Becoming a vegetarian or vegan is down to personal choice. But is it OK to make your child do the same?
It can be confusing reading conflicting advice about the pros and cons of eating meat. Now a recent study by the Mayo Clinic in Arizona claims that vegetarians are not only healthier than meat-eaters — people who live as vegetarians for at least 17 years live on average almost four years longer than meat-eaters.
According to a Department of Health and Food Standards Agency survey, around two per cent of the UK population are vegetarian and less than one per cent are vegan.
But while it’s all very well to make that diet choice for yourself, what happens when you have a baby?
Paediatric dietician Judy More says: ‘You can start a child on a vegetarian diet — if it’s well planned. If you’re just following your own adult vegetarian diet your child may be losing out on iron.’
Judy says that if young children are not eating meat and fish they need to eat more wholefoods such as pulses instead, which contain protein and iron.
But what about vegans?
Judy advises: ‘Veganism is not recommended for children under five years old. If a young child is following a vegan diet, they will certainly need a supplement and professional advice will be needed to ensure they’re getting what they need.’
Jimmy Pierson, spokesperson for the Vegan Society says: ‘We’ve seen an increase in parents contacting us about raising their children vegan. People are more aware now that if we don’t “need” meat, cheese, milk or eggs as adults, why would we need them as children?’
But is it fair to start your child off as vegetarian or vegan before they even know what meat tastes like?
Judy says: ‘One of the side effects of imposing your diet on your child is that they won’t develop taste preferences and
understand the textures and flavours of meat and fish. Arguably, it can mean you’re limiting their experience.’
However, Sandra Hood, dietician and author of Feeding Your Vegan Infant with Confidence, argues: ‘My experience is that vegan parents provide their children with a wider variety of foods than their omnivore peers.
‘Parents are becoming more and more confident that a vegan diet can give a child the best start in life, and rightly so.’
Edited by Julie Cook
Tips from the Vegan Society if you want to raise your child vegan:
• Breast milk should be a major part of your child’s nutrition until two years old.
• Introduce solid foods like fruit and vegetable purées around six months — you can enrich these with sources of vegan protein, calcium and fats such as well-cooked lentils, mashed beans, quinoa and tofu.
• Use non-dairy alternatives to milk that are fortified with calcium, vitamin D2 and vitamin B12.
• Green vegetables contain iron, calcium and antioxidants. If your child isn’t keen, try adding them to juices.
• Make sure children have access to healthy sun
exposure or take a vitamin D supplement.
• Spread breads with avocado or nut butters.
‘I was raised vegetarian from birth — and I will do the same with my children’
My mum and dad are both vegetarians and they raised me vegetarian from birth so I never knew any different.
As I got older and saw people eating meat, I asked questions. Mum explained where meat came from. She never said this in an upsetting way but she was honest.
Years passed and although meat would be available at friends’ houses or parties, I was never tempted.
Now, 22 years on, I have never once eaten meat on purpose. I’ve had a couple of accidents in restaurants though.
When I have children, I intend to raise them vegetarian and my long-term goal is to become vegan.
Mothers who raise their kids vegetarian or vegan are not depriving them. In fact, as these ideas become more mainstream, I think we’ll see more mums doing the same thing.
From Loreena Maguire, 22, of Fareham, Hants
‘I won’t stand in the way of her eating meat’
I became vegetarian when I was seven when I discovered where meat came from.
When I was 19, I decided to go vegan. I felt the dairy industry was full of cruelty and researched that, as adults, we don’t even need dairy products anyway.
Then I had my daughter Sky.
During my pregnancy, I'd made a decision to raise her vegan. I’d researched it to ensure I knew the nutrients babies needed.
When she was born, I breastfed her until she was ready to wean. Then, instead of introducing dairy, I weaned her on to foods I’d eat myself such as beans, pulses, fruit and leafy vegetables.
When I took Sky for a check-up at 13 months, she was taller than average and on-target with her weight and milestones.
Now Sky is a healthy 19-month-old.
I believe putting Sky on to a vegan diet has made her healthier. If she chooses to eat dairy or meat when she’s older I wouldn’t stand in her way.
From Joanna Baker, 38, of Ashford, Kent