Believe It Or Not: Kids Who Really Like Their Veggies
What should parents do? "Diets that only exclude meat and fish [but do include milk, eggs, cheese] are usually fine for kids provided that parents give a 'complete' multivitamin/mineral supplement to make up any shortfalls," says Susan Roberts, PhD, chief of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston.
However, "you have to make sure that fat doesn't get extremely low [less than 30% fat]," she tells WebMD. "Other than that, provided you include regular amounts of a vegetarian protein plus a rotating balance of other healthy foods, your kids should be fine." Because diets with less than 30% fat have not been studied, she advises avoiding them in very young children.
"Vegan and macrobiotic diets are another matter entirely," Roberts tells WebMD. In her recent book, Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health, she concludes that such diets are not safe. Vegan is a diet in which someone eats food only from plant sources and avoids all animal-based supplements. Vegan is the strictest vegetarian diet. A macrobiotic diet is a type of vegan diet but with more protein and nutrients.
Robert says, "There are multiple deficiencies commonly linked to [vegan and macrobiotic] diets, including calcium, vitamin B-12, etc. And we now know that deficiencies in childhood can have permanent effects. I strongly recommend that kids should not be given these diets. If parents follow them, they should consider adding milk, eggs, and cheese plus the multivitamin/mineral supplement to keep their kids from developing any deficiencies."
Very often, people use loose definitions of "vegetarian," says Sheah Rarback, RD, director of nutrition at Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami. "I've had people who come in and say 'I'm a vegetarian. ... I don't eat fish or I don't eat red meat or fish, or I eat it once in a while. There are so many different levels of being a vegetarian."
With any vegetarian diet, parents must make sure their child gets necessary nutrients, which means consulting with a pediatrician and registered dietitian who can evaluate the diet and check for deficiencies, Rarback tells WebMD. While vitamin and mineral supplements can correct some deficiencies, so can eating the right foods.