Is it Possible to Raise a Healthy Child on a Meatless Diet?

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toddler holding a bowl of raspberry

It is possible to raise a healthy child on a meatless diet?

Of course. Heck, I wasn’t even trying to keep my babies on a meatless diet, but my babies just weren’t all that interested in eating meat even when it was offered.

Obviously, you should always consult your doctor about your child’s health and diet, but many parents have raised healthy children on meatless diets. Both the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that vegetarian diets can work for children.

Milk is the Ideal Food for the First Six Months of Life

All human begin their lives as vegetarians because milk is the first food we eat. Whether they’re breastfed or formula fed, milk is the first thing your baby will be exposed to and the primary source of their nutrition for the first six months of their lives, even if you choose to start introducing solid foods a little earlier than that. Babies do not need other food during the first four to six months of their lives

When possible, breastfeeding is the best way to go. Your breast milk is the best baby food for your child because it has a unique combination of nutrients specially for your child. Your body can pick up on cues from your baby, like illness and circadian rhythm, and adjust your milk to help your baby get well or sleep better.

If the mom is a vegetarian or vegan herself, there is some evidence that suggests that the milk of vegetarian women contains fewer contaminants because vegetarian women eat fewer foods that have pesticides and other chemicals in them. The pesticides are mostly concentrated in animal tissues and animal fat which are not present in vegetarian diets.

Although baby formulas have come a long way, they are still a long way from being able to replicate breast milk completely. It is even possible that breast milk contains healthy elements that science hasn’t discovered to this day.

Of course, when breastfeeding isn’t possible, like it wasn’t for my first child, formula is still a great choice for your babies and will provide them with all the nutrients they need. Just like with breast milk, babies need only formula for the first four to six months of their lives.

Most formulas have cow milk as a base. Some formulas are soy based and don’t contain any animal products. If your baby seems to not tolerate one type of formula well, keep trying new formulas until you find that one that your baby can digest the best.

Introducing Solid Foods

According to the CDC, you can start thinking about solid foods when your child:

  • Sits up alone or with support.
  • Is able to control head and neck.
  • Opens the mouth when food is offered.
  • Swallows food rather than pushes it back out onto the chin.
  • Brings objects to the mouth.
  • Tries to grasp small objects, such as toys or food.
  • Transfers food from the front to the back of the tongue to swallow.

Some people start their baby on solids as early as 4 months, most parents start their babies on solids around 6 months, but some wait until closer to 7 or 8 months in special cases. Consult your doctor if you have any questions about whether or not your baby is ready to start eating solid foods.

Baby rice cereal is probably the most popular first solid food in America, although I personally dislike it. I feel like baby rice isn’t a very nutritious or flavor filled food to introduce my child too. Instead, I preferred fruit and vegetables purees. There are many options available in stores, and when I have the time, I even like to puree my own.

Babies don’t immediately jump to three solid meals a day. The introduction is slow, and babies will still continue to get a lot of their nutrients from breastmilk and formula for at least the first year.

Talk to your doctor about any supplements your child may need. Different sources talk about different vitamins and minerals children may be deficient in. Talk to your doctor to see if your child should be taking any additional supplements to complement their meatless diet.