Should you raise your child vegetarian?

Should you raise your child vegetarian?

In the last few years, I’ve been an on-again, off-again vegetarian.

I believe that a healthy vegetarian diet can be a great plan to follow but after having chronic anemia and not being able to correct it through diet alone, I now eat meat along with a ton of plant-based foods and as a result, my kids eat the same way.

If you’ve considered whether or not you should raise your child vegetarian, you may have wondered if a vegetarian diet is healthy for kids and what types of foods they should eat.

Read on to learn if a vegetarian diet is healthy for kids and what you should consider before deciding to raise your child vegetarian.

Vegetarian kids on the rise

In recent years, there has been a lot of attention paid to plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets, with plenty of health websites, bloggers, and celebrities touting the health benefits.

Still, the amount of people who actually call themselves vegetarian or vegan is slim.

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 5 percent of adults identify as vegetarian while 3 percent say they’re vegan.

And a 2014 national poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group found that 4 percent of kids 8 to 18 are vegetarian or vegan, up from 3 percent in 2010

While some parents decide to raise their kids as vegetarian because they follow the plan themselves or simply because they want to eat healthier, some kids also decide to do so on their own.

In fact, teen girls, in particular, may start the diet because it’s trendy.

“Food is the one thing kids at this age can control. Sometimes wanting to be a vegetarian is a phase that passes for some children, while others are more committed to it,” Tara Todd, a registered dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital stated in this article.

Are vegetarian diets for kids healthy?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position statement, vegetarian and vegan diets that are appropriately planned are healthy and provide adequate nutrition, have health benefits that prevent and treat certain diseases and

are appropriate for infants, children and teens.

Studies show that vegetarian and vegan diets can prevent type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer.

The Academy says vegetarian kids are less likely to become overweight and obese, and tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and less sweets, salty snacks, and saturated fats than their meat-eating peers.

Research also shows that following a vegetarian diet early on in life can help to establish lifelong healthy, eating habits. 

Vegan diet for kids: the recent controversy

In May 2019, Belgian doctors from the Royal Academy of Medicine warned children, teens, and pregnant and breastfeeding moms to avoid vegan diets.

According to the position statement, they say veganism is “restrictive,” creates “unavoidable” nutritional shortcomings and, if not properly monitored, could lead to deficiencies and stunted development, this article states.

They even went so far as to say raising kids vegan is unethical because of the lack of animal protein and amino acids and called for parents who do so to be prosecuted, after deaths in schools, nurseries and hospitals.

In response, U.S. doctors from the Physicians Committee criticized the report saying it isn’t based on scientific evidence and could deter people from following a plant-based diet that can improve their health. They also said studies show people following a vegan diet get enough protein, iron and calcium.

What’s more, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says vegan diet for kids can be healthy and safe for infants and children, without lacking nutrition or affecting their growth.

What to consider before deciding to raise your child vegetarian

If you decide your kid will follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, there are certain nutrients you should focus on.

Protein

Although there are plenty of plant-based protein foods, because of differences in the amino acid composition and digestibility, children may need more protein, which may be between 15 and 35 percent depending on age.

Related: 9 Best Meatless Protein-Rich Foods For Kids (+Recipes!)

Iron

Iron is another nutrition kids who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may become deficient in, so it’s important for your child’s pediatrician to test for iron deficiency.

Eating iron-rich foods such as beans, eggs, soybeans, and spinach with foods rich in vitamin C like peppers, tomatoes, and citrus fruits can increase absorption.

If your child still falls short, a supplement can help.

Zinc

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vegetarians may need 50 percent or more of the recommended daily allowance for zinc than non-vegetarians.

To increase the bioavailability of zinc, they recommend vegetarians soak beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours, and allow them to sit until sprouts form before cooking them.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Kids who are vegan or lacto-vegetarian and avoid fish could be missing out on omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats kids need.

As an alternative, kids will need to get plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids which include chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and fortified foods like cereal.

Related: 7 Kid-Friendly Ways To Use Chia Seeds

Vitamin B12

Since beef and certain types of fish are excellent sources of vitamin B12, kids can become deficient.

