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Improve your health through plant-based eating

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and nutrients.

With the myriad of meatless foods to choose from these days — in stores or online — anyone wanting to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle can do so with ease, including children.

“There are so many natural and man-made products out at the market now that consuming a meat-free diet can be relatively easy with some additional planning,” said Kelly Devine Rickert, a registered dietitian at Franciscan Health.

Laura McDonald, of Highland, agrees. McDonald is a vegetarian, her husband is a meat-eater and her 10-year-old son, Jack, has chosen to be a vegetarian as well. Jack does not eat meat or fish.

“It is easier than ever to eat meatless,” McDonald said. “There are so many options available in this day and age. Our current favorite go-to product is a vegetarian lentil chili; Jack asks for it every day. He is also a big fan of the vegan hotdog and on the weekends his favorite lunch is bean tostadas.

“We have always been in favor of Jack making his own decisions on this matter once equipped with the proper information. We respect Jack's opinions and feelings on the subject and will support him regardless of what dietary lifestyle he chooses going forward.” 

McDonald said that Jack ate eggs when he was younger, but the older he gets, he is moving away from eating eggs for humane purposes.

“He will eat pizza and have an occasional milk at school, but at home we do not buy milk and keep away from dairy products,” she said.

Jack gets some of his daily protein from eggs, but McDonald said the majority comes from legumes, nuts and seeds.

“He likes tofu, soy milk, edamame, beans, lentils, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds and more,” McDonald said.

According to Devine Rickert, when it comes to protein, all animal sources of protein will provide all the required essential amino acids — beef, chicken, eggs, dairy, etc.

“With some plant-based foods, they may not always contain all the essential amino acids so you need to combine some plant-based foods together to make a more complete protein. Think beans and rice,” Devine Rickert said.

“Some plant-based foods are complete proteins and they are soy, quinoa, chia, hemp and amaranth. Keep in mind if a vegetarian eats dairy and eggs then they are consuming enough complete proteins throughout the day.”

Devine Rickert said iron, vitamin D and B12 can be common nutrients that vegetarian kids can be deficient in.

“Between 7 and 15 mcg of iron, depending on age and gender, should be consumed daily,” she said. “To enhance iron absorption, consume foods such as tofu, dried beans and peas, dried fruits, leafy dark green vegetables, iron-fortified breakfast cereals, breads and pastas with a serving of vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption,” Devine Rickert said.

Some foods that contain vitamin C are oranges, tomatoes, broccoli and strawberries.

“Grocery shopping and planning out a weekly menu can ensure that children are getting a wide variety of nutrients needed for growth and energy,” she said.