If you’re feeding a vegetarian toddler, it’s actually pretty easy to offer them a well balanced diet, you might just need to consider the 4 main food groups a little more to make sure you’re offering everything they need.
Supplements for vegetarian toddlers:
Children don’t actually need extra supplements on a vegetarian diet. The supplements that are recommended to ALL toddlers over one (or when having less than 500mls of formula milk) are vitamins A, C and D.
Vitamin A is often found in cheese, egg, milk and yogurt but it’s also found (as beta carotene which is converted in the body to vitamin A) in dark green leafy vegetables and orange fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables mainly.
Vitamin D is hard to get from foods alone and comes mainly from exposure to sunlight.
In the UK our government recommend children 1-5 have a daily supplement containing all three of these nutrients.
For vegetarian children, they don’t really need much more than this, especially if they do consume dairy foods (dairy foods are one of the main sources of iodine in the UK diet) and eggs (contain a variety of important minerals including iodine and selenium).
However, if no fish is consumed, it is important to offer plenty of other foods which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this includes flaxseed oil, ground walnuts and tofu. If you’re worried your little one is vegetarian and doesn’t eat enough of these foods then you might want to consider an omega-3 supplement. You can get ones based on algae which are suitable for vegetarians. Have a chat with your pharmacist for more info.
Read more here about supplements recommended for your child.
Balancing a vegetarian toddler’s diet:
Other than that, feeding a vegetarian toddler is just about balance and trying to offer plenty of foods from each of the main food groups:
- Starchy carbohydrates - such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, chapatti, quinoa, couscous – try to choose some wholegrain options too.
- Fruit and vegetables – choose a variety of these and remember tinned (in water or juice), frozen and fresh are all fine to offer. All fruits and veggies count.
- Protein/iron rich foods – these include ground nuts and seeds, beans, lentils, pulses, hummus, tofu, soya beans. Children who are vegetarian should aim for 3 portions of these each day
- Dairy foods or alternatives – milk, yogurt and cheese all count and if you’re choosing non-dairy options then you might need further supplements for your little one, so have a chat with your GP and HV about what you might need, or see my blog on supplement recommendations which includes information on this.
My top tips for a vegetarian diet:
- Think VARIETY and offer plenty of variety in colours, textures and tastes each day.
- Experiment with some less common ingredients at home. Tofu can be a really nutrient rich option and flaxseed oil can be a great addition to cold foods, for example.
- Think about getting the extras in – a sprinkle of ground nuts/milled seeds or adding eggs to pies or adding some beans to your dinners can really help to add extra nutrients, calories, textures and flavours to meals.
- Add extra protein/iron rich foods to their diet – try and offer your little one 3 portions of these foods each day. Chickpeas, black beans, lentils, tofu, nut butters, dairy and eggs are all helpful sources.
- Add vitamin C rich foods alongside iron rich foods. This may actually help increase absorption of iron. Red peppers, oranges, berries, sweet potato, kale, sprouts and kiwi are all good sources of vitamin C.
- Bulk out snacks. Try to make more of any snacks you do offer, so they are having nutrient rich options. Milk with crackers, veggie sticks and a hummus dip, a small piece of toast with peanut butter or yogurt and fruit are some good examples.
- Offer the recommended supplements containing vitamin A, C and D, as a safeguard each day.
- Opt for fortified foods sometimes – eggs, milks, breakfast cereals can be fortified and can offer a good dose of nutrients into your little one’s diet.
- Vary the types of carbohydrates – there are so many options of carbohydrates out there, so think outside the box and offer noodles, quinoa, bulgur wheat, giant couscous, barley as well as staples like bread, rice and potatoes.
- Offer dairy foods and eggs regularly if they are part of your vegetarian child’s diet. These foods can contain some of the nutrients that are included in meat such as B vitamins, zinc, iodine and iron, so it’s a good idea to offer these fairly regularly to your child.
I hope this lends a helping hand when planning a vegetarian diet for your little one.
Other useful information resources: