your research into daily recommended allowances, provide lots of choices, and try to find other parents who wish to feed their children whole, natural foods.
Seek Vegetarian Support
It is easier to be a vegetarian when you are not the only one, so it's a good idea to seek out other vegetarians in your area. It doesn't matter to your baby or toddler, or even to your preschooler, if they are in fact the only vegetarian baby on the block.
As your children grow up, however, they will want be part of a community and would not want to feel like the only vegetarian in town. Vegetarian parents all want their kids to stay vegetarian, and not to succumb to peer pressure to eat meat!
It is also a good idea to make friends with other vegetarian parents for your own good, to share nutritional information, recipes, and to support each other in a meat-driven society.
A preschooler starts to get involved in the family's shared philosophies. As a vegetarian mom, I've instilled in him that animals are our friends, not food, but that some people choose to eat meat and those people can also be our friends; mommy doesn't tell other people what they can eat.
Several people have asked me what I'm going to do when Kieran goes to school and he is expected to eat meat like the other kids. Just like a child models his parents in regards to other areas of lifestyle, like not smoking cigarettes, when he gets to be a big kid, it is up to him whether or not to stick to his vegetarian lifestyle if a peer offers him a chili dog!
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