A Wholesome Start: Vegetarian Toddler Nutrition

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A vegetarian diet can support the healthy growth of toddlers and preschoolers – if it is done right. Since these years are key when establishing eating habits for life, it’s important to give your toddler a solid foundation, especially if you choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Kids who can learn to appreciate and enjoy greens, fruit, and grains at a young age are going to be set up for a lifetime of solid eating choices.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,

Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. It is much easier to build a nutritious diet from plant foods than from animal products […] As for essential nutrients, plant foods are preferred sources because they provide sufficient energy and protein packaged with other health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Below are some helpful tips and information of key nutrients that are important to remember when feeding your budding vegetarian.

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Key Nutrients in a Vegetarian Diet:

Protein – found in beans and legumes, grains, tofu, tempeh and other fermented soy products, nuts and nut butters, dairy, eggs

As long as he is eating a good mix of greens, beans, and veggies, your toddler’s protein intake should be sufficient.

Vitamin D – fifteen minutes of playtime in the sun every day; also found in milk and fortified milk replacements

Calcium – found in green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, almonds and almond butter, milk and yogurt, calcium-set tofu, fortified milk substitutes (soy, coconut, almond), fortified orange juice

Iron – found in whole grains and cereals, dried fruits, beans and legumes, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals

Try to pair plant-based foods containing iron with foods containing vitamin C (citrus, tomatoes, fruit, and more) as it promotes iron absorption!

Zinc – found in whole grains, nuts, beans, hard cheeses, tofu, fermented soy products

Vitamin B12 – eggs, dairy products, B12-fortified nutritional yeast, fortified milk replacements, fortified cereals

B12 is one of the few nutrients that isn’t easily found in a varied, wholesome plant-based diet, but is crucial for growth and development. If your toddler loves dairy, her B12 intake should be fine – if not, consider fortified foods or a supplement.

Fiber – found in whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, fruit, vegetables

We all know a diet high in fiber is good for adults, but it fills up small toddler tummies quickly and may cause children to feel full before eating enough. High fiber foods should also be high in calories, or try lower fiber foods like fruit.

Fats – found in nuts and nut butters, avocados, tofu, hummus, oils

Healthy fats are important for growth and brain development. Aim to provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocado, nut butters, tofu) and linoleic oil (canola, flaxseed, soy products).

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Helpful Tips:

The key to success with a vegetarian diet is mindfulness and planning!

Make every bite count – pack in plenty of protein, vitamins, and good fats.

Keep things fun by offering a variety of foods and introducing new ones frequently.

Toddlers are experts at mimicking. Make sure you’re eating your greens, too!

A well-balanced vegetarian diet contains things like nuts and fruit. Be sure to limit choking risk for toddlers by grinding nuts, halving or quartering grapes small fruits, and finely cutting vegetables and fruits – and of course, always supervise consumption of these foods!

Be sure to maintain regular checkups with your pediatrician, and listen to their recommendations.

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Vegan Society

Vegetarian Nutrition

Modern Mom

Sources of Plant Based Protein for Toddlers

Kenny Louie at flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_kennymatic
Photo credit: Kenny Louie

As young eaters begin their transition from milk and smooth textures to a variety of finger foods, it doesn’t take long to notice a toddler’s preferences in terms of taste, temperature, and texture. During this transitional phase when many toddlers may only accept certain foods (don’t give up!), many parents worry about whether or not their child is getting enough nutrients. One common area of concern is protein.

Studies have shown that babies between 12 and 24 months of age typically consume about 14-19 ounces of breast milk or formula per day, accounting for about 50% of the baby’s nutritional needs. The amount of protein typically found per ounce of breast milk is almost 0.4 grams, meaning the amount found in those 14-19 ounces usually ranges between 5.3 grams and 7.3 grams. Children between the ages of one and three years old need 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. So what do all these numbers and measurements come down to? Basically, if the average 28 pound toddler needs 16 grams of protein every day, he or she is getting just under half that amount from milk or formula, leaving the other half to solid foods.

So where can toddlers fulfill the rest of their protein needs? Meat or dairy aren’t the only sources of protein available for this job. Here are five plant-based, high-protein foods with a variety of flavors and textures for new eaters to choose from!

1. Green Peas
In only half a cup, green peas provide 4 grams of protein, plus lots of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. Peas are a fun finger food and easy to serve cooked whole or mashed and added to other soft foods such as mashed potatoes.

2. Cooked Oatmeal
Each half-cup of cooked oatmeal provides about 3 grams of protein, as well as plenty of carbohydrates. Many parents begin with warm cereal like oatmeal to introduce babies to semi-solid foods, but one important tip to keep in mind is to avoid offering sweetened oatmeal initially. This will help prevent a “sweet tooth” from emerging early on, and will help baby try a wider range of foods before craving the sweet stuff.

3. Brown Rice
Brown rice provides about 2.5 grams of protein for every half-cup, making it a great source for toddlers who may love eating the fluffy or sticky grains off their fingers. It may get a bit messy, but brown rice can be a tasty complement to nearly anything!

4. Avocado
Every half-cup of avocado holds about 1.5 grams of protein, in addition to plenty of the healthy fats they’re famous for. Avocado is also quite versatile–it can be served in slices, mashed in a bowl, or blended with many other foods, including baked goods! (Just swap some or all of the butter in a recipe for avocado!) The slight sweetness and soft texture appeal to many first-time eaters.

5. Hummus
One little tablespoon of hummus provides 1.2 grams of protein, making it the most protein-packed contender per serving size on this list! To avoid potentially irritating baby’s system with pre-made hummus that typically includes garlic (which some gassy babies may be sensitive to), tahini (a sesame product that toddlers at risk for a sesame allergy should avoid), and spices, make your own at home by blending cooked chickpeas, a little olive oil, and any other veggie you like that baby can eat. Show your toddler how to dip crackers or other finger foods in, and he or she will be thrilled to imitate!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Baylor College of Medicine
KellyMom
Parenting Science