Vegetarian diets for children and teens
With good planning, a vegetarian diet can be a healthy choice that meets your growing child’s nutritional needs. Talk to your doctor about your child's diet to make sure they are getting everything they need and growing well.
What is a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet means not eating the flesh of any animal. Some vegetarians also choose not to eat any food that comes from animals (like dairy products or eggs). Here are the different types of vegetarian diet:
- Vegan: eats only non-animal foods.
- Lacto-vegetarian: eats non-animal foods plus dairy (no eggs).
- Ovo-vegetarian: eats non-animal foods plus eggs (no dairy).
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eats non-animal foods plus eggs and dairy products.
Are vegetarian diets safe for babies and children?
Well-planned vegetarian diets can support pregnancy, breastfeeding and growth during infancy and childhood. However, the safety of extremely restrictive diets such as fruitarian (a diet that consists entirely or primarily of fruits, and possibly nuts and seeds) and raw foods diets has not been studied in children.
Like any diet that doesn’t include certain foods, some vegetarian diets make it harder to get enough energy, protein, and certain nutrients. Some nutrients—like vitamin B12—are only found in animal sources, such as cow’s milk. Iron, which is very important for babies and children, is more easily absorbed by the body when it comes from meat. So if your child’s diet doesn’t include animal foods, you’ll need to ensure these nutrients come from other sources. The chart below may help.
Are vegetarian diets safe for teens?
Puberty is a time of great change, and teens need a lot of energy and nutrients to get them through it. Be aware of your teen’s eating habits and help them eat the foods they need to stay healthy. If you think your teen isn’t eating well, speak to your doctor or a dietitian.
How can vegetarian parents properly feed their baby?
Vegetarian women who are pregnant or nursing should speak to a dietitian to ensure they are getting enough vitamins and minerals as described in the chart below.
Exclusive breastfeeding provides adequate nutrition until 6 months of life. Babies who are exclusively breastfed should get a supplement of vitamin D every day. Breastfeeding can continue for two years or longer.
Around 6 months, you can begin to introduce other foods to your baby. Vegetarian babies should get the same variety of vegetables, fruits and iron-fortified cereals as other babies. A vegetarian diet should contain a variety of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and enough protein sources to meet your baby’s nutrition needs.
A healthy vegetarian diet should include:
|Fat and fatty acids||
What if my child follows a vegan diet?
Children following vegan diets may need a vitamin and mineral supplement, and additional calories. Please talk to your family doctor or dietitian to make sure your child is growing well and is getting the right type and amounts of nutrients.
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Community Paediatrics Committee
Last updated: January 2017