Still, there are some great suitable sources of vitamin B12 such as tofu, tempeh, nutritional yeast, and fortified foods like non-dairy milk and cereal.

Calcium

Fortunately, if your child is avoiding dairy, you don’t have to worry that he isn’t getting enough calcium.

Green leafy vegetables, figs, sesame seeds, soymilk and fortified cereals are all great sources of calcium.

Related: 10 Calcium-Rich Foods For Kids That Aren’t Milk


Vegetarian doesn’t always mean healthy

 

If you decide to raise your child vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to make sure the diet is well-planned.

Just like gluten-free diets, it’s really easy to rely on too many processed, packaged junk foods and frozen foods, and grab-and-go grocery store or take-out meals that are often low in fiber and high in sodium and saturated fat.

Instead, focus on plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, and nuts and seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.

Related: 25 Healthy Avocado Recipes for Kids

Since many vegetarian and vegan foods tend to be low in calories, it’s also important to make sure your kid is eating enough to support his growth and development.


Separate meals can mean more time in the kitchen

Another thing to consider is meal planning and cooking and the time it takes.

When I was vegetarian, it wasn’t easy to simply grab a protein and pop it in the oven.

I had to plan ahead and make large batches of lentils and bean burgers, for example, to make sure I always had something on hand.

If your child is vegetarian but you and your spouse aren’t for example, you could also find yourself making separate meals for everyone which can be time consuming.

Making meals in bulk, or cooking with your kids can help.


Get help from an expert

Kids’ diets can include a variety of fresh, whole foods but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting everything they need.

If your child is a picky eater, that’s even more of a reason to pay attention to his diet.

You might consider speaking to a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) who can take stock of what your kid is eating and where there might be nutritional deficiencies.

An RDN can also help with meal planning and recipes.

The bottom line: a vegetarian diet or vegan diet can be healthy for kids if it’s appropriately planned and kids actually eat the food.

Whether or not your child sticks with it or not, getting more plant-based foods in his diet is always a good idea.

Is your child vegetarian or vegan? What tips can you share for eating healthy?

8 Tips for Getting Toddlers To Eat

8 Tips for Getting Toddlers To Eat

When your baby started solids, chances are, he was a happy, adventurous eater—willing to taste anything you put on his plate. Getting toddlers to eat however is an entirely different ball game.

One week your toddler seems to be eating enough, while the next, he takes two bites and declares “I’m not hungry.”

Or maybe your toddler never seems to be hungry or refuses to eat altogether—meal after meal or even for several days at a time.

Take heed.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most toddlers are picky eaters and it’s completely normal.

Still, if you’re worried that your toddler isn’t eating enough and getting the nutrition he needs, there are some possible reasons behind his picky eating behaviors, and some ways to encourage him to eat.

 

1. Look at what your toddler is eating


Your toddler might not eat what you serve for dinner, but chances are he’s eating something throughout the day so it’s important to look at what that is and how often he’s eating.

If your toddler is loading up on snacks like crackers, chips and cookies, he’s probably not going to be hungry at meals.

Filling up on processed, packaged snacks can also crowd out calories and opportunities to serve up healthy, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. The same goes for juice or too much milk.

Also, feeding toddlers processed snacks that are high in sugar and sodium trains their taste buds to prefer those foods so when it comes time to eating real food, they refuse to.

Related: Feeding Toddlers: What, When and How Much To Feed 1- to 3-year-olds

2. Offer tiny amounts for a tiny toddler

When it comes to getting toddlers to eat, it’s also important to look at portion sizes.

Instead of overwhelming your toddler with an entire plate, or even a kid-sized portion of vegetables, try serving a tiny amount, such as a broccoli floret, a bean, or a piece of a shredded carrot.

It sounds silly, but serving small amounts is often a no-pressure ways for toddlers to eat.

But don’t expect success on the first try either. Studies show it can take serving small portions of the same food 15 to 20 times before kids will even take a bite, so stay consistent and be patient.

3. Take advantage of snack time

If your toddler loves to snack, take advantage of those opportunities to serve up the same healthy, whole foods you want them to eat at meal time.

Snacks should fill the void between meals, but if these mini-meals are the only way your toddler will eat until his appetite eventually improves, so be it.

4. Let your toddler decide when he’s hungry

Bribing, pleading, negotiating and other pressure tactics don’t work long-term and only create power struggles at the dinner table. 

When we constantly beg toddlers, “just take one more bite,” or “you can’t leave until you eat,” they never have the opportunity to recognize when they’re hungry, when they’re satisfied, and when they’ve had too much.

Just think about how many adults overeat or are emotional eaters because they never learned this lesson.

Related: 6 Tips to Help Moms Stop Emotional Eating

Eating meals with your toddler should be a positive experience, so serve healthy foods at meals and snacks, in age-appropriate portion sizes (see the AAP’s helpful guide) and let your child decide what—and how much—he wants to eat.

“Kids usually eat as much as they need. Your child’s brain will make sure they eat enough calories,” Cynthia L.E. Gellner, a pediatrician at the University of Utah said in this interview.

5. Add a dip

Not only do toddlers love finger foods they can dip in a sauce or dressing, but offering a dip makes plain ‘ol fruits and vegetables more palatable and interesting.

Pair cut up vegetables with hummus, a bean dip or a guacamole. Or serve apple slices with yogurt or peanut butter.

6. Let toddlers play with their food

Smelling food, pushing food around their plates or playing with their food are all considered poor table manners, but allowing it can encourage toddlers to eat.

In fact, kids who play with their food are more likely to try new flavors and a wider variety of foods, a July 2015 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests.

Encourage your toddler to touch, smell, and play with his food. Talk about the shapes, colors, texture and aroma of the foods on his plate.

If he takes a bite, that’s great, but the goal is to let him explore his food without feeling pressure to eat.

7. Don’t give up

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen parents make is labeling their toddlers picky eaters the second they refuse to eat.

Once they believe that to be true, they become desperate to get their kids to eat anything so they turn to easy, quick, processed foods and frozen kid-friendly meals.

I totally understand this is a real frustration for most parents.

Sometimes you’re so fed up with the picky eating behaviors or you’re tired from a long day that making something you know your kid will eat is your saving grace until bedtime.

Although this can be a quick fix, over time, it actually reinforces picky eating because kids don’t have the opportunity to eat real, healthy, whole foods.

Consistency is key, so do your best to offer healthy foods and the right portion sizes as much as possible. Let your toddler feed himself—whether he wants a small bite, the whole meal or nothing at all.

8. Talk to your toddler’s pediatrician

Just because most toddlers are picky eaters doesn’t mean your toddler’s picky eating is normal.

Some toddlers may have sensory issues or feeding problems that should be addressed by a doctor or specialist.

Put a call into your pediatrician to talk about your concerns and next steps.

5 Reasons You Should Bring Your Kids to the Farmers’ Market

5 Reasons You Should Bring Your Kids to the Farmers’ Market

Summer is all about soaking in the sunshine, dining al fresco and savoring the healthy superfoods the season has to offer.

Just like planting a garden or joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, going to the farmers’ market is a great way to encourage healthy eating and get your kids out of their picky eating habits. 

Here are 5 reasons you should consider bringing your kids to a farmers’ market this summer.

1. Cool, new fruits and vegetables

With several types of green leafy vegetables, and foods like heirloom tomatoes, yellow and purple carrots, and donut peaches, the variety of fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market is enough to spark your kid’s interest in healthy eating.

Let your kids pick out something new and then learn how to prepare and cook it together at home.

Related: 5 Surprising Benefits of Cooking With Your Kids

Most farmers’ markets also sell other products like eggs, cheese, local honey, grass-fed beef, herbs and flowers, breads and baked goods, and personal care products.

2. Get local and organic produce


Grocery stores sell organic produce, but since it’s picked weeks before it hits grocery store shelves, it’s not the freshest.

Unlike grocery stores, produce sold at the farmers’ market aren’t stored for long periods of time, treated with chemicals that extend their shelf life, or shipped long distances.

In fact, more than half of farmers travel less than 6 miles, according to a report by the USDA.

When you shop the famers’ market, you’re getting fruits and vegetables that are ripe, and picked and sold the same day.

