Justine Davies

Justine Davies

I have recently decided to become a vegetarian (ethical reasons, not health). I’ve been unhappy about the whole eating meat thing for a while now so it’s a decision that I’m very comfortable with.

Ideally I’d like my whole family to become vegetarian as well, but DH won’t have a bar of it – he loves steak and hamburgers and bacon. So that’s fine, I’m happy to cook his meals with meat in them.

I really want my kids to be vegetarian though and that’s where DH and I have a bit of conflict. He thinks they should keep eating meat until they are old enough to make their own decision. I think it makes more sense if they don’t eat meat until they’re old enough to choose for themselves. Isn’t it better to avoid doing something you might regret with the option of doing it later, rather than doing it and then regretting it down the track?

Is it healthy for children to have a vegetarian diet?

Is it healthy for children to have a vegetarian diet?

What I’d like to know though is are there any health problems with kids being vegetarian (DD is 4 and DS is almost 2).

Sophie.

Hi Sophie. An interesting one! You are certainly far more ambitious that I would ever be (speaking as a Mum whose middle child consumes very little apart from meat, fish and milk). From the “ethics” side of it – I guess my gut feel is that there are enough things we make kids feel guilty about as it is, without throwing meat into the mix. But that’s just me.

From a health and nutrition point of view I have asked the advice of dietician and spokesperson for the Dietician’s Association of Australia Julie Gilbert, who runs the Brisbane-based Solutions Food Management. And Sophie, the good news is that there are no health problems with encouraging your children to adopt a vegetarian diet.

“Under twelve months of age I wouldn’t recommend placing children on a vegetarian diet, mainly because at that stage they really need the proteins and fat that are available in meat,” says Julie. “However a parent could easily put in place a healthy and nutritious vegetarian diet for two and four-year olds.

According to Julie the main issue is making sure that your children still get enough iron and protein in their diet, which you can do by ensuring that they eat plenty of:

• Wholegrain bread and cereals
• Nuts
• Legumes and pulses
• Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach).

“Also make sure that your kids get plenty of Vitamin C –rich foods as this will help them to actually absorb the iron that they’re eating,” says Julie. “And Calcium is the other concern; if you are using soy milk then make sure that you get one that has been fortified with calcium.

Also remember that children still need saturated fat in their diets, so don’t exclude fat-rich products such as avocado and nuts.”

So there you are – no adverse health consequences. Good luck with your endeavour, Sophie - but don't make the kids feel too guilty either way!

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