Some vegetarian children are that way because that's how their family eats. Other youngsters, almost all usually in their teens and predominantly female, have made their own decision to ban meat from their diet.
Most nutrition experts and dietitians say that children of any age—even infants—can safely follow a vegetarian diet, but planning and daily close attention to the diet are involved to be sure that children receive the proper nutrients, especially if their diet does not include eggs and dairy products.
Vegetarian diets come in several flavors!
Vegans or total vegetarians eat food that comes from plant sources only.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs but no meat.
Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products, but no eggs or meat.
Semi-vegetarians do not eat red meat, but include fish and chicken, dairy, eggs, and plant foods.
Flexitarians are mostly vegetarians who do eat meats occasionally.
Vegans are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency and may need a B12 supplement. Vitamin B12, crucial for development, is found only in animal products. Female vegans, who are the majority of all vegans, may require iron supplements to maintain adequate iron levels. If an iron supplement is necessary, pair it with a vitamin C-rich food or drink to enhance iron absorption. Avoid taking the supplement with dairy products as calcium inhibits iron absorption. The phenolic compounds found in coffee and teas also inhibit the absorption of iron. Before starting an iron supplement, check with your child's doctor to see if a supplement is necessary.
Vegans can increase their calcium intake through certain vegetables such as broccoli, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, collards, and kale, as well as calcium fortified fruit juices such as orange juice. Calcium fortified orange juice has more calcium by volume than whole milk.
Here are some specific ages and concerns:
Infants breastfed by vegan mothers. These infants will need a vitamin supplement or the mother may need to add Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast to her diet to treat vitamin B12 deficiency. Before starting any supplement, the nursing mother needs to consult her health care provider.
Toddlers. As with any toddler, vegan toddlers may be picky eaters. Vitamin and mineral supplementation may be necessary.
Children and preadolescents. Those who do not drink milk may have difficulty meeting recommended calcium intake.
Children and adolescents. Excess dietary fiber intake in children and adolescents may lead to mild trace mineral deficiencies since fiber interferes with the uptake of some trace minerals.
Children. Vegans and lacto-vegetarians may need iron supplementation.
Adolescent females. Those who are vegan may be deficient in vitamin B12 and iron.
Adolescent males and females. They frequently don't meet daily calcium requirements.
All ages. Maintaining adequate caloric intake at any age may require a higher percentage of calories as fat since, with the exception of starchy vegetables, there are few calories in fruits and vegetables compared to meat, milk, and eggs.