As a result, they’re fresher and tastier than store-bought produce and more nutritious, Preston Andrews, PhD, a plant researcher stated in this article.

In addition, although not all famers sell organic produce, 47 percent do sell some type of organic products.

Although prices vary at farmers’ markets, you might get a better deal on organic produce than you would at the grocery store, one report found.

3. Kids get to meet the farmers

When you bring your kids to the farmers’ market, they have a unique opportunity to meet the farmers who grow the food.

Kids can learn about new varieties of produce from the farmer, learn how and where the food is grown, and for speciality vendors, how the products are made.

Meeting the local farmers is also a great opportunity to get personalized recommendations about how to prepare and cook foods and get recipes.

4. Encourages healthy eating

When you bring your child to the farmers’ market and let them pick out new fruits and vegetables, they feel empowered to make their own healthy eating choices.

In fact, a 2018 study found that when kids were given $15 to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at a farmers’ market, their diets improved.

The kids were also more likely to shop at the famers’ market than those who didn’t receive the stipend.

5. Farmers’ markets are fun for kids

Select farmers’ markets across the country have implemented programs to teach kids about healthy eating and make their visits a fun experience.

Take the Power of Produce (POP) Club at the Oregon City Farmers Market.

There, kids get $2 every time they visit the farm to purchase their own fruits and vegetables, and they lean how to plant sunflower seeds, and make salads and jam, for example.

Some farmers’ markets also have cooking demonstrations and classes, entertainment, and other fun activities, for example.

Do you bring your kids to the farmers’ market? In what ways has it encouraged healthy eating?

25 Healthy Avocado Recipes for Kids

25 Healthy Avocado Recipes for Kids

Along with strawberries and cherries, avocado (it’ also a fruit!), is one of the healthiest and most delicious foods you can serve your kids.

Guacamole, avocado toast or added to green smoothies are some tried and true ways to serve them up.

But there are so many healthy avocado recipes that the options are endless.

My kids are big fans of avocado—whether it’s in a salad, mixed with sweet corn, tomato and red onion, and of course served with tortilla chips.

Here, learn a bit why avocados are healthy for kids, and get 20 healthy avocado recipes to try.

Avocados are a superfood for kids


Tons of vitamins and minerals

With 20 vitamins and minerals including vitamins B5, B6, C, E, K, folate and potassium, your kids will get a ton of nutrition without a lot of calories.

Avocados also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids, or plant pigments found in the eyes that can improve memory and processing speed, one study found.

Eating avocado alongside nutrient-dense vegetables helps to improve the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, K and E.

 


Healthy fats

 

Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, or the healthy fats that can help reduce bad cholesterol and the risk for heart disease later on in life.

 

The polyunsaturated fats found in avocado are also vital for brain growth and development during pregnancy, infancy and childhood.

 

  

 

Filling fiber

 

Avocado is a great source of fiber, which helps to satisfy kids’ hunger, help them feel fuller longer, prevent weight gain and cure constipation.

 


Related: How Much Fiber Do Kids Need?
 

 

 

 

25 Healthy Avocado Recipes for Kids

 

Mashed, blended, scooped or cut up into cubes, there are so many ways to serve avocado. 

 

Avocado makes a healthy first food for baby or as a substitute for mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup, or for butter in baked goods.

 

Here are some healthy and delicious ways to serve avocado.

 

 

Breakfast

 

 1. Butternut Squash Avocado Muffins

 

2. Tropical Avocado Breakfast Parfait

 

3. Avocado Toast

 

4. Avocado Pineapple Smoothie Bowl

 

5. Bacon and Eggs in a Mason Jar Topped with Avocado, Tomato and Basil

 


Lunch

 

6. California Grilled Chicken Avocado and Mango Salad

 

7. Chilled Avocado Soup

 

8. Avocado and Cheese Toasties

 

9. Avocado Egg Salad

 

10. Avocado and Cheese Roll-Ups

 


Dinner

 

11. Summer Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad with Creamy Buttermilk-Dijon Dressing

 

12. Avocado Chicken Enchiladas

 

13. Avocado Cilantro Lime Rice

 

14. Tortilla Soup

 

15. Summer Goodness Millet Salad

 

16. Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad

 

17. Avocado Pasta

 


Snacks and Desserts

 

 

18. The Easiest 4-Ingredient Guacamole

 

19. Avocado Fries With Lime Dipping Sauce

 

20. Avocado Chocolate Mousse

 

21. Vegan Brownies

 

22. Mint Chocolate Avocado Ice Cream

 

23. Creamy Avocado Lime Parfaits

 

24. Coconut Avocado Popsicles

 

25. Chocolate Avocado Pudding Pops

 

What are your favorite avocado recipes? Let me know in the comments!

