Vegetables and kids ... the two are hardly ever seen together. But raising a child as a vegetarian is not as unnatural as it may sound. Actually, kids are almost natural vegetarians. Many have a hard time chewing tough things, which often eliminates meat, and they love animals. Once they make the connection between the hamburger and the cow, many pass on the meat.
Of course there are many reasons for wanting to be a vegetarian or for wanting to raise your child as one -- ethics, philosophy, economics and religion, to name a few -- but in recent years, the plethora of nutritional studies linking large amounts of meat with certain chronic diseases has caused many people to rethink their meat-eating habits. Because many of them are parents like us, we end up changing the diet for our entire household, kids included.
It is important to keep in mind that excluding meat from your diet has no inherent positive or negative health impact -- but how you choose to exclude it can. Meat contains many important nutrients, such as protein, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin B12, thiamin and essential fatty acids, that are harder to come by from other sources. On the other hand, meat also supplies the saturated fats and cholesterol that can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease. It provides a concentrated source of complete, high quality protein. Fortunately, the proper combination of vegetable proteins can do the same.
Parents may rightfully worry that a young child may not grow as well without meat in her diet to supply the necessary protein. And deciding to raise your child as a vegetarian should be a well-thought-out, well-informed decision accompanied by a high level of motivation. The degree of restriction you place on your baby's diet can greatly effect how well he does. Some vegetarian children have developed rickets, slowed growth and multiple nutrient deficiencies, but many grow normally and even have higher IQs than comparable non-vegetarian children.