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 Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start : Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start  
Eating habits are set in early childhood. Vegetarian diets give your child the chance to learn to enjoy a variety of wonderful, nutritious foods. They provide excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence.

The best food for newborns is breast milk. If your baby is not being breast-fed, soy formulas are a good alternative and are widely available. Do not use commercial soymilk. Babies have special needs and require a soy formula that is developed especially for those needs.

Infants do not need any nourishment other than breast milk or soy formula for the first several months of life. Breast-fed infants need about 2 hours a week of sun exposure to make vitamin D. Some infants, especially those who live in cloudy climates, may not make adequate amounts of vitamin D. In that case, vitamin D supplements may be necessary.

Breast milk or infant formula should be used for at least the first year of your baby's life.

At about 4 to 5 months of age, or when your baby's weight has doubled, other foods can be added to the diet.

Add one new food at a time, at one- to two- week intervals. The following guidelines provide a flexible plan for adding foods to your baby's diet.

4 to 5 Months
Introduce iron-fortified infant cereal. Try rice cereal first since it is the least likely to cause allergies. Mix it with a little breast milk or soy formula. Then offer oat or barley cereals to your baby.

6 to 8 Months
Introduce vegetables. They should be thoroughly cooked and mashed. Potatoes, green beans, carrots, and peas are all good first choices.

Introduce fruits next. Try mashed bananas, avocados, strained peaches, or applesauce.

By 8 months of age, most babies can eat crackers, bread, and dry cereal.

Also, by about 8 months, infants can begin to eat higher protein foods like tofu or beans that have been cooked well and mashed.

Children have a high calorie and nutrient need, but their stomachs are small. Offer your child frequent snacks, and include some less "bulky" foods like refined grains and fruit juices. Do limit juices however, since children may fill up on them, preferring their sweetness to other foods. Calorie needs vary from child to child. The following guidelines are general ones.

Food Groups for Children

Breads, cereals, and grains
Includes bread, hot and cold cereals, pasta, cooked grains such as rice and barley, crackers.
A serving is 1/2 cup pasta, grain, or cereal or 1 slice of bread.

Beans. Nuts. Seeds
Includes any cooked bean such as pinto, kidneys, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas, navy beans, and chickpeas; soy products such as tofu and soymilk; all nuts and nut butters, seeds, and tahini (sesame butter).
A serving is « cup beans, 4 ounces tofu, 8 ounces soymilk, 1 tablespoon nuts or nut butter.

Includes all vegetables.
A serving is « cup cooked or 1 cup raw.

Includes all fruits and fruit juices.
A serving is cup cooked fruit, 4 ounces fruit juice, dried fruit, 1 piece fruit.

Recommended Servings

Ages 1 to 3 (Preschoolers)
Grains: 4 servings
Beans, Nuts, Seeds: 5 servings total, to include 1 serving beans, 1 serving nuts or seeds, 3 servings fortified soymilk.
Vegetables: 2 servings, to include at least ¬ green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, broccoli, Swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens.
Fruits: 2 servings

Ages 4 to 6
Grains: 6 servings Beans, Nuts and Seeds: 1 serving beans, 1 serving nuts or seeds, 3 servings fortified soymilk
Vegetables: 3 servings including at least 1 serving of leafy green vegetables.
Fruits: 3 servings

Ages 7 to 12 years
Grains: 6 to 7 servings Beans, Nuts, Seeds: 2 beans, 1 nut, 3 to 4 fortified soymilk
Vegetables: 4 to 5 including 1 to 2 dark green leafy vegetables.
Fruits: 3 to 4 servings

Sample Menus

Ages 1 to 4 years

Cheerios with soymilk
Orange Juice

Hummus (chickpea and sesame seed butter spread) on crackers
Carrot sticks

Lentil-tomato loaf
Mashed potatoes
Creamed kale


Ages 4 to 6 years

Apple-cinnamon oatmeal
Orange wedges

Tofu-egg salad on bread
Apple juice
Carrot sticks
Oatmeal cookie

Baked beans with blackstrap molasses
Baked potato
Pineapple chunks

Trail mix
Graham crackers

Ages 7 to 12 years

Raisin Bran with soymilk and sliced banana
Toast with almond butter
Orange juice

Macaroni and blended tofu with nutritional yeast
Fruit salad
Green beans with almonds

Lentil soup
Salad with greens and broccoli
Steamed carrots

Trail mix

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 About The Author
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and......more
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