There are a lot of vegetarians among teenagers in the United States
According to the data from the nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group, between 2% and 3% of the American children ages 8 to 18 never eat meat, including poultry or seafood, including fish. Among girls ages 13 to 15, the percentage of vegetarians is much higher at 11%. This is a very significant number!
Most studies about undernourished vegetarian children were conducted in poor third-world countries
Just like people have a lot of misconceptions about vegetarian diets being deficient in proteins and vegetarian diets not being appropriate for pregnant women, many think that children who eat vegetarian foods don’t grow as well as they should. However, most of the studies about growth problems and vegetarian children have happened in developing countries where children didn’t have enough to eat or had diets limited in the variety of nutrients.
You can measure growth progress using medical growth charts
Doctors have growth charts that they use to estimate growth progress of children by measuring height and weight. You can be doing the same at home. The numbers may vary, but what’s important is that a child continues growing at a certain rate.
Growth rates for all children are similar
Growth rates are the same for vegetarian children and for children who eat meat. Specific numbers may be different because different children grow at different speeds. If your child is growing at a constant rate that stays stable, you have nothing to worry about.
Make sure that vegetarian children are getting enough calories
Vegetarian diets for children need to be different from those for adults because many of the vegetarian foods are not calorie dense. You need to make sure that your child is getting enough calories, which often means giving some high-calorie vegetarian foods to children. Add more breads, peas, and cereals to provide your children with enough vegetarian calories.
Make sure that vegetarian children are getting enough vitamins and minerals
When it comes to vitamins and minerals for growing children, you need to pay attention to certain elements. These elements include proteins, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and vitamin D. The basic principle is that you want to have variety in your child’s diet, include calorie-rich foods and make sure that the child is getting vitamins B12 and D in adequate amounts.
You need to pay special attention to protein
Often, protein intake and calorie malnutrition are interrelated. When a child does not get enough calories, his or her body starts burning protein to get energy. When the diet has enough calories, the body uses protein to build new cells. The exact amount of protein a child needs depends on a number of factors, including physical activity levels, age, weight, and height.
Keep up with calcium
Calcium is extremely important in bone growth and formation, which is why children need a lot of calcium when they are growing. The recommendation by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies is 1.3 grams of calcium per day for kids ages 9 through 18.
Keep up with iron
Many foods that are great sources of calcium are also great sources of iron, including dark greens and soybeans. The recommended amount for children ages 9 to 13 is 8 milligrams of iron per day, for boys ages 14 to 18 – 11 milligrams, girls ages 14 to 18 – 15 milligrams.
Add vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements
All vegetarians, including children, need reliable sources of vitamins B12 and D. If you have any doubts about whether your kids are getting enough of these vitamins, add a supplement to their diet. If your children eat dairy products such as eggs and cheeses, they should have no problems with getting enough of vitamin B12 through their diet.