Los Angeles Times: Vegetarian Kids
Toddlers who refuse to eat furry animals; teenagers who suddenly hate everything their parents cook; children of vegetarian parents. Whether it's your choice or theirs, raising a vegetarian kid can be a challenge.
Along with the power struggles -- refusals by kids to eat what's served, refusals by Mom or Dad to prepare something else -- are parental fears, fanned by old studies, that kids aren't getting the nutrition they need to support their rapidly growing bodies.
As vegetarianism becomes more accepted and maybe even more common -- and that includes the nation's younger set -- here's the good news: Based on an exhaustive study review, the American Dietetic Assn. concluded in July in a new position statement that as long as vegetarian diets are planned well, they're safe for people at every stage of life: pregnant and nursing moms, babies, teenagers and just about everyone else.
The report was the first to emphasize the benefits of a meatless meal plan as opposed to simply stating that a vegetarian diet was OK. A meat-free meal plan, it stressed, may lower rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
This doesn't mean that raising meat-free kids is a cakewalk -- especially given children's notoriously picky eating habits. Unusual lunch box contents can make a schoolkid feel ostracized. Restrictive eating among adolescents can be a sign of an eating disorder and should be viewed with caution if the behavior accompanies other warning signs. (See related story online.)
Mac-and-cheese alone is not enough to sustain a growing child's nutritional needs. Failing to plan carefully can deprive developing brains and bodies of essential nutrients -- notably protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium and vitamins D and B-12 -- especially if kids become vegan and shun animal products altogether.
"The benefits of a vegetarian diet are wonderful for adults and can be wonderful for kids, but parents can make the mistake of forgetting that children are not little adults," says Meredith Renda, a pediatrician at Doctor's Pediatrics in Wilton, Conn. "Kids have small stomachs and short attention spans. You really have to pack a punch with as many nutrients as possible."
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