Eating habits are set in early childhood. Choosing a vegetarian diet can give your child-and your whole family-the opportunity to learn to enjoy a variety of wonderful, nutritious foods. Offer your child a wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and soy products, keep it simple and make it fun, and they’ll learn good eating habits that will last them a lifetime.

Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. It is much easier to build a nutritious diet from plant foods than from animal products, which contain saturated fat, cholesterol, and other substances that growing children can do without. As for essential nutrients, plant foods are the preferred source because they provide sufficient energy and protein packaged with other health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, antioxidant vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

The complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, beans, and vegetables provide the ideal energy to fuel a child’s busy life. Encouraging the consumption of brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas, rolled oats, and corn, as well as the less common grains barley, quinoa, millet, and others, will boost the fiber and nutrient content of a child’s diet. In addition, it will help steer children away from desiring sugary sweet drinks and treats.

And though children need protein to grown, they don’t need high-protein, animal-based foods. Different varieties of grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits supplies plenty of protein, making protein deficiency very unlikely.

Very young children need a bit more healthy fats in their diets than their parents. Healthier fat sources include soybean products, avocados, and nut butters. Parents will want to make sure their child’s diet includes a regular source of vitamin B-12, which is needed for healthy nerve function and blood. Vitamin B-12 is abundant in many commercial cereals, fortified soy and rice milks, and nutritional yeast. Growing children also need iron found in a variety of beans and green, leafy vegetables and when coupled with the vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, iron absorption is enhanced.

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