Dr John M Hadjiminas MD, DCH, MRCPCH Paediatrician

Vegetarian diets can be divided into four groups:

1. Red meat excluders – exclude red meat only

2. Permissive vegetarians – avoid all meat but eat fish

3. Strict lacto-ovo vegetarians – avoid meat and fish but eat milk, dairy products and eggs

4. Strict lacto vegetarians – avoid meat, fish and eggs but eat dairy products.

Vegans strictly avoid all animal products. It is extremely difficult to provide adequate nutrition to a growing child on a vegan diet and it is generally not recommended. Children who are raised on a vegan diet should be supervised by a trained dietitian.

Vegetarian eating in children must be practiced with care in order to avoid nutritional deficiency. Having said that it can be an enjoyable and healthy way to eat and fit in with the family life style.

A successful vegetarian diet is based on consuming a broad range of foods to ensure that it is nutritionally adequate. The following list gives an idea of the nutrients in each food group.

Red meat. Good source of protein, iron and zinc. Moderate quantities of vitamin B12 and small amounts of folate.

White meat. Good source of protein. Moderate amounts of iron, vitamin B12 and zinc.

Fish. Good source of protein and vitamin D. Moderate amounts of calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and zinc.

Eggs. Good source of protein. Moderate amounts of vitamin D. Small amounts of calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

Milk and dairy products. Good source of protein and calcium. Moderate amounts of vitamin D. Small amounts of vitamin B12 and zinc.

Cereals. Good source of fibre. Small amounts of protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, zinc and folate.

Pulses. Good source of fibre. Small amounts of protein, calcium, iron and folate.

Nuts. Moderate amounts of protein and fibre. Small amounts of calcium, iron and folate.

Fruits and vegetables. Good source of folate, fibre and vitamin C. Small amounts of protein, calcium and iron.

Yeast extract. Moderate amounts of vitamin B12 and folate. Small amounts of protein.

One point to note is that vegetarian diets have increased amounts of fibre and can cause a small child to feel full on a small amount. It is therefore important to balance this with the need of the child to eat sufficient calories and protein to maintain growth.

Particular care should be taken to ensure adequate intake of vitamin B12 and a variety of protein sources.

For more information look up the Vegatarian Society web site: www.vegsoc.org