Is It Safe For A Child To Follow A Vegetarian Diet?

Michelle Bailey, M.D, Duke

Question: Is it safe for a child to follow a vegetarian diet?

Answer:Parents often ask if it's safe for their children to follow a vegetarian diet. The short answer is yes. A vegetarian diet can be a very healthy diet for a growing child. The American Dietetic Association has said that vegetarian diets are appropriate throughout the life cycle for humans. So that includes infants all the way up through adolescents.

During infancy, many children are already vegetarians. Their primary diet source is milk, whether it's human milk or formula.

The keys to making sure that your child is getting enough nutrients is in planning. You may need to seek assistance from a nutritionist or from your child's health care provider. The American Dietetic Association also has useful information and resources on their website.

The mainstay of a vegetarian diet is variety. Offering your child the different colors of the rainbow as you incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diet, making sure that they having adequate amounts of protein that are either coming from nuts, eggs, milk and legumes, and then also ensuring that your child gets appropriate nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium, which are essential to bone health, as well as iron. Without iron, children can become anemic, and this can impair the growth process.

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