Can children grow normally on a vegetarian diet?
Is it safe? Or are there any known risks?
A very good article regarding vegetarian eating for children and adolescents, from a medical source can be found here. It is quite long and covers the main problems related to possible nutritional deficiencies: protein, Cobalamin (B12), Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Vitamin D, Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
It also covers possible growth and Development Issues.
Short answer is that children can develop normally on a vegetarian diet.
An official statement from an important Dietetic Association can be found here (my emphasis):
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.
Yes, it is safe to feed your children the vegetarian diet.
I have grown up as a vegetarian. Most of the meals would include
- Stir-fried vegetables
- Freshly made Chapati/Indian bread (from the wheat/chickpea/Bajra, Jowar and Soya ground into flour at home)
- Enough pulses or lentils (Yellow pigeon lentil, Green gram, red lentils to name a few)
- Beans (Mung beans, kidney beans, Chickpeas, Black-eyed peas, Dew gram beans)
- For sweets, we never had anything made up of food-grade gelatin (whose preparation requires animal fat). It was mostly Dates with Ghee/ clarified butter, sweet buckwheat halwa with jaggery and clarified butter.
- Nuts like overnight water-soaked peanuts, cashews, and almonds were amongst the first things that we ate in the morning.
- Seeds like Linseeds and roasted coriander seeds were eaten after every meal
- Milk, Yogurt and Cheese were also included in daily meals
- Spices like Kurkuma, Coriander, and Cumin powder, Black pepper, Rock salt, black salt, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Nutmeg were also added to most of my daily meals.
I have grown to be a healthy person and so are many people living around me. I think it is completely safe to feed the children with the vegetarian diet. :)
I can give you the example of two of my friends who have raised their daughters on a vegetarian diet. One of the daughters is 15 now, nicely developed, tall and bright and the other one is 10 years and also very normal and nicely developed. My experience has been that vegetarian parents tend to watch way more closely what their children eat. They know that they are the odd ones out and are focused on possible nutrient deficiencies, whereas 'regular' diet parents, with meat in the diet, just go along as ever, with not so much extra focus on deficiencies. The obvious risks are vitamin B12 deficiencies, but if you get your children tested at a Doctor's office once a year you can counteract that very easily. Most vegetarians I know also watch closely over the quality of food. They would only give their family organic food for example, which alone is a good thing. But of course you can also live on a healthy diet with organic meat, sure. But this was not your question. In my experience with my friends, it is totally okay to feed your kids a vegetarian diet.