 

6 Reasons Cherries Are Healthy For Kids + Recipes!

6 Reasons Cherries Are Healthy For Kids + Recipes!

Cherries are one of the most healthy and delicious fruits during the spring and summer months and a favorite in U.S. households: people consume more than 2 pounds of cherries each year.

Whether you add them to a lunch box, serve them as a snack or dish them up as an after-dinner treat, chances are, they’ll be a hit with your kids.

Not only do kids love to eat bite-sized foods, but they also get to be in control and feel empowered to choose how much they want to eat, which may encourage them to make healthy choices at other times of the day too.

It goes without saying however, that if you have little ones, be sure to pit the cherries to prevent choking. Since they have a tough texture, it may also be a good idea to puree them if you’re serving them to an infant.

Read on to discover 5 reasons why cherries are healthy for kids, plus some healthy and delicious recipes.

1. Rich in antioxidants

Cherries are high in polyphenols and vitamin C, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Vitamin C in particular, is important for skin, bones and connective tissue, promotes healing, helps the body to absorb iron and helps in the formation of neurotransmitters, or the body’s chemical messengers.

2. Supports brain health

Cherries are also rich in anthocyanin, an antioxidant that provides their rich red pigment.

Anthocyanin is also known to support cognitive and motor function and improve visual and neurological health.

Studies in mice suggest consuming cherries also supports brain health, improves memory, and prevents Alzheimer’s disease.

3. High in fiber

Since most kids don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, they’re falling short on fiber which is necessary to satiate hunger, keep blood sugar levels steady and prevent constipation.

Studies also show eating plenty of fiber lowers the risk for heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

In fact, a January 2019 review in The Lancet found compared to people who ate less fiber, those who ate more fiber had a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, colon cancer and a risk of dying early from any cause, by 15 to 30 percent.

With more than 3 grams of fiber in one cup, cherries will help kids get the fiber they need.

4. May prevent type-2 diabetes

Cherries have a low glycemic load so they don’t spike blood sugar and insulin levels, which may prevent type-2 diabetes, a condition that’s on the rise among kids

5. Heart-healthy

Although the research is still unclear, some studies suggest drinking tart cherry juice or consuming cherries may lower levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure—all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

In fact, a small June 2019 study published in the Journal of Functional Foods found consuming the juice of Montmorency cherries reduced insulin levels and blood pressure.

Although heart disease isn’t something to be concerned about when your child is young, what they eat today can set the stage for their diet—and their health—well into the future. 

6. May make bedtime easier

If you have little ones, bedtime is one of the most dreaded times of the day to begin with.

But older children may get less sleep than they need because of electronics use, evening activities, homework, and a lack of sleep rules such as a sticking with a consistent bedtime, for example. 

Instead of turning to a melatonin supplement, which experts say is a concern for kids, eating a handful of cherries may help.

In fact, a December 2012 study in the European Journal of Nutrition suggests consuming tart cherry juice can improve the duration and quality of sleep.

That’s because cherries are the only natural source of melatonin, Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and best-selling author said in this article.

Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycles.

Healthy Cherry Recipes

Here are some of my favorite healthy cherry recipes to try.

Brown Butter Cherry Bars by Tutti Dolci

Fresh Cherry Sauce by The Brewer & The Baker

Cherry Almond Smoothie by Hungry Girl For Vida

Super Detox Salad by Well Plated

Cherry Chocolate Hazelnut Muffins by Hip Foodie Mom

Cherry Pomegranate Limeade Popsicles by Chef Savvy

Do your kids eat cherries? How do you serve them? Let me know in the comments.