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41 – Putting your Vegetarian Toddler on the Fast Track to Health

Though many people have the idea that feeding a toddler a vegetarian diet isn’t safe, so long as parents take care to make sure that all the appropriate nutrients are met, it’s actually quite healthy. Some benefits to a lifelong, proper vegetarian diet include a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

The main problem with vegetarianism and toddler nutrition is making sure your child gets enough nutrients and calories. Calorie consumption is important for ensuring your toddler has the energy he needs to play hard and grow.

It can be challenging to develop a well-rounded vegetarian toddler menu that provides enough protein and iron. Since toddlers already have such a small appetite, it can be difficult to get them to eat enough vegetables or beans to receive all of their nutrients. Therefore, it is important that vegetarian children are served nutrient-dense foods.

Soybeans and tofu are a great source of protein for adults and children over four. For toddlers, though, it shouldn’t be used as their main source of protein. In this instance, compliment the tofu or soybeans that you serve with soymilk that has been fortified with vitamins and minerals. Not only will this help provide some protein, it will also help your toddler’s nutrition by providing calcium, and vitamins A and D, which can often be hard to get in a vegan diet.

Iron can be found in many vegetarian-friendly foods. Kidney beans, lima beans, green beans, and spinach are all excellent sources of iron. However, unlike iron derived from animal sources, iron from vegetables can be hard for your body to absorb properly. But serving a vitamin C rich food with those beans or spinach can make the iron easier for your toddler to absorb. Some great sources of vitamin C include tomatoes, oranges, broccoli, red peppers, and cantaloupe.

While it is possible to raise a healthy vegan, it can take a bit more work. You may need to supplement your toddler’s diet to ensure they get all the nutrition that they need. Vitamin B-12 can be especially difficult for vegans to get enough of. While vegetables contain some B-12 vitamins, the body does not easily absorb these. Your toddler’s healthcare provider can help you decide on a B-12 suitable for toddlers.

A diet that does not allow for calcium can also be detrimental to your child’s health. Calcium helps to make bones stronger and aids in proper growth and development. Choose soymilk that is calcium-fortified, but be sure it’s also fortified with other nutrients that your toddler needs for good nutrition.

 

42 – Sample Menu Items for your Growing Vegetarian Toddler

Vegetarian child. The term almost sounds like an oxymoron we’ve joked about through the years, like jumbo shrimp. The words just don’t seem to go together! It's not as unnatural as it may sound. Actually, kids are almost natural vegetarians. It’s imperative that you offer your growing vegetarian child a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and soy based proteins to ensure they have the energy and nutrients needed to grow up strong, healthy, and happy. Consider including items in your daily menu planning for a well-rounded, nutrient-dense healthy diet:

2.5-3 cups fortified soymilk
1/4-1/2 cup iron-fortified cereal

2-5 servings grains (1/2 slice bread, 1/4 cup cooked rice, pasta, quinoa, etc)

2-3 servings veggies (1/2 cup salad or raw veggies, 1/4 cup cooked veggies—bear in mind that the younger your child is, cooked vegetables might be easier for them to chew and digest, then introduce raw veggies as they grow older.)

2-3 servings fruit (1/2 fresh fruit, 1/4 cup cooked fruit, 1/4 cup juice)

2 servings protein foods (1/4 -1/3 cup cooked beans/lentils, a slice or so of calcium-fortified tofu, or peanut or almond butter – be sure that nut butters are fed to children who’ve been tested and shown not to have nut allergies; if you’re unsure, wait until your child’s healthcare provider has had the opportunity to test for such allergies in your child before trying them)

Vitamin B-12 source - nutritional yeast, breast milk, formula, fortified soy milks and cheeses

Vitamin D - sunlight, breast milk, formula, fortified soy milk

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids - flaxseed oil, freshly ground flaxseed

And here’s some finger-food friendly options for your growing vegetarian toddler:

Fresh or frozen mango

Fresh or frozen peaches/nectarines/plums

Cubed avocado

Tofu (put in microwave or steam for 10-30 seconds

Fresh or frozen peas

Pasta that is slightly overcooked

Cubed soy or rice cheeses

Canned beans- black, garbanzo, black eyed peas, or kidney

Toast, cut into little pieces

 

37 – The Healing Effects a Vegetarian Diet has on your Post-Baby Body

The breastfeeding vegetarian diet doesn’t vary all that much from the pregnancy vegetarian diet. Protein recommendations are the same, vitamin B-12 recommendations are higher, and the recommendations for iron and calories are lower than during pregnancy. But the key in ensuring your healthy vegetarian diet is also helping you recover from the stresses of giving birth and taking care of your newborn is healthy fats. Healthy fats and oils play active roles in every stage of the body’s healing, building, and maintenance processes. In fact, they are as important to an active individual’s body as amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. Healthy fats and oils help convert light and sound into electrical nerve impulses, remove potentially toxic substances from sensitive tissue, and provide strength to cell membranes.

The key is in balancing fats from a variety of foods. All foods that contain dietary fat contain a combination of fatty acids-the chemical building blocks of fat. Learning about the mixture of fatty acids in your diet will help you figure out how to choose foods with the good fats and avoid those foods that contain the bad fats.

For healthy fats, look to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These can readily be found in a variety of vegetables, oils, and nuts, such as avocados, almonds, and olive oil. These help your body to resist attack from free radicals, which are specially formed types of atoms that can damage your body’s cells when they react with DNA or cell membranes-better than other fats and thus are less prone to stick to your arteries.

Polyunsaturated fats occur in food either as omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. The key to eating healthy polyunsaturated fats is to maintain the right balance of omega-3 acids-found abundantly in flax, walnuts and canola oil-with omega-6 acids, found in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and sesame.




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