We all remember being told to eat our vegetables when we were growing up. What if all your mom served was vegetables? It's one thing to change up your diet as an adult — whether the goal is simply to have more energy or for health reasons — but when you change your child's diet, you need to be careful that they are still getting all of the vitamins and nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
Some parents choose to raise their children as vegetarians because that's how they were raised. Amanda grew up in a home where her mother grew alfalfa sprouts in the kitchen and sautéed tofu on the stove. "I have been a vegetarian (now vegan) for as long as I can remember," she shares. "Having always felt a deep connection and compassion for animals, eating them wasn't something I have ever considered."
Amanda, who blogs about her vegan lifestyle at Sunny Vegan, says that what is surprising to most people is that living as a vegan or vegetarian family isn't really difficult. Her daughters are 6 and 9 years old, and have been raised vegetarian since birth. They follow a mostly vegan diet but do have occasional dairy. "It can take some adjustments, but like most things in life it gets easier with practice," she says. "Friends and parents of my girls' [friends] are understanding, supportive and often inquisitive of what they can and can't eat, and why."
Proper planning is key
Molly Morgan, registered dietician and author of The Skinny Rules: The 101 Secrets Every Skinny Girl Knows, believes that raising toddlers and children as vegan or vegetarian can be a great choice, if you plan it out well. "Let your child's pediatrician know of the eating plan in case any blood tests need to be done to monitor your child's health," she recommends. "If your toddler is vegetarian or vegan, prepare yourself for the foods they may be introduced to in school," Morgan adds, "and know that some flexibility may be needed."
Gwyneth Paltrow's kids are hungry
Her new cookbook is due to be released on April 2, and Gwyneth Paltrow is taking a lot of heat for the strict diet her whole family follows, including 8-year-old Apple and her son Moses, 6. She has eliminated dairy, eggs, sugar, shellfish, gluten, deep-water fish, wheat, meat, soy and any processed foods from their diet. A personal health-related scare that turned out to be a migraine and panic attack led Paltrow to make drastic changes to her family's diet. She writes that while her family is avoiding carbohydrates, they share that "specific hunger that comes with avoiding carbs," leading people to feel badly for her children who obviously must be hungry.
Deborah Gilboa, M.D — also known as Dr. G — is a board-certified family physician, parenting expert, author and mother of four. We asked her opinion on Paltrow's strict diet, and if it was good for young children. "When did parenting and common sense part ways?" she ponders. "If you have a child with serious allergies, or behavioral issues that are improved by sticking to a particular food-avoidance diet, then you may have great reasons for putting yourself through the stress and work that this entails," she says. "That said, disordered eating and the risks of having an unhealthy relationship with body image and food is a much bigger risk to kids and teens than encountering a grilled free-range chicken strip." Dr. G says that our bodies (most of them) need carbohydrates, proteins and fats. "We need less of them than our portion sizes would convey, and we need lots of exercise and water to drink and fresh air to breathe and fun to have," she adds.
If you are considering an alternative diet for your children, be sure to consult with your medical professional to make sure they still get all of the nutrients and vitamins to keep them healthy and thriving.