A well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthy for children. Young vegan children tend to be slightly smaller but still within normal growth ranges. And they tend to catch up to other children in size as they get older.
If you are raising a child on a vegetarian diet, consider the following:
- Babies who get only breast milk should have supplements of iron after the age of 4 to 6 months. (This is not necessary if you add iron-fortified infant cereal to the child's diet at this age.)
- A vitamin D supplement may be appropriate for children under 1 year of age. Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of vitamin D are right for your child.
- Breast-fed babies of vegan mothers need vitamin B12 supplements if the mother's diet is not fortified.
- Children younger than 2 years need the extra fat in whole milk for brain and nerve development. Don't give them low-fat or fat-free milk. If you are using soy milk instead of cow's milk, make sure that it's full-fat soy milk, and talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to make sure your child is getting enough fat.
- Vegan diets can contain a lot of fiber. Fiber is great because it fills you up without adding a lot of calories. But children have small stomachs, and the fiber they eat can fill them up before they get enough calories. Frequent meals and snacks—with plenty of cereals, legumes, and nuts—will help children get the energy and nutrients they need for healthy growth.